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Here are my tried and tested picks to learn and apply lean. 

The Best Books For Value Stream Mapping (& Why)

There are many books on value stream mapping. The thing is, value stream mapping can be used across a number of disciplines, like:

  • Mapping a make to order process – this is very different to the typical highly repeatable processes
  • Mapping service and office processes
  • Mapping repeatable production processes

Each of the above consists of slightly different ways of seeing flow and improving it.

For instance, if you want to map and improve office processes, I’d recommend the Operational Excellence in Your Office, that I’ve discussed in another article.

Alternatively, if it’s a complete end-to-end production process with some complexity, you’ll need something else.

The point is, Value Stream Mapping is critical to planning your lean transformation. You need to be able to see how things work right now, where the waste is and how they can be improved. VSMs allow you to see the before and after of your efforts, as well as draw an action plan to create the transformation.

The problem comes with what type of business you’re mapping and how complex it is.

The three books I’d recommend (and why) are:

  1. Learning to See by Mike Rother and John Shook – If you want to learn the basics, how to map and use the standard icons, and follow the process in an easy to read, step-by-step way, then, this book is for you
  2. Creating Mixed Model Value Streams by Kevin Duggan – This is more in depth and walks you through exactly what to do when mapping multiple products and how to deal with shared resources and equipment – it’s for more complicated value streams where learning to see fails to show you what to do
  3. Operational Excellence in Your Office by Kevin Duggan– If you want to value stream map your office processes, then this book will show you exactly what to do and how to transform them in a clear and concise way, that eclipses most books you’ll see

Learning to See: Learn Value stream Mapping in A weekend (and Get Good at It Too)

Learning to See was the first of its kind. It taught the world how to see manufacturing facilities as system, and more importantly, how to see the waste. It taught us the icons to use and the general steps to take to map a current state, a future state and an action plan.

learning to see

In fact, Learning to See was the book i used to learn how to create comprehensive value stream maps.

I also used the book to pass a job interview. I had to show my lean skills and interpret the company’s value stream map, as well as recommend improvements. All when i wasn’t quite up-to-scratch with VSMs.

That’s when i bought Learning to See. I spent a week going through the book and practising creating VSMs from scratch. Armed with this new found skill, i passed my interview and got the job i wanted.

Learning to See single-handedly taught me everything i needed to know to get up to speed quickly with VSMS, including:

  • Understanding the icons
  • How to map an entire value stream
  • Single point scheduling
  • Creating a manufacturing strategy
  • How to link processes to meet takt

Learning to see will give you everything you need to know to understand VSMs, create them and improve them.

It’s simple and straight forward approach will allow you to learn it over the course of a weekend and be a pretty competent practitioner too in this short time.

It’s a real companion for those wanting to learn VSMs without investing hundreds and hundreds of hours doing so.

Creating Mixed Model Value Streams – A Longer Read, but Essential For More Complex Businesses

Often, life isn’t as simple as the worked case study shown in learning to see.

What I often struggled with was:

  • How to manage shared resources, whereby other products are being processed on the same equipment as the products you’re currently mapping
  • How to level load multiple products in the product family – so we can really transform how the teams process work and maintain takt
  • How to bring it all together in a simple cohesive way, despite the more complicated processes and products involved.

Learning to See kept me in good stead for a number of years within the company I worked.

Creating mixed model value streams

The problem i found that when i became a consultant, I needed to answer the above bullet points and broaden my mapping skills to suit more complicated businesses.

I purchased Creating Mixed Model Value Streams, and got to work reading, In fact, I read it several times to internalise the 8-step framework it teaches to design lean transformations.

I did this for a specific client I was working with. They had many different products and i needed to work out how to level load and plan daily production around them, as well as defining the standard working cycles for shared equipment.

Creating Mixed Model Value Streams answered these two core questions unequivocally. It taught me exactly how to do it, all within their 8 step framework.

I applied what i learned to the company i was working with and the results provided them with a step change in productivity.

In fact, we designed and successfully implemented the a lean transformation, that enabled them to double their productivity, without adding an extra staff.

That’s why this book is in my top 3. Yes, it’s meatier than the Learning to See Book, but both are well worth adding to your collection, to enable you to become a real VSM expert, and to actually get results.

Operational Excellence in Your Office – A Detailed But Not Heavy Must Read

If it’s more transactional processes you’re looking to streamline, and manufacturing is not your business, then Operational Excellence in Your Office is my choice.

It’ll teach you a clear and structured step-by-step framework on how to:

  • Map the current state value stream
  • Identify areas of transactional waste
  • Implement flow and standard work to drive step change improvements

I’ve written a more detailed review on this book, so for more information, please check it out.

A Break From the Norm

In summary, it will show you a revolutionary system to take a set of office processes and improve them to drive:

  • Quality improvements
  • Improved flow and productivity

The thing I love most about the system it teaches, is that you design value streams that work without anyone having to ask what they need to do, how it should be done and when to do it.

In the operational excellence way, the value streams you’ll create are self healing. This means that the teams know what to do and how when things are not working quite as planned.

In other words, it shows you how to standardise and systematise everyday processes for contninuous improvement and control.

It’s a jump from what you would expect from a typical VSM for transactional processes book, but well worth the investment!

What to Look For

Before deciding which book is for you, establish what is it you want to achieve?

If you’re dealing with simple value streams, whereby similar products run through the business, then Learning to See may well just be all you need.

If you want to get ahead fast, then it is a great and effective read.

If you have a bit more complexity in your production business, and there are many different products, as well as shared equipment, whereby lots of different types of products go through the same machines, it’s worth getting something that’s a little more heavy, like Creating Mixed Model Value Streams.

On the other hand, if it’s solely transactional processes that you’re looking to improve, and there’s no element of manufacturing in your business, then it’s the good old Operational Excellence in Your Office.

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