Value Stream

What Is A Value Stream?

Image by LucidchartOpens in new window

The term value stream was originally coined by James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos in the book that launched the Lean movement, The Machine that Changed the World (1990), and further popularized by James Womack and Daniel Jones in Lean Thinking (1996).

  • A value stream is the sequence of activities an organization undertakes to deliver on a customer request.
  • More broadly, a value stream is the sequence of activities required to design, produce, and deliver a good or service to a customer, and it includes the dual flows of information and material.

An extended value stream includes those activities that precede a customer order (e.g., responding to a request for a quote, determining market needs, developing new products, etc.) or occur following the delivering of a good or service to a customer (e.g., billing and processing payments or submitting required compliance reports).

While many of a value stream’s activities occur sequentially, others may be performed concurrently (in parallel) to other work. The activities in a value stream are not merely those that an organization performs itself: work done by outside parties and even the customers themselves are part of a value stream.

What Are The Types of Value Stream?

Value streams come in many forms. The primary type of value stream is one in which a good or service is requested by and delivered to an external customer.

Other value streams support the delivery of value; we often refer to these as value-enabling or support value streams. Examples of support value streams include recruiting, hiring, and onboarding; IT support; the annual budgeting process; and the sales cycle.

Complex creative work can be viewed as having its own value stream — from initial concept to an executable design or to product launch. Product design can be viewed as a value stream segment if the design is required to fulfill a specific customer order.

Many value streams can go on and on in both directions. For example:

  • a value stream could include all of the activities from the time a customer selects an architect until drawings are delivered to a general contractor.
  • Or until construction planning is complete.
  • Or until the final inspection after a structure has been built.
  • Or until revenue has been collected for the construction work.

The product life cycle is also a value stream consisting of specification, design, supply chain, manufacture, commissioning, operation, and ultimately decommissioning and disposal. A full value stream for patient care might include appointment scheduling, registration, diagnosis, treatment , aftercare, and possibly even receipt of payment.

So how many value streams does an organization have? It varies. Small organizations may have only one customer-facing value stream and many internal support value streams. Large organizations could have 5, 10, or even dozens of customer-facing value streams and hundreds of support value streams. Wherever there is a request and a deliverable, there is a value stream.

One way to determine how many value streams your organization has is by looking at the types of internal and external customer requests your organization receives and the number of variants of high-level process flows that each of those requests pass through.

Requests that pass through similar process flow sequences form a single “product family.” To reap the greatest gains from viewing work and organizing the business according to value streams, you will eventually want to analyze and improve each product family’s value stream.

The best methodology we’ve found to date for this effort is value stream mappingOpens in new window, a tool that helps you visualize complex work systems so you can address the disconnects, redundancies, and gaps in how work gets done. Used properly, value stream mapping is far more than a design tool: it’s the most powerful organization transformation tool we’ve seen to date. Once people learn how to think in value stream terms, it’s difficult for them to look at work in any other way.

See Also:
  1. Karen Martin, Mike Osterling. Value Stream Mapping: How to Visualize Work and Align Leadership for Organizational Transformation (pp. 2 – 11). Mechatronics and Manufacturing Systems.