The definitive guide to

Value Stream Mapping

What is value stream mapping? How does it optimize processes and decrease waste? Explore how value stream mapping in different use cases improves efficiency, benefits consumers, and helps achieve business objectives.

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Customers are always on the lookout for products and services that effectively meet their needs, which is why companies benefit from optimizing and improving their internal processes while keeping their customers’ needs at the forefront of decision-making.

Value stream mapping is a lean enterprise technique that aims to do just that – it helps businesses maintain an edge over their competition by placing the customer’s perspective first.

This page will explore broader VSM (not the same as LeanIX's VSM product) processes not only in manufacturing but in software development as well, and will set the stage for value stream management in software development.


What is value stream mapping?

Value stream mapping (VSM) is a specific way to document, analyze and improve the flow of information or materials to produce a product or service. The goal of VSM is to remove ‘waste’ and make complex processes more efficient. The technique provides companies with a series of visual steps to help identify bottlenecks in a value stream to allow for workflow optimization. 

Value stream maps are a lean enterprise technique developed and popularized by manufacturing companies such as Toyota in the 90s. While this method is valuable in these industries for mapping delivery chains, it has also been adopted by every kind of business.

In software development, leadership teams will adopt the value stream mapping model to optimize complex software processes and continue managing them thereafter.

What is a value stream?

A value stream is a set of actions that help a company identify areas of value that will in turn increase the value service or product has to the customer. The purpose of a value stream is to eliminate waste and identify bottlenecks to improve the overall efficiency of a process or service.

Value streams always begin and end with the customer, and move from an initial concept through to development, support, and delivery. 


Value stream mapping is a lean manufacturing technique that is often linked back to Toyota’s management system. The motor company developed “Material and Information Flow Mapping” back in 1988 to visually depict all workflows within the production process. This created a common language for identifying areas of improvement and eliminating waste.

Since then this language has been adapted from an industry-specific tool to a universal method of lean management used to transform processes and software delivery.

Use cases

Today, VSM is used by countless businesses in various industries to improve processes and maintain their competitive edge. Some examples of value stream use cases are:

  • Manufacturing
    Value stream mapping was developed to optimize and streamline complex manufacturing processes. The technique was used to visualize wastefulness in various areas like overproduction, transport, and inventory to make processes with many handoffs smoother and more efficient. 

  • Supply chain and logistics
    Also linked with manufacturing, VSM can help combat supply chain issues and avoid logistical errors. Value stream mapping provides a practical and data-driven picture to frame analysis, and identify bottlenecks and value.

  • Software development
    Value stream mapping in software development provides a graphical and concise technique for quantifying the value of various steps in complex software processes. Rather than dealing with physical processes, VSM in software development is more concerned with cross-team communication. See below for more.

  • Service industries
    In the service industry, VSM can be used to map the flow of products, services, and information from origin to delivery to the customer.

  • Healthcare
    Healthcare services can use value stream mapping to eliminate anything that doesn’t add any value. This improves the quality of service, ensures patient safety, and facilitates the day-to-day organization of healthcare professionals.

  • Office and administrative
    The same goes for office and administrative business. Value stream mapping improves a company’s efficiency and time management to better serve its customers.

Purpose and benefits

The benefits of value stream mapping are numerous but will vary slightly depending on what is needed. Broadly speaking, the biggest benefits of implementing VSM is to add value to a product or service, reduce waste, improve processes and prioritize continuous improvement.

  • Adding value: Mapping out the flow of processes will help businesses clearly visualize and identify areas of value and ways in which value can be increased. Value in this case simply means finding ways to make a process more efficient and decreasing what is known as ‘waste.’ 
  • Reducing / eliminating waste: Reducing or eliminating waste can improve a company’s bottom line and help cost-saving initiatives. You will also discover the root of the waste and be able to prevent repeating these wasteful steps in the future.
  • Process improvement: VSM provides a visual way of mapping flows of information and data to create a quality-focused system that uses resources exactly as needed and eliminates bottlenecks
  • Prioritization improvement: Value stream mapping is a lean management technique whose central philosophy is that of consistent improvement. It is the idea that businesses should always seek out better and more efficient ways to improve.

Types of waste

There are seven types of waste that can be identified through value stream mapping. VSM waste includes:

  1. Overproduction: Value stream mapping helps identify whether a business is producing too much too fast. This is a big contributor to many other forms of waste including wasted materials and extra storage.

  2. Wait times: For customers, keeping waiting times for a product or service as short as possible is desirable. VSM helps businesses identify delays in processes or supply chains and decreases costs associated with these delays.

  3. Inventory: Storing and preserving a surplus inventory ties up resources that could be better used elsewhere. Space is a finite resource and expensive if mismanaged.

  4. Processing: Over-processing is a waste of resources. Value stream waste here includes unwanted additional features or adding unnecessary steps in production.

  5. Motion: Motion refers to the unnecessary movement of workers or machinery which could be minimized. Motion waste has many undesirable byproducts including extra pollution, maintenance repairs, and extra fuel costs.

  6. Defects: Defect waste management is the effort to reduce and mitigate accidents or mistakes. Defects can be costly and cause delays. Value stream mapping can help identify imperfections and problems to avoid before they occur.

  7. Transportation: Similar to motion, transportation waste refers to waste generated through external movement between different locations and third parties. 

Value stream mapping in software development

Value stream mapping in software development is predominantly focused on providing leadership teams with ways to optimize their software delivery processes. It is a technique taken from lean software development which provides a set of practices that help businesses improve new and existing software processes by adding value and removing waste. 

VSM in software development centers on the flow of information and data, as well as cross-team communication. By analyzing this flow using the Value Stream Management tool, developers and lean practitioners are able to optimize processes through monitoring, controlling, and improving the value software delivers to a company throughout its entire lifecycle.

What is a value stream in software development?

A value stream in software development exists either per product, service, or software application. Flow items are the different units of value that are part of the stream – this could be a new software feature or a bug fix. The process usually begins by taking an idea sourced from other areas of the company including customer support or competitor analysis and working with value streams to deliver valuable output to the end customer.

Purpose and benefits

Just like value stream mapping in other industries, the benefits of VSM in software development include identifying and removing waste, improving processes, collaboration, and end-product quality.

  • Identifying waste/bottlenecks: Lean philosophy captures waste as anything that fails to add value to the business or customer – this includes abandoned coding, extra features or other defectsto name a few. Value stream mapping helps identify where bottlenecks and waste arise.
  • Improve collaboration: Successful software development relies on clear and concise communication between DevOps, leadership and programs. 
  • Improve processes: Just like VSM in other industries, the goal is to make processes more efficient. The same goes in software development. Visualizing the flow of complex information highlights ways in which processes can be optimized.
  • Improve end-product quality: As developers work through value stream maps they will be able to find ways of improving the overall product. The goal of the technique is to create a better product or service that benefits your bottom line and customer base.

Types of waste

The types of value stream waste found in software development are slightly different to those found in manufacturing or supply chains due to the fact that there aren’t any physically moving materials and people around to create a product. Types of VSM waste are:

  1. Unwanted / extra features: Creating unwanted or extra features that are not specifically requested or required by users creates wasted time and resources. It may be well-intentioned, but if a feature does not add value to the customer then it may need to be removed.

  2. Handovers: As a business grows and expands, employees and key staff members will come and go. Handovers will occur and a project will be handed to a new team member without context. VSM will improve communication between teams to avoid handover waste.

  3. Delays: Delays can happen at any point in a process, especially if a result downstream depends on the decisions and resources that occur further upstream. Many steps in a process can rely on the completion of others, so delays can cause a huge amount of wasted time, energy, and resources.

  4. Switching tasks: Similar to handovers, developers may need to switch between tasks and responsibilities. This causes waste and interrupts the workflow for software engineers who need to create and execute good code.

  5. Half / partially completed work: If the software is released in an incomplete state it can cause a huge amount of waste trying to adapt, fix or finish the product. Value stream mapping makes sure that all points in a process are complete and function efficiently.

  6. Defects: Bugs and broken code are a common occurrence in software development and can be incredibly wasteful if they are discovered by customers once the product or service is in use.

  7. Relearning: As the tech industry is constantly developing, individuals or teams may have to contend with the learning curve or unfamiliar technology, which can cause delays and wasted time. Relearning waste can also occur when learnings are not taken or documented from previous failures and setbacks. 

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The value stream mapping symbols

Symbols used in value stream mapping represent the flow of information, inventory, or data within a system. These unique symbols are a visual representation of the steps, entities, or tasks needed in the process. There are common symbols teams can use when mapping value streams, however, it is possible to adapt or create new symbols to match specific needs.

For example in software development, the symbols for transport, shipments, and safety stock are useless. DevOps would opt for symbols that represent cycle time, resources, and software artifacts.

Process symbols

Process symbols on a map are a group of icons that represent a department, a step in your process, or a machine required to complete a product, service, or administrative function. 

Material symbols

The material symbols represent the number of raw materials used by each process in the value stream. This also includes inventory and the operations related to them. 

Information symbols

Information symbols provide a visual representation of the flow of information between steps, processes, production, and individuals.

General symbols

General symbols are various other symbols used to represent other steps that have not been covered above. These include kaizen bursts, phones, and transportation.


How to create a value stream map?

Creating a value stream map is designed to be a straightforward process, even if it’s dealing with a lot of complex software processes. 

  1. Define the problem
    The first step and most important step in any VSM process is to define the problem. In software development, value streams objectives can include speed or velocity, improved quality, improved compliance, and efficiency. In other use cases, VSM objectives include managing storage, production flow, or logistics management.

  2. Select the VSM team
    Value stream mapping is a group activity. You will need to select the right team that is able to meet the objectives of the value stream mapping activity. Team members should be directly linked to the process and be able to make the changes necessary for success. You also don’t want to create a team that is too big which may oversaturate the process.

  3. Perform the Gemba walk
    In a Gemba walk, a particular work environment is closely examined to understand how products are built and what the exact challenges are. In software development where processes are a lot more abstract, Gemba walks help managers and non-IT team members observe and understand the complex steps in a VSM chart, creating mutual understanding as well as a shared purpose. Flow Metrics are used to achieve full real-time insight instead of just a snapshot of what is actually happening during value creation.

  4. Define the value stream
    VSM teams should begin with a rudimentary VSM map as a jumping-off point. From here they should outline the process basics and then together work on providing more detail. This is an important starting point for the rest of the process as it moves the activity along to more in-depth quality discussions and inputs.

  5. Collect process data
    Once the basic steps have been identified, VSM teams can collect the data needed to evaluate each one. Process data includes what resources are required for successful completion, cycle times, lead times, up times, takt times, etc.

  6. Develop a current value stream map
    VSM teams will then add any additional processes and their corresponding data to their basic values stream chart. The results of the previous steps reflect the current state VSM and will be used as a process baseline. The current state of VSM will provide the team with a better understanding of the entire process and will serve as a comparison of the process and its performance to evaluate whether the changes had the desired impact. 

  7. Develop a target value stream map
    A target value stream map will then be developed to represent a clear goal of what needs to be accomplished. Targets can be expressed in delivery velocity, quality-focused metrics (e.g., DORA), compliance, or any other combination.

  8. Implement the future map
    Once various waste and areas of improvement have been identified through the current value stream mapping process, and target mapping has outlined what the ideal value stream should look like, a future map will guide holistic improvements to the process. Implementing the future map gives team members targeted objectives to work towards, requiring a phased approach as improvements are identified and implemented. 

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How to optimize a value stream?

Value stream optimization helps identify areas of improvement in the flow of value during various processes. In most of the VSM use cases, like manufacturing or supply chain, they leverage Toyota Production System and its concepts of Muri (overburdening), Mura (unevenness), and Muda (waste):

  • Muri: Muri means ‘unreasonable’ in Japanese. It refers to tasks and situations that go beyond one person’s ability to complete and requires further discussions of work and logistics to make sure individuals aren’t overburdened.
  • Mura: Mura means ‘lack of uniformity‘ in Japanese. To optimize VSM charts, cohesion is key to efficiency. If businesses discover mura in their processes, it is useful to introduce pull systems. In software development, an agile practice known as kanban can be implemented. 
  • Muda: Meaning ‘useless’ in Japanese, Muda refers to anything that does not add value; anything that increases cost and produces all types of waste which were listed in the previous sections. 

In software development use cases, CTOs and engineering leaders use value stream management tools such as LeanIX's VSM to improve the efficiency of software delivery by tracking DORA or Flow metrics.

  • DORA metricsare used by DevOps teams to measure their performance and find out whether they are “low performers” to “elite performers”.
  • Flow metrics: are used to measure how value moves through the value stream of a software product from one end to the other end.


Common challenges

While the process of value stream mapping is designed to be clear and concise, there are challenges to ensuring a successful flow of information.

Current state vs. Future state map

Outlining the process steps in the current state phase may be a challenge. It’s important that there is an understanding between participants regarding the production processes. The current state map should only include what the process currently looks like, highlighting bottlenecks and defects. The Future state maps are developed as part of a team when designing the implementation plan.

Ensuring you have the right team

The success of your VSM activity hinges on the selection of the right team of people. Individuals generate waste, so making sure the right people are in the room to achieve the goals set at the start of the value stream process is vital. Facilitators will help the flow of communication and collaboration, encouraging lean best practices and optimizing the time spent discussing outcomes.

Using the right tools

Technology moves quickly, and the same goes for the tools which facilitate VSM processes. Make sure the tools you use are up-to-date and are able to reduce waste for your company's use case.



For software companies, speed and efficiency is the new currency and will impact which consumers are attracted to their product or service. Value stream mapping within software development helps businesses stay competitive, and the right value stream management tools are needed to track, measure, and improve the flow of VSM processes in software development teams.

DevOps looking for next-gen solutions to make value stream mapping an even more streamlined process can greatly benefit from the visibility LeanIX's Value Stream Management solution provides.

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Frequently asked questions on value stream mapping

What Is value stream mapping?

Value stream mapping is a lean manufacturing technique that uses a set of visual steps to track processes, reduce waste and improve efficiency in key areas to benefit consumers and achieve company goals.

Why do we use value stream mapping?

Businesses and organizations use value stream mapping as a way to work through complex processes and highlight areas of improvement. Improvements include identifying activities that contribute to value creation and those that create waste. A variety of industries use value stream mapping to optimize processes.

How to create a value stream map?

To create a value stream map, you need to identify the purpose first. From there you form a team of skilled individuals who are directly involved in the area you plan. Then you’ll perform a Gemba walk to establish mutual understanding and unity in the process. Once the value stream is defined and the data for each step has been collected, teams can create the "Current value stream map" which represents processes as they exist today, and the "Target value stream map", which represents the processes and optimizations they wish to achieve. This will then be implemented during the Future stream map phase.

How is VSM used in different fields?

In manufacturing, VSM is used to optimize complex manufacturing processes. The same goes for supply chain and logistics. The technique was used to visualize wastefulness in various areas like overproduction, transport and inventory to make processes with many handoffs smoother and more efficient. In software development, VSM provides a graphical technique for quantifying the value of various steps in complex software processes.

What symbols are used in value stream mapping?

Symbols used in value stream mapping represent the flow of information, inventory, or data within a system or process. These unique symbols are a visual representation of the steps, entities, or tasks needed to complete the map.

How to conduct value stream analysis?

Value stream analysis is conducted through the process of value stream mapping. The map provides a visual way to identify bottlenecks, defects, bugs, and other problems that contribute to waste and decrease the efficiency of a process, product, service, or function.

How to identify your value streams?

Value streams can be identified by examining your product, customer habits, and goals. Value means different things depending on the business and industry, and it’s important to know the difference between operational value streams and development value streams. Value stream funnels can help identify areas value is added and if there are ways to improve efficiency. Once the value is defined, VSM can be used to optimize internal structures to benefit consumers and achieve company goals.

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