Is Your Value Stream Mature Enough to Improve It?

A field in bloom

In a previous article I presented the concept of the “Process Maturity Model” that we have been using in our consulting practice. What about when you string a group of processes together in the creation of a Value Stream Map? Is there a way to measure the overall maturity of the entire Value Stream? Glad you asked. What if, for the sake of discussion, all of the processes on a Value Stream Map are at a high level of maturity, according to the Process Maturity Model? Does this mean that the Value Stream itself is at a high level of maturity as well? The answer is no.

Mature individual processes are a necessary but not sufficient element in a mature Value Stream. There are several additional characteristics that you look for when assessing the maturity of an entire Value Stream, that are not seen at the level of the individual processes:


Most of the queue time (sometimes over 95%) in a Value Stream occurs between processes, in hand-offs from one person to another, or one department to another. You don’t have this visibility if you only look within the process.


Flow and pull go hand-in-hand in a Lean environment, so it is logical to look for formal flow and pull methods. Without formal pull systems, inventory and waste will invariably accumulate in the Value Stream.


By this, we mean a high level of involvement by the entire workforce. Simply improving is not sufficient in a Lean Value Stream. Without the active involvement of everyone in the task of process improvement, it will be difficult to improve fast enough in today’s global economy.

The Value Stream Maturity Model is used to assess the maturity of a value stream, in the interest of creating or modifying a process improvement plan. A Value Stream that is at Level 0 or Level 1 represents a great opportunity. After all, if you’ve survived this long with a low-maturity Value Stream, imagine what you can do when you cut cycle-time by 90%! The following is a description of each maturity level in the Value Stream Maturity Model

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The first logical step in improving a value stream is to identify and document it. This maturity level involves naming a value stream, assigning a value stream owner to it, and creating both current and future state value stream maps. You also want to establish performance metrics for the value stream: cycle time, productivity, and quality.


The biggest opportunity when moving from a traditional work environment to a Lean environment is the introduction of flow and pull methods. Queue time in traditional environments can represent 90% of the total response time. Cycle time reduction is related to a long list of benefits, including improved productivity, better quality, less floor space, improved flexibility, and higher on-time delivery.


Once you have harvested the low-hanging fruit of flow and pull, you must continue with the task of training and certifying the workforce in Standard Work. You need to involve the entire workforce in defining the one best way to do work, and to train employees to do the work that way. Remember that standard work does not limit creativity or improvement, but it does determine the way the work should be done for the present time.


The stage of engagement is what separates the men from the boys (adults from the children?) when we are assessing Value Stream maturity. Until you are able to involve the entire workforce in the creative work of Continuous Improvement, your Lean efforts will continue to be vulnerable to outside competitors simply copying what you have done. Once you are generating hundreds and thousands of small improvement suggestions a year, it will be very difficult for the competition to keep up.


Until you are able to incorporate flow, pull, standard work and employee engagement into your company culture, things will inevitably backslide. You can claim that you are at Level 5 on the Value Stream Maturity Model if you are able to show that you have maintained improvement for a period of at least 24 months.

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