Value Stream Mapping [Definition, Process & Examples]

Value Stream Mapping (VSM)

An Introduction to Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is an excellent tool for improving process and flow and for eliminating waste. VSM is a method through which a team maps out the flow of value for repeating processes, forcing the team members to analyze where value is being added and where it is not.

Value Stream Definition

The value stream is the sequence of activities required to design, produce and deliver a good or service to a customer. The value stream includes the dual flows of information and material. Watch this introductory video about value stream mapping from the Lean Enterprise Institute.

What is Value Stream Mapping?

A team-based methodology for analyzing the current state and designing a future state for a series of events that take a product or service from its beginning through to the customer.

VSM in Lean Design & Construction

In the world of Lean design and construction, we are constantly evaluating processes, seeking opportunities for improvement in order to maximize value for the customer or stakeholder. This is best accomplished by adhering to the six tenets of the Lean Construction Institute, which include:

  1. Respect for People
  2. Removal of Waste
  3. Focus on Process & Flow
  4. Generation of Value
  5. Continuous Improvement
  6. Optimize the Whole

The Value Stream Mapping Process

During the VSM process, a team physically maps out all of the steps included in the working process. Then, the team must analyze each step closely to determine what parts of the process can be moved, made more efficient, or can be totally removed.

During this process, teams are encouraged to ask themselves which steps of their design and construction process add value and which steps are non-value added and therefore are wasteful.

Value Stream Mapping is not to be confused with pull planning, process planning, or hand-off work planning which generally map the pathway of work to reach a particular endpoint. Rather, VSM takes a holistic approach to determine which steps are the most necessary to the production of the end product, service, or outcome.

The Practical Use for Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping allows teams to visualize the process so that they can better identify areas for improvement. A value stream map can be thought of as a visual storyboard that shows how the team gets from the start of the project to the end result.

The map should include raw material and information flows, decision points, hand-offs, and interactions with other systems. There are eight different types of waste, and any of these wastes can be found throughout working processes.

Waste has a habit of slowly creeping into processes as we grow complacent. You might not even realize that a large portion of the tasks you do every day are in fact wasteful. Left unchecked, waste can lead to a loss in profits, backed up schedules, unsatisfied owners, and increased injury risk as workers throw caution to the wind in order to accelerate their production timelines.

Shifting the Focus

Ultimately, the processes we abide by should be done with the final product in mind: the outcome. It’s easy to get wrapped up in other aspects of the project that are demanding our attention at the moment such as the personnel, the machines, and the equipment. Lean Value Stream Mapping forces us to shift our focus to the outcome and how each of our steps impact the final outcome.

An easy way to identify waste is to ask yourself: which steps are not benefiting the outcome? Since waste can be thought of as the antithesis to value, any step that is not directly adding value to the outcome is waste. In some instances, A3 thinking can be helpful to determining countermeasures to the various problems that Value Stream Mapping can bring to light. A3 thinking is a process improvement tool that allows teams to visualize issues and all of the elements involving them so the team can identify and test a countermeasure.

How to Conduct Value Stream Mapping

The first step to creating a value stream map is to define your core and your support streams. Support streams can be mapped out separately from the core stream. Determine what your outcome is first and work backwards from there. What steps are needed to reach that endpoint?

Afterwards, visually map out the value stream. The process map should include a number of stages including:


The person who initiates the request and receives the good or service. In a proper pull planning system, the stream should always be initiated by someone who triggers the system to begin the process. In design and construction, this person is generally the owner of the project. In support streams, this may be someone else.


The signal that initiates the value stream. This is the action taken by the customer that signals to the team that the value stream should begin.

First Process

The first activity that needs to take place within the value stream. What does the trigger initiate?

Last Process

The last activity in the value stream that leads to the completion of the project.

Final Deliverable

The finished project that the customer receives. In the core streams of design and construction, this is likely either the project blueprints (design) or the object being built (construction).

Issues You’ll Uncover With Value Stream Mapping

When analyzing the value stream, a number of problems within the process generally become clear. Some of the more common issues that can be found in most processes include:

  • Disconnected processes
  • Incomplete & unclear information
  • Uneven workloads
  • Wasteful activities
  • Long delays
  • Ineffective outcomes
  • Excessive costs
  • Poor customer experience
a detailed example value stream mapping exercise

Value Stream Mapping Example

Value streams generally aren’t straight lines and often include a great number of variables. Here is an illustration of a Value Stream Map example. You can see that the map includes detailed descriptions of materials, travel steps, and time required to complete various steps of the process.

Learn Value Stream Mapping

The Lean Construction Institute is committed to transforming the design and construction industry by providing Lean educational resources, conducting research, and facilitating local and national Lean events. It is only through the power of the LCI Corporate Members that LCI is able to offer the supplementary resources below. 

Lean Assessments

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Learning to see the Effects of Improved Workflow in Civil Engineering Projects
Covering construction management workflow, this white paper explores Value Stream Mapping and civil engineering projects within a real world context.
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Trade Partners Handbook of Production Improvement Methods
This handbook was developed as a resource. The content is intended as a user guide with practical resources, lessons learned by others, examples, and guidance to allow trade contractors and specialty construction firms operating to adopt lean principles and reap the workforce and business benefits that follow more readily.
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eLearning Courses
Introduction to Lean Project Delivery
Gain insight to Lean Project Delivery (LPD) by understanding how the Lean System connects People, Principles, and Practices to optimize results by shifting both mindset and behaviors. The key achievable goal of this course is to prepare and enable team members with a foundational understanding of Lean approaches for daily use within a project environment.
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Introduction to the Last Planner System®
This course will allow you to gain in-depth insight to the practical application of the Last Planner® System (LPS) through multimedia, hands-on interactions, diagrams, worksheets, and more. The key achievable goal of this course is to learn how to engage at all five levels of LPS effectively on a day-to-day basis with a team implementing the system.
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Effective Big Room
Gain a foundational understanding of the concept of a Big Room by learning the benefits, purpose, and implementation considerations. Understanding how to improve collaboration and drive transparency within your team. Identifying venue types, set up, and activities that work best for your projects. Learning how to effectively advance work and learning to support the success of future projects.
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Lean In The Design Phase
Gain insight to Lean approaches and tools relative to the design phase of project delivery to optimize team communication, collaboration and results. Understand how a Lean strategy can drive innovative solutions by connecting People, Principles and Practices. The key achievable goal of this course is to prepare and enable team members with a foundational understanding of Lean approaches for daily use within the design phase of a project.
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Last Planner System® In Design
Gain a foundational understanding of implementing Last Planner System® (LPS®) during the design (pre-construction) phases of a project. Identify the essential foundational principles of the five conversations of LPS, gain practical application insight for each, and access key action guidelines.
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Target Value Delivery
Gain an understanding of Target Value Delivery (TVD) by identifying the different phases and components that make up the delivery approach. Discover how the Lean components interact together to improve the process and outcome of the project.
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LCI Publications
Transforming Design and Construction: A Framework for Change

William R. (Bill) Seed, Executive Editor

A diverse set of practitioners collaborated to create the Transforming Design and Construction: A Framework for Change book based on the transformative projects and experiences of their Lean practices. The papers, presented in short chapter format, are intended to encourage discussion, learning and experimentation individually or with a team. Read the first and most popular book in LCI’s Transforming Design and Construction series to gain a high-level understanding of various Lean principles, strategies and methods.
Target Value Delivery: Practitioner Guidebook to Implementation

Executive Editors: Kristin Hill, Katherine Copeland and Christian Pikel

Target Value Delivery: Practitioner Guidebook to Implementation was collaboratively written by a team of more than 20 Target Value Delivery (TVD) practitioners to provide current state practical guidance to implementing TVD with a project team. This guidebook portrays TVD as an umbrella over Target Value Production for construction and Target Value Design by taking a broader approach rather than focusing only on the design phase. Read LCI’s second book in the Transforming Design and Construction series to gain practical insight to current practices for implementing Target Value Delivery on any project.