The Incredible Benefits of Value Stream Mapping — An Interview with LSSBB Pam Gladwell

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Ron Crabtree-CEO of MetaExperts and MetaOps

When I think about all the tools and techniques, and the OpEx in the Lean Six Sigma tool bag, I can honestly say that near the top of that list is the technique called value stream mapping. To put a little context on how important this is for you, let me offer a couple of thoughts to help you frame this for your organization. This particular technique is helpful in any kind of organization, but it’s even more important if any of these statements or issues apply to you, in your situation if any of these things might be true: (1) finding the right things to measure in daily operations is a real challenge; or (2) what we do is complex, with lots of moving pieces; or (3) it’s hard to train new people in what we do because there are so many variables in how things are done; or (4) it seems like we could do things a lot better but we really don’t know where to start and what to focus on first.

Well, if you’re in a transitional environment like healthcare or financial services or whatever, I’m willing to bet that all of these issues are probably a big deal. You’re in for a real treat: Pam Gladwell, one of the authors of the book Driving Operational Excellence, wrote a chapter entitled “Using Value Stream Mapping: Learning to See Transactional Processes.” In her chapter, Pam does a fabulous job of defining the importance of what value is, and then using that to guide us in the application of the value stream mapping techniques that tell us where to focus scarce time, money and resources to get the biggest bang for our buck.

Pam, to start out with, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Pam Gladwell:

Well, I’d be happy to. I’m a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, trained at GE and I started my own business in this area about two and a half years ago, the Performance Excellence Academy. And I work with organizations now to help them use and deploy Lean Six Sigma, which is my passion. And I’m the author and instructor now for the Lean Six Sigma course for Purdue University and, of course, I also co-authored with several other wonderful and amazing authors this great book Driving Operational Excellence. And I do have to say, the great thing about this book that I’ll . . . just talk a little bit about now is, it does have a great deal of specific how-to tips for doing these types of things, and that’s what excited me so much about this book opportunity. So, you get to go through, and one of the tools that I’m also passionate about and wanted to write about, which this book allowed me to do, is value stream mapping, which I think is just an amazing tool and explains to you specifically, “how I can get started using this great tool myself.” So, that’s a little bit about me.


You know, being certified by General Electric as a Black Belt is no trivial feat. What’s the cliff notes version? What do you go through to actually get certified by GE?


Good question. My start at GE was interesting because I had no idea I’d end up in GE and I had no idea I’d end up in something called Lean Six Sigma. I started out at Miami University in Oxford as a Systems Analyst, then went back later and got my MBA while I was working on IT. I got my first job at NCR in Dayton in 1986, and I started working in ISO9000. That’s where I caught the quality bug and got involved in a tool called quality function deployment — another excellent, central tool within Lean Six Sigma.

I really got involved in the details of that and ultimately got to go out with NCR, and then AT&T, of course when it took over NCR, and train, all over the world, for quality function deployment and voice of the customer. I just loved it.

I left NCR about after 9 or 10 years and went to work for a Japanese company and, of course, I had been working in quality for some time then and thought “oh my gosh, I’m going to quality utopia,” because, all we had ever heard was “the Japanese do this, and the Japanese do that, this, that and all of that.” After working for a short time with this Japanese company, which was a 100-year-old company in manufacturing and a very good company, was as I began to bring out some of these tools like quality function deployment and some of the things that I was so excited to talk to them about and get them up front and they looked at me kind of perplexed and they said “Not all Japanese companies like Toyota.” And I thought, “Oh no! I have not gone to quality utopia!” It was a very interesting exchange of, you know, some Japanese culture and then me taking some of these quality tools to a Japanese company, which was a great deal of fun and a wonderful learning experience. After a couple of years, I found myself still learning more things.

I was sitting in an ASQ local meeting, and there was someone from GE presenting about this Black Belt thing and Six Sigma. And I realized, “Oh my gosh! That is quality utopia. That looks amazing. I have to go learn about that.” So, when I left that meeting, I got my resume, and I faxed it, and I emailed to every place with anything that had a GE on it.

Lo and behold, I got a call from a recruiter within GE for GE Aircraft Engines whose processes weren’t working real fast at the time, and another call from GE Capital whose processes worked a little faster. I chose them starting as a Black Belt. It involved tons of training. One week of training for D face-to-face and one week of training for M face-to-face. And I did a project during that time, a real project…


Let me get this straight; you had six weeks of training…?


Exactly. That was in the very beginning when they were trying to figure out the early rollout of Six Sigma at GE. They needed to make sure they had the rigor and had the rigor down very specifically. A lot of things have changed since then, but then you had to also do a presentation, a pitch out to the management team at the end of every phase — at the end of D and at the end of M. They’d grill you: “Did you get this right? Did you dot all the Is and cross every T?” And they wanted to see that. Very quickly, after I went through that, I became the trainer for Six Sigma at GE Capital. I loved it and spent 18 months doing that and…


A Master Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification…? Wow. What an incredible realm of experience. But when it came down to writing your chapter in the book, you chose this topic of value stream mapping. Why? I’m really interested to know why.


Yes. Well, it wasn’t until GE brought the Lean in — in the beginning, Lean was only a manufacturing tool, and it wasn’t until then that GE said: “wait a minute, we can use this Lean stuff all across the transactional part of the business as well.” So, they went through a whole other pass, though decided to do transactional Lean and train people as we merge the terms Lean and Six Sigma and do Lean Six Sigma.

Of course, I said “I’ll do that again! Pick me again!” I went through the merge of Lean Six Sigma, and they used value stream mapping to look into the insides of these transactional processes. This is the most amazing thing I’d ever seen because, as you know, when you walk the floor on a manufacturing process you can look around and you can see everything. You can see parts flowing; you can see information moving back and forth between people, you can see everything that’s going on. You can see wait time, you can see people standing, or you can see things piling up. In transactional processes, you can’t see that. You can’t see what’s physically going on. You can look out over a sea of cubicles, and you can look, but you can’t actually see what’s happening until you talk to people and you map it. And you map it through researching emails or researching pieces of paper or documents or what’s going on inside of a system or printing a screen of what happens inside a system or looking at documents that people had on their lap.

All of that, when you print it, and you post it up on the wall, and you map it. Allows you to actually see a transactional process. And it was the most powerful thing I’d ever seen. People started to step back and say, “We do that?” in complete disbelief. It was an amazing thing. It was the biggest wow we’d ever had in any of the Six Sigma tools. The management team actually said, “I don’t think we should do any Lean Six Sigma projects anymore without having a value stream map.” It was that strong a tool.


Pam, one of the things that our clients are always interested in, is pragmatic — how do you do this right? So why don’t you give us the steps, the approach that you recommend?


It’s not that it’s that difficult to do. It’s actually a fun thing to do. When you get teams up to speed, and they get involved, they actually love it. Get a big white or brown banner paper, and say, “Let’s walk this process.” Start with something as simple as a high-level process map, as something you’re going, to begin with. That’s your first step, your normal process map.

Then you have to identify your target product, product family or service. What is it that we’re going to map? Now, this is really important because you can quickly get engulfed in mapping through something that’s completely out of control and something that is way too big. That’s very easy to do. Let me share with you, real quick, an example. The hiring process in HR. It sounds like it should be a fairly simple process but, as we start to dig in, it’s pretty detailed, pretty expensive, and something that’s extremely important for the company. And it can begin with something as simple as needing to fill a job with the end step being the employee is in the job ready to work. That’s a pretty big scope. If you ask executives in many companies, “Do you know how long that takes?” in many cases, they will say, “No we don’t” and “Where should we start?”

In another HR scenario, an executive might say “We’re having a problem with the cost of people that we’re interviewing, beginning with the time that we start to interview them to the time that they get the offer letter.” Beyond that basic but extensive process, let’s say that you have to get them on an airplane and get them somewhere. If you don’t get that right, it can involve rebooking them, rebooking fees — it’s not uncommon that they might have to do that once or twice if the schedule is not done appropriately. Expensive and you expose a high-potential candidate to a bad process.

Wasting the time of the executives involved in the interview process is a common complaint. Narrowing that down starts with a high-level process map. In this case, the product family or service is an out of control hiring process. So we determine where would we like to start the process and finish the process? Narrow that down to what’s the most painful, and what are its inputs and outputs. Once we get that, we walk that process — walking it might not be walking the shop floor like we normally do, but we walk it through a transaction that’s just happened — we take the most recent candidate that was put through the process, one that was painful, maybe one that everybody got all upset about. We follow the track of the emails that just went back and forth and say, “What went wrong, what happened, what could we have done differently?” and map it out. And then in step five we would go through and fill in all the blanks of the details:  Did we have rebooking fees and how much did it cost? Were we rebooking at the last minute? What were the big prices we were paying for tickets versus what we could have done if we would’ve planned this out better? What was the extended time of that? How long did it take from the time you started interviewing to the time we got the offer letter out? which is much shorter than the whole time, to begin the process to the time the person is actually up and on the job ready to go.

This is a process that can be used in many different steps at any different time. The one we just talked about is, let’s go and grab something immediately, probably based on very painful experience. However, you can go back and map at a high-level the end-to-end process and then start picking it apart and having multi-generational plans so the owner of this HR process can say “look, we’ve mapped out the process end-to-end. We know how long it takes from the time a manager says ‘hey I’ve got a job opening’ to the time that job opening gets filled with somebody — they’ve got their computer, everything they need, the specific job training and they’re a walking ready-to-go employee. And we can tell you the specific most time-consuming parts of that process. We can tell you when we’re going to start working projects on that process and exactly which are the biggest chunks we’re going to take out.” Now you’ve got a multigenerational plan for the next time you go to management. You look like a real winner using your value stream map to do that.


Can you sum that up for us Pam? What do you think are the top two or three takeaways from this discussion before we wrap up?


I would use value stream mapping every time I get ready to do a project for several reasons. It gives you an amazing big picture of your process. Whether you’re doing it just at the level I described, you pull it down, and you say I’m doing it for this one project. Or, whether you back up and say I just really don’t know where to start at all. I don’t really even have this encapsulation of a set of specific complaints that someone has given me. I’ve got to start with a really big picture, and then I can nail down where the areas are, and I’ll start with a project then. It gives you this big, nice picture.

And, it gets everyone involved. It creates such wonderful buy-in because everyone has mapped it based on a real transaction and everyone steps back and says, “That’s it! That’s it!” It’s real data, it’s the real thing, there’s no argument, and everyone just starts running from there.

It helps the team really pinpoint which area to start with, so there’s no debate. They go right to that one area, they circle that area and say here’s the start point. We’ll begin here; we’ll stop here. It sets the boundary for you so nicely. And it also shows you what’s coming in upstream and what’s happening downstream on the other sides of your project so that when you do make changes or you suggest changes in your project, you can go back and look at that and say, “What are our changes going to do? What are the impacts going to be upstream or downstream, and are we making good solid decisions?”

That’s just a high-level look at some of the benefits that you’re going to get from doing it, and of course, there’s many, many more. Value stream mapping is just a powerful tool. I can’t imagine life without it now.

Additional Reading

Interview with MetaExpert™ Gary Wickett: Are You Seeing All the Waste?

Process Mapping or Value Stream Mapping – Which to Use


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