A key part of implementing Lean Manufacturing into a Production area is understanding Flow; how parts move along the processes, between each workstation and what this looks like across the week and month. The future state value stream map has provided a vision for what the Production flow will look like, defining which parts of the overall production process can flow easily, which parts needs direction and which sections need the highest level of control.

Over the next few weeks, we will look at the theory behind each of these elements and how they can be practically implemented into your production environment.

Production flow comes naturally for continuous process manufacturing and the tools we use to orchestrated production don’t apply here. The tools we are looking at are best used for discrete manufacturing with varying batch sizes in companies where people are needed to move product from one location to the next to get them through the manufacturing process.

As with many of the Lean Manufacturing tools, the aim is to get 80% of the parts moving along well, allowing the other 20% for things to go wrong or some unusual event to occur – this may be simply expediting one lot of parts to meet an urgent customer need or for a batch of trial production or product R&D. Variation does occur and needs to be allowed for and tackled with problem-solving (a topic for another time).

Ideal flow will be when processes can be linked together and balanced. This way a fixed amount of work in progress is built into the process. Stability and good visibility are needed to establish this type of flow. The ultimate example of production flow is a moving line, where each part of the process is balanced and moves in harmony. If something goes wrong, the entire process stops as it is all tied together.  This is what we see in car manufacturing and other high volume manufacturing processes.

For many manufacturing processes, the dream of a moving line is too far into the future to think about. Over the next few weeks, we will look at first-in / first out lanes (FIFO), supermarkets and kanban systems to help control production flow.

When it come to discussing Lean Enterprise and the tools we use to implement our Future state plans, standard work is the easier to explain and the hardest to do.

Standard Work is having documented visual processes for every task that is done inside a factory; this includes not only the value adding steps to get the product out of the door, in also includes how the rubbish bins are emptied, when meetings are held, who changes the light bulbs and all of the little tasks that are performed through out each shift.

The importance of standard work can’t be overemphasises; having documented processes for everything you do makes training easier. It allows everyone to understand what is expected regarding quality and output. It makes improving a process easier as you know that each operator is doing the task the same way.

The value steam map we create can be out top level of standard work; this explains how the product moves through each process and the controls between these processes. For companies with multiple value stream passing through Production, the challenge here is to align each value stream map to check capacity of individual machines. If problems arise to create a bottle neck, the way the work is realised at the start of the process needs reviewing and how the bottleneck process communicates back to this point.

The next level of standard work explains to the operators how an area works; where does the work come from? Where does it go? How do I know if I’m going well? Who do I call if I’m not going well? This level isn’t needed for continuous production. It is vitally important when the manufacturing process is complex and FIFO lanes or supermarkets are being used to control the work flow through the factory. The aim at this level is to keep the standard work simple and visual.

The detailed level of standard work is where the real gains are in improving manufacturing efficiency (but of course the other levels are need as well). The more repeatable the process the easier it is to define the work standards. Agreement across operators and shifts is vital. This creates the consistency that can then be improved by all the team members.

For companies that have a large range of products and value streams creating standard work is harder, but not impossible. Here we start with the product families or groups that were defined in the initial stages of Lean implementation when evaluating where to begin with creating the first value stream map. Again, our aim here is for the standard work documents to be simple and visual, aligning with the visual controls in the work area.

Finding good examples of standard work is challenging; standard work defines the DNA of what a company does and many are reluctant to share this level of detail with others. As with many the Lean tools, standard work is best accomplished by getting your key people together, defining a starting point and get started. The details of what the standard work documentation will look like can be refined as the underlying information is gathered through direct observation of production, reviewed with operators and key support people and refined.

Standard work will be the hardest part of implementing your future state Lean Enterprise, and also the most rewarding.

Previously we outlined what a value stream was and how to find yours in your manufacturing company.  Now we will look at what we do with our current state map.

Preparing to create a Future State

A “Future State” is what we call the vision we are creating for our company. This process can be challenging as it is often the first time a company had got all of it’s key manufacturing people together to really look at it’s processes and determine a future direction for the company.

As with any important process, preparation is needed; set a side a block of time (4 hours is preferable) when you can have everyone together and no interruptions, (unless the building catches on fire.) Review the current state map and check you have all the information you need on it – we want this future state session to be about creating the future vision, not people running in and out to gather other data.

Creating your Future State map

Working with your TXM consultant, you will go through the steps to look at your possible future state. Make sure you list any other ideas or problems that arise on a whiteboard or separate piece of paper. These thoughts are important and need capturing but they can’t be allowed to derail the session. This is where a good facilitator will keep the process in check.

A future state map is only a concept until you have a real plan on how to achieve it. This can be overwhelming when you see all of the things that need doing; so many pieces of the puzzle that need fitting together and it is hard to see where to start. Your TXM consultant can offer their experience to determine where to begin, as well as Lean tools to analyse your options. From here, smaller projects will be defined to begin implementing your future state.

Displaying your current and future state maps in a prominent place for everyone to see helps to show how each of the smaller projects fit into the bigger manufacturing picture. This is where the communication process of any company is tested; make sure everyone knows what is going on and that change is taking place. And use your Future State Value Stream Map as a constant point of reference.


Understanding your company’s “Value Stream” is an important part of Lean Manufacturing, regardless of what type of products you are making. Today we will look at what a “Value stream” is and how do we find it amongst all that is going on in your business.

Simply put, the “Value Stream” is the series of processes through your company that add value to a product for which a customer will then pay for. In many manufacturing environments the manufacturing value stream is listed in the work order or traveler – those steps that need to be done in the right order to make the product. For process manufacturing environments, it’s the process line that creates the products value.

How do we find our “Value Stream”?

Most manufacturing companies these days will have more than one value stream, even if using common equipment to make different products. These can be determined with some examination of the family grouping of products, understanding their routings through the factory. If you are in an industry with a huge variety of different jobs and processes, or a straight “job shop” environment, the Value Stream is still there, it is just a little harder to see. Your TXM consultant can guide you through an analysis of past sales and coming orders to help understand where the main Value Streams lie within your company.

Found our Value Stream, now what?

Once your main value stream has been identified we can begin an in-depth analysis of all the processes that go into this one Value Stream. We do this with a Value Stream Map (VSM). Even if you have identified more than one value stream (some companies may have more than one parallel main process) the parts analysis will help you chose where to begin your VSM activities.

A VSM is the process of documenting each step of your manufacturing process. We want to include each machine or robot used, show where people interact with the product with manual processes or even moving the product from one area to the next.  Once all of the manufacturing or processing steps have been noted, we want to look further, to both ends of the manufacturing process  – what happens with the Packing and Dispatch process? How are the orders received? How do the Sales department handle the customer information over to the Engineering department?

While each of these steps are outside of the usual Factory boundaries, they are still part of your products Value Stream and the important part they play with the overall success of your manufacturing abilities becomes clear with the VSM process. This activity of listing all of your Value Adding steps as they are at present is what we call a Current State Value Stream Map. In our next post we will look at how we take this new tool to help us determine what our future direction will look like and where our company needs to improve.

Learn about the unexpected benefits of Value Stream Mapping