Printing Lean

Treasure Maps

September 27, 2007

Last issue we explored the subject of waste and how easy it can be to get started on eliminating much of the wastes that exist in print shops today. The key, if you remember, is that in order to eliminate these wastes you must first be able to see them. Our next Lean tool helps you to do just that — see the wastes that are inherent in your processes. The Lean community calls them value stream maps — I call them treasure maps.

Let me ask you a question: Do you know how long it takes for your company to produce an order? I don't mean how long it should take; I mean how long it actually takes. You'd be very surprised at how much waste exists in your current processes if you measured them precisely.

If you haven't see a value stream map don't confuse one with a plant layout. We're not drawing an actual "map". A value stream map does not show distances drawn to scale or physical separation of departments or people. It's a tool that is used to show the flow of information and materials.

A value stream is the path that a product (or service) takes from beginning to end, from conceptualization to realization or, more commonly (and for our purposes), from order entry to shipping. When you map a value stream you see every single step that a product takes from the time your customer places an order to the time you ship it out the door. These steps include front-end and back-end processes and departments that are usually overlooked when trying to reduce lead time: sales, order entry, planning, prepress, purchasing, platemaking, material handling, packaging, shipping, and billing.

A general example of a value stream map at a printing company
Value stream maps show not only the steps that an order takes, but also information and material flow. When constructed properly, a value stream map shows how long an order actually takes to make it through from beginning to end as well as all of the hand-offs, re-routes, waiting, and inventory builds that accompany the order along the way. Buried in this map is a veritable treasure — time and material that is wasted in "the way we do things".

Many printers might think that value stream maps cannot be effective in a print shop, particularly one in which finished product is packed off the end of a press. This misconception stems from the belief that value stream maps are useful only in high-volume, low-variety environments that have multiple, discrete manufacturing processes. The fact is that any product or service has a value stream and any value stream can be mapped.

Value, if you recall from last issue's column, is defined as worth in usefulness or importance. Value is what our customers expect from us. Value is whatever the customer will pay for. When you map a value stream you are looking to identify anything that a customer would not consider as having worth in usefulness or importance and will not pay for.

Start with order entry. Your customer values having the order entered correctly. Your customer does not value having their order sit in an inbox or on a fax machine. Orders, or job jackets, dockets, etc., are the "product" of the order entry process. Orders that pile up between processing steps are a waste of overproduction and are now waiting — more waste.

Perhaps your customer requires a proof. Creating this proof, then, is a value-added activity. Having the order passed back and forth between your order entry and graphics functions to clarify proof instructions is not value added. Having to correct errors on a proof is not value added.

Having the correct material is value added. Having a press wait for the correct material is not, nor is having material handlers looking for or moving materials.

Producing a product that meets customer requirements is value added. Makeready is not. This one really gets people confused. After all, how can a product be made if we don't go through makeready and set the job up? The answer is simple: Makeready is necessary, but makeready by itself is not something that the customer would pay for. Think about it — could you present your customer an invoice that lists only makeready and expect them to pay you for it? Of course not — they ordered product, not makeready.

When reviewing value streams you must keep in mind that the customer — not you — defines what is value and what is not. Whether your run size is 10 or 10,000,000 you are providing a product that your customer values and you are creating that product through a process that is known as a value stream.

Once you've mapped the current state of your processes you can see the wastes that exist between each step. You can then envision what your value stream might look like if you remove some or all of these wastes. In doing so you create a future state value stream map that everyone can see and work from. A future state map helps to coordinate continuous improvement activities to improve the output of the value stream as a whole and avoid isolated pockets of improvement that maximize output in only one area, creating more waste upstream and downstream in the process.

Consider a makeready improvement event. Many printers work feverishly to reduce changeover time by 50 percent or more, only to use the newly available capacity to run larger orders. This creates more inventories (waste) and puts even more drain on cash flow. Larger run sizes lead to longer lead times and more frequent break-ins for emergencies. In looking at a properly constructed value stream map a company would be able to determine what continuous improvement events are necessary and what other areas of the value stream these improvements will impact without creating additional waste or disruption.

Avoiding the typical reaction

Let's take a fictional company, Abby's Labels. Abby's runs one shift, eight hours a day, five days a week, and has a steady 10-day lead time. Abby's average order takes one hour, including makeready. One day Joe's SpeedyQuik Labels opens up shop and starts providing the same products as Abby's in only eight days. Abby's management quickly realizes that they must reduce their lead times in order to stay in business. What do they do? A typical reaction would be to reduce makeready time, since it's not value added, so Abby's works hard to reduce makeready from 40 minutes per job to 20. Fantastic, right? Not so fast.

Abby's makeready reduction of 20 minutes per job nets two hours per day, or 10 hours a week. That's a gain of a little over one day — they're still almost a day slower than Joe's. Meanwhile, it takes six days for Abby's to get an order processed and out to the pressroom. A 50 percent reduction would pick up three days of lead time. This is why a value stream map is crucial to deciding what areas have the largest impact on the entire system.

Value stream mapping is both a necessary and critical first step on a Lean journey. The map shows you where you are, where you want to go, and the route you'll take to get there. Without a map you'll lose your way. Map your value streams to get started on your Lean journey.

Tom Southworth is the founder of Southworth Consulting LLC, a Niantic, CT based consulting firm specializing in Lean and continual improvement for printing and the graphic arts. He is a Senior Member of ASQ and is Lean Bronze Certified by SME. He can be reached by e-mail at

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