Printing Lean

The Value of a Value Stream Map

October 4, 2011

Everything you do, from door to dock, is what makes up your value stream.

A key tenet of Lean, it is often said, is the complete elimination of waste. Waste is anything other than the minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts, and time that is absolutely essential to provide the customer with what they've requested. Sounds simple enough, but unless you've been trained to see waste, you probably cannot.

In the October 2007 issue of Label & Narrow Web, I wrote about value streams and the value stream mapping tool. I called these maps "treasure maps" because they can lead you to the waste that's hiding in your value stream. Your value stream is everything that you do to bring your customer orders from receipt to delivery. That means everything, and everything that you do costs money. Finding money that you don't have to spend is like finding buried treasure.

It's not about the equipment
Many printing companies and company executives don't believe that a value stream map is of any use to them. After all, printing isn't about making planes, trains or automobiles. Print companies, they say, are job shops where every day brings something different, and their entire value stream is contained on just one or two pieces of equipment: the press and, sometimes, a slitter rewinder. These arguments against value stream maps show just how uninformed so many are about this tool. This article, then, is for you.

A value stream map is not simply about the equipment. After all, there's so much more to your operation than just a press. The press doesn't take the customer's phone call, does it? The press doesn't preflight the customer's artwork, does it? No, people do these actions, and many more, and anywhere that you have people performing any type of work you have components of your value stream. So it's not just about the equipment.

The argument that print companies are unlike other manufacturers, in that the jobs we run are different every day, is really a false argument: The only difference between today's job and tomorrow's job is where the ink is distributed on the substrate and the shape of the diecut. You're still using ink, plates (except for digital printing), substrate, and a cutting die; you're unwinding stock through the press and rewinding it. In short, we do the very same activities every single day, so we are very much like an automobile manufacturer who makes many different models of cars using the same equipment and the same assembly lines day after day.

It's about everything that you do
In order to see the waste in your entire value stream, you must first understand just what that value stream is. In short, it's everything. Everything that you do from the moment your customer places an order to when you finally deliver the entire order is what makes up your value stream. The value stream map helps you to visualize these activities so that you may begin to see where you are using more than the "minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts, and time" to get that product to the customer. Without having this information you're just guessing and probably guessing wrong, very wrong.

Go see, ask why, show respect
When created and used correctly, value stream maps provide the information that you need not to help you guess, but rather to make informed decisions about where you're wasting time, material and money – and where you're not. Getting this information is more than just walking around, pointing and asking questions.

Former Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho once said that when a manager is looking to discover answers, then he or she needs to "Go see, ask why, show respect." Go to the actual place where the work is, ask why its happening the way that it appears to be, and always show respect to those whom you're asking the questions of because it is they, after all, who are doing the real work and not you. They know why, you don't.

When you ask why and then follow up on the answer, you begin to uncover root causes. Without asking why and without doing so out in the customer service office, prepress, or shop floor, you can't find the root cause. Every time that I lead a team out into the value creating areas, they are amazed at what they find. I hear a lot of "I didn't realize" or "I didn't know" and that's because people don't take the time to go see, ask why and do this with respect. Whenever they go see it's usually to demand why and assign blame.

You don't know Jack
A value stream mapping session is an eye opening experience. It can also be a humbling one. You may think that you know exactly how your customers' orders get from door to dock, but unless you're answering the phone, creating the order, buying the material, preflighting the art, making the plates, mixing the inks, setting up and running the press, slitting, packing, shipping and invoicing the order, then you're just guessing. And, since you're guessing, the real blame behind why things are they way they are rests entirely with you, because it's your business.

A value stream is everything
Remember, it's more than just the equipment. It's every single action that every single person takes between receipt of the order and shipping the order. Every single activity, every single step that they walk, every single report that they run, every single phone call that they have to make to confirm, clarify, or correct. Your value stream map tells you every single activity that your company does to get product to your customer whether you want every single one of these activities to happen or not. They're happening, you need to see them happening, you need to understand why they're happening, and you need to stop those activities that are waste from happening. It's that simple.

Tom Southworth is a Lean consultant with CONNSTEP, Connecticut's Manufacturing Extension Partnership. He is a Senior Member of ASQ, an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality & Organizational Excellence, a senior member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, SME Lean Bronze Certified, and a certified TWI Job Instruction and Job Relations Trainer. He can be reached by email at
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