Learn Value Stream Mapping with coffee and pizza

How would you bring a concept like advanced problem solving to an audience of experienced leaders and managers from various areas, including ICT and Business?

You could ask them to bring along a process, a problem, an opportunity, …

I decided to dive into the deep part and tried it. Without big success. Nobody did their preparation and in the other case the process brought along was only familiar to part of the class.

So I had to find a generic solution:

–          Which offers insight into the area of problem solving.

–          Where every participant can relate to.

–          Which is challenging enough for experienced participants, but not too challenging for non-experienced participants.

After some experiments and with feedback from participants & peers, I found a concept which meets all demands: Value Stream Mapping… with coffee and pizza.

The principle

Coffee – As teacher you have following case:

Your family in law (6 persons) is on a visit at your place. You have a classic coffee machine (not a full automated George Cloony Nespresso machine)  and all needed materials & products to make coffee. Your coffee beans still have to be grinded.

Why coffee?

Making coffee is a simple process which is familiar to all participants, even the ones that do not drink coffee. With making coffee there’s not much to do in parallel or in a different order, so it’s a great case to map the process in a very limited time.

Even though it’s a simple process, many things still can go wrong.

There’s one disadvantage: there’s not much to improve in parallel flows, so it covers only a part of the theory.

Pizza – The groups have following case:

You are the owner of a pizza house and have to make a pizza Hawaii.

Why pizza?

Pizza is also familiar to all participants, even the ones that do not like pizza. But making pizza is more complex than making coffee. Even when every group has the same end product, they will all make it in another way, but not too different way.

This will result in discussion in the group about the order and preconditions, but the result of the different groups can also be compared. There’s some value here in trying to understand the others’ point of view.

Lesson flow

High level flow:

  1. We start with a small piece of theory.
  2. As teacher I apply the theory to the process of coffee making. (about 10min)
  3. The group gets the pizza house assignment: they have to develop the value stream of making a pizza Hawaii. (about 15min for each step)
  4. Review of the group exercise: what went good/bad? What did you learn? What will you do different next time?

We go through following rounds:

  1. Create high level value stream (SIPOC).
  2. Create detailed level value stream (VSM).
  3. Find critiques.
  4. Improve process.
  5. Find measurements to see if your improvements are working.

Materials needed

  • Brown paper
  • Permanent markers
  • Post-its in various colors
  • Tape or magnets to attach the brown papers to the wall.

Time needed

2 hours


  • Create a few empty brown papers for each group. These brown papers have to be large enough to capture the process, but small enough to make it harder for them.
  • Divide the class up in groups of about 3 to 4 participants.
  • Notify the class that some “unexpected interruptions” may occur during the exercise.

Unexpected interruptions

During the exercises I add unexpected interruptions as an extra difficulty by:

  • Making the fire alarm go off (not the real one!).
  • Taking the dominant group member to a (supposed) meeting with the GM.
  • Letting a group member fall sick (time-out for x minutes).

These are actual all events I experienced in real life during workshops 🙂

Tips & tricks

  • If you notice there’s chaos in the group, assign a facilitator with as only task… facilitating! Every round the group will have to reassign a new facilitator.
  • After each round, review the group experience.
  • After each round, review the role and experience of the facilitator.
  • Pay attention to the level of detail of the VSMs to make sure every group has the same tempo and end result.
  • Challenge the participants. Are those all critiques? Aren’t there any other solutions possible?

What do they learn?

  • Working together in a group to solve a problem.
  • Visualizing the process.
  • Dealing with unexpected circumstances.
  • Facilitating a VSM.
  • Working with the correct level of detail.
  • Understanding different points of view.
  • Thinking about how to measure success.
  • Learning to evaluate and improve.
  • Dealing with feedback.

Why should I do this exercise?

It will help you explain a tool and way of working on a pleasant and easy way. If you make your presentation good, you’ll cover all learning areas: seeing, hearing, by viewing examples and experiencing.

I’ve received some good feedback after the workshop/course, so I would say: try it out & let me know what you learned from facilitating it!

Are you looking for another fun lean exercise? Check the “Lean Cup Factory” blog!

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2 thoughts on “Learn Value Stream Mapping with coffee and pizza

  1. […] first steps to kanban are that teams make flows (value streams) of the work that progresses during their […]

  2. […] me it’s the same as when facilitating other workshops like Root Cause Analysis (RCA) or Value Stream Mapping (VSM): if you participate in the discussion it’s hard to stay focused on guiding the process and […]

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