Tag Archives: VSM

Kanban used for knowledge sharing

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, times remain hard and organizations struggle with balancing resources vs savings. When work volumes decline, head count will follow and this creates a knowledge gap. Profiles become more generic and the work floor needs to invest in knowledge building without budget for it.

We already described the use of kanban for setting priorities in “From push to pull for task assignments”. In this post we describe how almost the same kanban system can be used for building a shared knowledge base.

Example kanban board at kanbanflow.com

Example kanban board at kanbanflow.com


The first steps to kanban are that teams make flows (value streams) of the work that progresses during their job.

To illustrate, typical IT work progresses from ToDo via Develop/Build to Test.



Functional Design

Technical Design



Test Customer


The Kanban technique makes the whole process visible, but also adds certain constraints:

  • The number of concurrent tasks can be limited per phase, project and/or person.
  • There is priority queuing before tasks are taken up by the team.

An example of limiting concurrent tasks per phase:



Functional Design

Technical Design



Test Customer










Priority queuing adds a step before the normal flow actual starts:


Priority ToDo


Functional Design

Technical Design



Test Customer











The advantage of priority queuing is that it can be used together with the customer, but it can also be used for sharing knowledge.

Building a knowledge base

People tend to have the tendency to pick tasks that they know, that are familiar to them. The pitfall here is that after a while you get very specialized profiles. In good times this isn’t a problem because there’s work enough for everybody, but when times get rough and your team is decreased…

To overcome this pitfall, make the agreement with your team members that they also have to pick up tasks which are not their specialty. To give focus, you can assign one or two extra systems, languages, environments, … they can take up. To assist them in the process, assign a coach from the team which has the needed knowledge.

Make sure you follow-up in your team huddles to check what their experience is and where the approach can be adjusted.

Have fun!

Additional reading

Kanban & scrum – making the best of both

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We read for you: (re)DISCOVERing VALUE – Leading the 3-D Enterprise to Sustainable Success

Rediscovering value - Leading the 3-D Enterprise to Sustainable Success

Rediscovering value – Leading the 3-D Enterprise to Sustainable Success

(re)DISCOVERing VALUE – Leading the 3-D Enterprise to Sustainable Success” is a book by Geary A. Rummler, Alan J. Ramias and Cherie L. Wilkins which describes the need for changing to a 3-D enterprise to gain sustainable success.

With the concept of a 3-D enterprise, the book describes the need of three-dimensional management of complex organizations on the resources, value and management dimension.

The book addresses the problem with resource management in organizations: the fact that there’s only one-dimensional management in the resource dimension.

Let me explain.

Resource management vs. end-to-end ownership

Currently in many organizations the performance is measured in budget spending of the different functional silo’s and not in value delivered to the end customer.

The result is a yearly battle for getting the most resources (money, human capital and other) for the specific silo’s in the organization. In this process, each manager does it best to acquire the best and most resources to optimize its own functional pool. Further, there are also no end-to-end value stream owners assigned with end responsibility for the process and it’s results.

The end result is that hard problems which affect the end customers are not solved because of silo politics and no end-to-end ownership.

When each silo get’s its budget to optimize, there could be continuous improvement in progress, but it could be done at the wrong places. Compare it with optimizing the chain of your bike while the rear tire is flat.

Pick up end-to-end ownership

So how could you as an organization grow out of this non-productive situation? By identifying the core value streams, laying organizational focus on them (top down) and assign resources to the places that need it.

If you have the process mapped, the RACI defined, the end-to-end owner assigned, critiques found, etc, you can optimize the process by assigning resources (yes, resources, not only money) to the areas which need it the most.

This implies that one year department X will get more of the resources, and maybe the other year department Y will get the most.

Key takeaways

Creating the value creation system:

  • Start with mapping the current state.
  • Assign end-to-end value stream owners.
  • Work top down with mapping the value stream, planning, budget rounds, performance measurements, …
  • Management involvement is important: let’s get your hands dirty.

Details of the value creation system:

  • Add possible errors, trends and corrective actions to your KPI explanation.
  • Add the reason WHY you are monitoring the KPI + what do you want to learn from it to your KPI explanation.
  • Divide budget by priority in value stream, not by bottom-up silo requests.

Working with the value creation system:

  • Avoid suboptimizing.
  • Technology changes only on specific request of the business.
  • Don’t make linear cost cuts, but look at the value stream and its priorities.
  • Cross-functional reporting per value streams and find solutions together. Overcome the “it’s not my problem” attitude.
  • Create an early detection system for problems so lagging actions are avoided.

Launching the new way of working:

  • Change will not happen overnight: this shift to value implies a culture change.
  • Use incremental changes to switch from the old system to the new. Wait with the next step until each step has proven itself.
  • If you start too many initiatives, you will lose overview and work floor engagement.

What will I do with the book?

I read the book but remain with an empty feeling. I have some key takeaways, but lack more information about bringing it to the next level. The book describes three generic processes, but remains at a high level. How would you switch from an old system which is in use for years to a new value based system?

The book uses a lot of charts and many details about the generic systems, but for me they are not adding value. There’s no use in studying a generic process like “product developed” because each step is so common, you could use it in any organization.

How would you bring a modern organization with many value creation systems of many kinds which are intertwined to the new way of working? The challenge remains and I guess it’s up to us to find our way and apply the key takeaways where possible.

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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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Best practices for Value Stream Mapping workshops

Value Stream Mapping is an advanced problem solving technique that is used to map the current state, to identify critiques and opportunities, and to create the future state.

We do value stream mapping workshops on a regular base, but what can we learn from them? This posts focusses best practices in the area of preparation, execution and follow-up of the VSM workshop.

Defaults like “start on time”, “training”, etc. are omitted, unless it’s considered critical.
I am sure there are many more best practices ready to be shared, so please do!

Preparation of the workshop

  What was learned? Why is it critical?
1 Logistics: Make sure you reserve at least two hours. Avoid stopping before the future flow and action plan are created
2 Logistics: make sure the room is large enough, book in time, check available tools, create workshop kit with different colored Post-Its and markers. Avoid loosing time on start
3 Logistics: make your brown paper large enough for the process, but not too large. Be able to capture the complete process, but avoid loosing yourself into the details.
4 Pick your main contributors. Avoid actions & results which are not accepted after the workshop.
5 Choose a third party facilitator when diving into political/sensitive issues or you are a key contributor yourself. Facilitation & contributing at once is not possible.
6 Map high level flow with eg. SIPOC Save time during the workshop
7 Observe the value stream: walk the process Talk with people who do the work to get insights and critiques. Find inputs and outputs. Discover and experience all steps.
8 Decide on the goal of the workshop. Avoid analysis paralysis.

During the workshop

  What was learned? Why is it critical?
6 Clarify the role of the coach. Avoid the impression of supervision or audit.
7 Agree on the VSM scope with the group. Set focus/goal. Avoid discussions on workshop start.
8 Respect the order of the steps: map the current flow first, find critiques for the process and design future flow. We need the AS IS first before we can start with the TO BE process.
9 Waste & value. Repeat what value means for the customer. Repeat the 8 wastes with the group: Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, OverProcessing, Defects, Unused human talent. Hang for display. Prepare for critiques.
10 Start from the last step Start from the end product. Determine yourself where to stop: test, develop, design, analysis. Make sure you have measurable end product
10 Strong facilitation. When in problems maintain the process. Stay out of the content. Adjust agenda to group dynamics.
11 Use visual management to differentiate between steps, roles, inputs and critiques. Keep the overview. Avoid confusion.
12 Look actively for rework and “go back” loops. Identify and eleminate waste. Increase delivered value.
13 Deliver clear action plan with assigned follow-up responsible. Make sure the road to results is paved.

After the workshop

  What was learned? Why is it critical?
13 Follow-up on action plan. Ensure personal actions that were assigned and agreed are follow-up.
14 Digitalize flow. Avoid loosing the time spent. Keep result for further optimations.
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