Assess the Current State

The first step in a Lean transformation is to assess the current state of the operation. Understanding how the current process actually performs is critical to any improvement effort. A recurring theme in Lean is direct involvement in the work processes, a “go and see” mentality. The only way to really understand how a company operates, how products and services are delivered to the customer, is to observe the work in process.

A highly effective tool for documenting the current state is the Value Stream Map. A value stream map is a visual representation that depicts the flow of material and information through the end-to-end process, and captures performance data such as inventory, cycle times, changeover time, and available time for each operation within the process. Value stream maps should not be confused with process maps. A process map is a detailed representation of every step that is performed to execute a process, and is used to evaluate work content at a granular level. A value stream map also depicts the overall work processes, but instead of focusing on work content it is intended to focus on how work flows.

A key lean metric is Takt time. Takt time is often misunderstood; it is not a measure of how fast processes can execute work, but how frequently the customer demands output. Takt time is the pace, or the consistent level flow rate, that the operation must achieve to allow product to flow smoothly to the customer, when the customer needs it, in only the amount required by the customer.

A current state value stream map, complete with performance data and takt time, is an essential first step in a Lean transformation.