Beyond20: A ServiceNow Elite Partner What is Value Stream Mapping? - Beyond20

What is Value Stream Mapping?

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

Understanding and improving value streams is critical to ensuring our companies or agencies perform at consistently high levels. Value streams, a highlight of the ITIL 4 release, enable digital transformation and organizational change initiatives by aligning leaders across the organization, identifying the most important work to be done, and improving the overall client experience – in short, allowing us to deliver greater value to our clients.

Why is Value Stream Mapping Important?

Leadership teams often focus on improvements at the single team or departmental level. However, if we improve how work is done within just a single department or with a single process, we end up improving our own area while sometimes inadvertently making things worse for other teams and/or the organization as a whole. Karen Martin and Mike Osterling’s aptly titled book Value Stream Mapping calls this effect sub-optimization:

Sub-optimization: When you make an improvement to one component of a system while ignoring the effects on the other components. A seemingly important improvement could cause the overall work system to perform more poorly. For example, if one department successfully reduces its turnaround time, but the fast output merely causes a larger queue and/or more work for the downstream department, the improvement may have a negative impact on the performance of the overall system.

By focusing one level higher – at the value stream – we can achieve improvement across the organization and to the overall customer experience. Mapping value streams requires many teams working together, so the entire organization understands where gaps, misunderstandings, disconnects, unnecessary steps, and redundancies reside. This exercise helps siloed departments focus outward to the customer rather than inward. By mapping how we bring value to our customers, we also help our organization have more collaborative, impactful conversations around how to work and improve together. 

What is Value Stream Mapping?

Here’s a simple definition (also from Karen Martin and Mike Osterling’s book):

The sequence of activities an organization understands to deliver a customer request. More broadly, a value stream is the sequence of activities required to design, produce, and deliver a good or service to a customer, and it includes the dual flows of information and material. Most value streams are highly cross-functional; the transformation of a customer request to a good or service flows through many functional departments or work teams within the organization.

A value stream is a Lean management tool. Individual value streams are sometimes called “quote to cash”, “order to delivery”, or “request to receipt”. They can also include processes and activities further upstream from a customer request, for example, with a value stream like “concept to cash”. In any case, a value stream is comprised of the processes needed to take a request and transform it into a product or service.



The activities in an organization’s value chain are considered to be of high value. Those that aren’t are of lower value and considered “waste”. By defining what processes and activities bring our organization value, we can look for ways to improve these high value activities and improve how we can more effectively bring value to our customers.

How is Value Stream Mapping Different from Process Mapping?

It’s worth noting here that value stream mapping gives leaders in an organization a macro view that helps them make strategic decisions, while process mapping gives teams more of a micro view that helps them in day-to-day work, at more of a tactical or operational level. Process mapping is valuable in that it helps teams understand their own work, but it is fundamentally different than value stream mapping – process maps include elements like swim lanes and decision trees, while value stream maps contain much larger pieces of work like key processes rather than individual activities.

Another differential between the two is the parties involved in creating them. Process mapping sessions involve those who are doing the work. Value stream mapping is done by those overseeing the work.

How Do I Map Our Value Streams?

Below are some high-level activities involved defining your organization’s value streams. Please note: Mapping value streams and transforming an organization does not happen overnight, and this article only scratches the surface of what’s involved in transforming the organization. If you’re attempting it the first time, it is critical to have an experienced value stream mapping facilitator involved in the process:

Determine the value stream to map

The first step is to think with the end in mind. Your team should take the time to clearly define key challenges the organization is experiencing and/or goals you’re trying to achieve. If your company or agency is struggling in some key areas, these are potentially great candidates to map out as a value stream. Once you’ve selected a value stream to map, define the goal posts between receiving and fulfilling a particular request. Make sure everyone is clear on the scope and objectives of what you’re mapping. In our own case at Beyond20, we might map the processes involved between a client requesting an on-site training class through our website to the delivery of the class.

Determine which members of leadership should be involved

Make sure the right people are in the room to do the mapping. This includes selecting senior staff from the various silos or departments of an organization. You’re looking for people who are aware of the work done in their department, can speak to cross-departmental interactions, are influential and respected in the organization, and – most importantly – can approve changes to the organizational structure itself. This is often higher up in the organization than we may initially assume.

Plan the event

Since key leaders will be involved in this (often multi-day) session and their time is precious (not to mention difficult to book), make sure you have a well-structured agenda and speak with everyone beforehand on the purpose and objectives of the session to ensure you make good use of everyone’s time. As mentioned previously, having an experienced facilitator will help the session run smoothly, push leaders to uncover and honestly discuss areas in need of improvement, keep the team focused, and drive productive discussions.

Run the event

A value stream mapping session involves first understanding and mapping the as-is state, which will allow the leadership team to define and map the to-be state, then create an execution plan to drive improvements, as defined here:

Map the As-Is State

In this step, leaders should focus on investigation and discovery (for example, uncovering and understanding overall flow and waste). Avoid coming up with solutions until the as-is state is fully mapped out. One of the essential steps in mapping the as-is value state is “walking” the processes involved – physically going to where the processes happen to see and learn how work is actually done. This provides leaders with tremendous insight, so we don’t end up mapping out how we “think” the processes work, but rather understand first-hand (and have a better idea on how to best improve) how work is actually done.

Map the To-Be State

In this step, leadership should focus on innovation and ideas (for example, finding creative ways to reduce wait time and eliminate unnecessary steps or handoffs) as well as measurement (by defining good Key Performance Indicators).

Create an Execution Plan

Once the team knows what needs to improve and has a to-be state defined, they will then define how to execute their strategy and build a Transformation Plan for improving the value stream. This is a make-or-break step. If the team stops at the second step, you will end up with a beautiful to-be plan that collects dust. The goal here is to actually improve our value steam, and to do that, the team must execute and have the discipline to stick with it. In this step, leaders will discuss how improvements will be communicated, define a plan of action, and determine how and when progress will be measured.

Value steam mapping can result in dramatic improvements to the efficiency and performance of the entire organization and delight our customer. It requires a tremendous amount of experimentation, honesty, and commitment to implement, often times, daring and difficult changes at all levels of an organization. With that said:

Anything worth doing is going to be difficult -Fauja Singh


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Originally published May 05 2019, updated January 01 2024