Tools Tips and Tricks to visualize and improve your business operation’s productivity and efficiency.

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Value Stream Mapping and Process Flow Tools

Value stream mapping (VSM) is an approach that helps companies improve the flow of products and services throughout their supply chain. It involves identifying bottlenecks in the process, analyzing how those bottlenecks affect customer satisfaction, and then making changes to eliminate the bottlenecks.

Process Flow Tools document a process in a consistent manner.  These tools provide observational and real information on current problems.  Additionally, they help simulate and evaluate new options.

Below are several great ways to visualize your factory and build understanding among colleagues

Basic Process Mapping

What’s it for?

Process mapping is the way to create a flowchart of a process.

It is the framework and foundation for more detailed tools.


  • Detail – Not too much, not too little.
  • Too much will overwhelm and too little will not give you the desired results.
  • Scope of the process and identify boundaries
  • Is the map as-is or should-be?

TIPS: Parking lot of ideas not directly related to the process mapping – improvement ideas, assumptions, questions, out of scope issues/ideas

Step back and talk about how to measure key information

Concentrate on the process, not the details, times or other non pertinent information

Steps for Basic Process Mapping

1.Get the team together

2.Team brainstorms steps. Organize sticky notes on a board

3.Use symbols that are relevant to your business

4.As a team, agree on and arrange steps in order.

5.Keep the process flow moving in chronological order.  Only go in reverse if there is a repetition of a step

6.Walk the process forward to understand the flow.  Then backward pretending to be the customer of the process

7.After reaching an agreement on all the steps, number and transfer to a spreadsheet.

3 Great Questions to ask yourself when creating a process map:

  • What steps can be simplified?
  • What steps can be consolidated?
  • How can the process be evenly matched?

Here’s another take showing 5 steps to creating a value stream map – 5 steps to creating your own value stream map

Transportation and Spaghetti (Workflow) diagrams

What are Transportation and Spaghetti (workflow) diagrams are used for?

  • Used to visualize the physical movement and flow of a desired task.
  • Once visualized, you can better understand the true cost of a process.
  • From this you can identify waste, evaluate improvements and improve productivity.
  • Pick your approach
    • As-Is
    • Should-Be


  • Create a diagram of your workspace showing all key components and areas
  • Work from existing flowchart of the process, or brainstorm a list of steps
  • Decide on creating an as-is chart or a should-be chart.

TIPS: Remember, you can depict more than just people movement, you can visualize material or even information.

Steps for Creating a Workflow Diagram

1.Find or Create a workplace diagram

2.Start with existing flowchart or brainstorm steps

3.Mark where the first step of the process happens

4.Draw arrow to the next task location

5.Map all steps

6.Evaluate the diagram

Look for crisscross lines, returning repeatedly to a common location, long travel distances

7.Extra Steps – add time and information to better understand the value add versus nonvalue add time

Example of a plant nursery propagation workflow

1.Receive work task from manager

2.Get vehicle

3.Go to field

4.Take Cuttings

5.Go to propagation building

6.Store cuttings

7.Fill liner trays with media

8.Water Trays

9.Apply Rooting Hormone


11.Watering Trays

12.Transfer to carts

13.Moving to field

14.Place in liner growing area

15.Return vehicle

16.Return to break area

Only 6 of 16 steps are Value Added!!!!

Value Add vs Non Value Add

Evaluate with respect to customer.

Identify waste areas.  Steps and tasks should be evaluated based on function. 



Value Added – Essential to deliver plant to customer

Pruning, fertilizing, spacing, upsizing containers, weeding, watering

Business Nonvalue Added – Required for business operation

OHSA/EPA reporting, frost protection, equipment maintenance

Non-Value Added – No value from customers perspective.

Transportation of product, movement around nursery, overproduction, excess pruning, waiting

Cause-Focused Brainstorming Tools

Tools to help you identify the root cause of a problem

Five Whys

What’s it for?

  • Basic technique to work down to root cause of a problem


  • Don’t send baggage through the Five Whys. Discourage team and not likely to be successful.
  • Many times, the underlying issues on old problems have been around a long time and may be very difficult to fix.
  • Use on new problems. Often when a new problem is evaluated with 5 whys, old issues will surface organically.
  • Be tolerance of all mistakes the first time.

Never allow the same mistake to be made twice.

“We have a very sophisticated technique for developing new products. It is called five-why. We ask why five times.”

Yuichi Okamoto (former Toyota Technical Center VP)

How do you use the 5 Why's to Identify root cause of a problem?

Getting Started:

Ask “Why” five times in a row to get to the root of the problem

Good uses:

  • Inventory issues
  • Missing inputs
  • Miscommunication
  • Differing or missed expectations (sales and production)
  • Equipment / Machine Failures

“Observe the production floor without preconceptions and with a blank mind. Repeat “why” five times to every matter”

Taiichi Ohno

Example of applying the 5 Why's:


Level of Problem

Corresponding Level of Countermeasure


The belt is broken

Replace belt

2nd WHY?

There was a tear in belt

Monitor belt Integrity

3rd WHY?

The belt was misaligned

Adjust belt tracking

4th WHY?

The belt was not properly adjusted

Create a belt adjustment procedure and acceptable range

5th WHY?

No one noticed or spoke up that the belt wasn’t aligned

Educate on proper operation

6th WHY?

The crew did not receive proper training on what to look for

Setup training program for new hires

Fishbone Diagram – Cause and Effect

What’s it for?

Tool to arrange and organize many potential causes of a problem.

Used to identify critical areas to investigate and not miss other areas that may be root cause

Good tool for persistent and reoccurring issues


Use this tool to organize different causes of a problem and determine which areas you should test  to find root cause.

There may be more than one root cause.  Fishbone diagrams provides structure to your evaluation.

Follow these simple steps to complete fishbone diagram:

  1. Name the problem – Be Specific
  2. Decide major categories
  3. Brainstorm detailed causes and add “fishbones”
  4. Identify most likely causes
  5. Determine ways to quickly test causes and verify if they are true root cause

Efficiency Improvement Concepts

Some simple tools to improve efficiency of your operation

Mistake proofing & prevention (Poka-yoke)

What’s it for?

Poka-yoke is a tool to eliminate failures by designing them out of the process.  Stop a mistake before they occur or prevent it from making it to the next step of production.


Corresponding resolution should be proportional to associated risk

MISTAKE PROOFING (cannot be assembled wrong)


5 Quick steps to take to mistake proof a design or product:

  1. Identify defect and how it affects customer
  2. Identify process step that caused the defect
  3. Investigate and analyze root cause
  4. Brainstorm ways to eliminate or detect
  5. Implement mistake proofing device

Here's an example of the difference between mistake proofing and mistake prevention

Mistake prevention allows an operator to still attempt to put something together incorrectly, whereas mistake proofing allows an operator to put something together any way and it will be correct.

How do you increase efficiency in your factory or on your assembly line?

It's time to look at your Work in Progress (WIP) inventory!

Here's what you do:

You must slowly reduce WIP inventory to find the “rocks” that are hindering your production.  When you remove these rocks from your production process, the entire business can run more smoothly

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)

3 Factors to Measure with OEE:


  • Total equipment operation time vs time working.
  • Any stops, breaks, or changeovers, counts towards uptime.


  • Measure line operating speed vs maximum capable speed


  • Count of rejected plants from inspection (each wagon to be inspected for quality)

Things to Note:

  • Separates effectiveness into 3 buckets
  • Allows you to quickly see problems
  • Specific to your operation, cannot be compared to other businesses


How does OEE correlate to real world performance?

Process Cycle Efficiency

Once you have a process map and times you can start to understand:

  • How efficient your processes are running
  • Evaluate how well improvements are working