Demand Stream Mapping?

Getting lean right is more than just ideas. Here’s an article on demand stream mapping that I was actually interviewed for. Don’t know what that is? Well, here’s the crux of the article that I believe gets it wrong:

But a third alternative is that businesses are used to the ideas of value-stream mapping, improving internal systems and asking suppliers to follow suit. Notice, however, the focus is either internal or rearward-facing. Value-stream mapping looks on the supply rather than demand side. Isn’t the point of business to produce to meet a demand?

We don’t need new ideas, we need better execution on the ideas we already have. Now I know that a lot of people practice value stream mapping inaccurately, but when value stream mapping is done RIGHT, it STARTS with the customer. I get lots of calls from magazines asking for interviews on a topic of this or that. I’m usually glad to oblige, because it helps the authors piece together a story and I’m in the fortunately position of getting to see a lot of stuff. But I did it on the condition that they didn’t say demand-stream mapping was the solution to a supply-chain focused value stream map. I guess they didn’t listen. Lean starts with the customer – always. I don’t like “demand-side” because it dehumanizes people making very real decisions, often based on emotion, whether they are a consumer or a business. Many people are afraid to engage their customer in a meaningful way, but this is the only way you learn what is truly valued.

Now, I have seen some very bad practices when it comes to value stream mapping. In one well-known company that a lot of people write about how great they are (I will not say who) they promoted value stream mapping and each department was supposed to do a value stream map. So here’s the paint department, who’s value stream map was “load paint line” – “get painted” – “unload.” Which step would you like to eliminate? The problem was they were using the tool at the wrong level, instead of trying to understand how material flows from the supplier, through the factory and out to the customer (or “demand stream”). Process mapping works in that paint shop, to show all the waste in how that process is run. In this particular case, I saw a part being move several times before it was finally loaded in to the system.

So, to summarize: (1) demand stream mapping isn’t new; (2) do value stream mapping right by beginning with your customer (or “Demand side”) and (3) use the right tool fool for the right purpose. One last thing, I don’t say “that throws a spanner in the works” – that’s British slang.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon. Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus. Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

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