Warning: You Can’t Even Draw a Map with this “Value Stream Mapper” App


If you are a Twitter user and follow the #Lean hashtag on Twitter, you might have seen a lot of noise from a company called Designing Kaizen (@DesigningKaizen), claiming to have a web-based app for “value stream mapping” (see their app's separate website here).

After getting a ton of evasive answers and non-answers about who the co-founders even are (through a series of Twitter messages and emails), the company refused to let me have a “free trial” of the software (yes, the purposefully denied my request for the trial that they offer on their website) because they feared my motives were “nefarious” (WTF?). So I took a hit for the team and paid $25 for the “software.”

I will continue this post over time with more details and backstory, but the app is worthless, in my opinion. You cannot even draw a rudimentary VSM with the current version. I agree with @KarenMartinOpex when she tweeted “even beta versions need to have minimum functionality! It's a worthless tool at this point.”

More to come… be warned and do NOT spend your money there. The app is not at all what they describe in their marketing, nor is it what they show in the screenshots… and their attitude, via Twitter and email does not suggest that they are an earnest startup that is trying to improve an early version that they know is lacking. I am going to be protesting the charge (as I expected I was going to have to do) with PayPal and American Express.

Update #1: I am all for the idea that a “Lean Startup” might launch with “minimum viable product” functionality, but this “beta” does not at all live up to the promise of their hype. One could consider that fraud. I have tried communicating my concerns privately, via Twitter and email and have not been satisfied with their responses (and churlish attitudes) so I feel obligated to warn the Lean community.

Update #2: These guys claim via Tweets:

  • More great feedback on our Value Stream Mapping app from our users “The more I use it, more I see why the simplicity works” #LEAN #AGILE
  • Getting VERY good feedback on our Value Stream Mapping app from early users. Everyone seems to love the simplicity.http://bit.ly/mDgxTI+
That cannot possibly be real feedback. The app is lacking in these areas:
  • If you drag and drop a process box onto the drawing, you cannot rename it. You can spin it in circles, but you cannot name it anything other than “press.” They claim the ability to rename a process box is coming later this week.
  • You cannot delete an element other than clicking “undo.”
  • You cannot save a drawing.
  • You cannot share/email/print/tweet/fax a drawing (they have claimed this is a robust tool for sharing VSMs)
  • There are no data boxes
  • There is no semblance of a time line.
  • There is no “customer” or “supplier” box that you can even draw.

Update #3: The “Nancy Drew Award” goes to Karen Martin for discovering the street address on the DesigningKaizen.com website does NOT come up on google maps.

Address: 626 Enterprise Way New York, NY 10229

Fake. Address.

Update #4: Their original product concept was online video Lean training that “doesn't suck.” They claim the following companies as customers:

Then, they changed direction and unveiled this “value stream mapping” app that doesn't even allow you to draw a VSM. It sucks. DesigningKaizen said, via Twitter, that all other VSM software sucks too. My god, the arrogance.

Update #5: They have repeated tweeted:

  • Robust VSM tool creating e-versions of value stream maps (for creation, presentation, distribution & archiving) http://bit.ly/iy03Af
The software does NOTHING to save, archive, etc. Their advertising claims are untrue and fraudulent. Here is a screenshot of their software (click for bigger view).

Update #6: Their “support” email told me:


We do not have a refund policy at this time. We will be happy to forward your email to the
company founders. Thanks again for the feedback.

Thank you
-Designing Kaizen

Be warned.

Update #7: Their confirmation email says:

This membership does not auto-renew at the current price until the end of the Beta Program. You may cancel at any time. For cancellation info, please contact the Designing Kaizen support department at support@designingkaizen.com.

Problem #1 – the signup process did nothing to accept a recurring charge (nor was there any license agreement).

Bigger problem – their app does not require any sort of user login or password even.

Update #8: They claim (via Twitter, not responding to my email) that they have revoked my access to the app so they can process a refund for me.

Update #9: Part of the feedback I had given to them originally was that their planned pricing model of $50 per month was completely out of line with the market.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Clearly these guys have overpromised and underdelivered, in Mark’s eyes. Being “in beta” or being “a startup” has never been an excuse for making wild (or not-so-wild) claims that your product doesn’t back up. Screaming “we are doing kaizen” is not an excuse to suck. Minimum VIABLE Product guys, not minimum. Having a storefront that takes payment is not the MINIMUM.

    I’m a software guy who is somewhat new to lean, but I would fully expect that “value stream mapper” would allow you to draw a value stream map, even if you couldn’t do anything fancy with it. Online real-time collaboration or some other fancy features — now that doesn’t have to be in an MVP, but this is the equivalent of an online banking app that doesn’t allow you to check your balance (but that feature’s coming soon, we promise!).

    Getting to market early is good, but there’s such a thing as “too early.”

    Mark knows what he’s talking about – these guys should be happy he was willing to give them time and expertise, but they’ve managed to piss him off it seems… not good behavior for a startup that is looking to build goodwill in a market.

    • The only ethical way they should be asking people for $25 is to say: we know our product is clearly lacking at this point, but your $25 is an investment in our team so we can make the product better over time.

      Instead, their “team” is semi-anonymous, standoffish, and arrogant, rejecting even the most obvious feedback about their product.

      This blog post was my shot across the bow after I (and some other bloggers) smelled something funny with this whole situation. This seems more like a ruse to get $25 out of people than it is a legitimate software effort.

      If Designing Kaizen ever delivers a very of the product that works and provides some value, then I’d reconsider what I’ve posted here. But I stand by my statements about my experience with them and their product.

      If others want to try their software (again, they supposedly offer a free trial), and post their experiences, let’s hear it.

  2. Thanks for the warning! I checked out their website some days ago and was impressed by its appearance. Hopefully it won’t lure too many unwitting customers into purchasing the app, at least until it is up and running effectively (if that ever happens).

    Great post!

    • You’re welcome. I could have saved the hassle of paying and fighting for a refund by asking somebody else to get into their offered free trial. You can probably do that, unless they also blacklist you for speaking out.

      It should also be noted that I’m not saying they can’t develop something useful, but the current app sucks and doesn’t live up to their marketing message.

      My reaction to the product-vision gap is as much based on their attitudes as it is the product. If they seemed more humble and sincere about wanting to create something good, I would have cut them to slack, as I would naturally do with a startup.

  3. Thanks for the tip. I was suspicious when the whole free trial thing failed for me, but I wasn’t willing to pay to explore.

    I suppose this leaves an opportunity for someone else to build something that actually works.

  4. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about the Lean community is our propensity to work together for the common good, share information, and be generally respectful, forthcoming, and noncompetitive. As a community, we do a fairly good job of modeling the Lean values of transparency, respect for people (where truth and trust are key), and continuous improvement.

    What doesn’t work for me are newcomers that display the opposite values and behave in ways that are not in keeping with Toyota/Lean principles. I’m all for innovation – but not at the expense of values.

    Enter Designing Kaizen. They joined the Twittersphere in early April and have been Tweeting their fingers off. Some of their Tweets include solid content, some of them are odd (singing penises?), and a whole lot of them are promoting themselves and their new value stream mapping (VSM) product.

    I’m always happy to see new products that improve upon existing ones and provide greater customer value. But I’m not happy to see products that not only don’t improve upon what’s already available, but don’t even meet the minimum requirements for performing a certain task. Even worse is an attempt to profit from such products.

    But what REALLY gets my hackles up is when I see a poor product that’s backed by people with questionable values-or worse.

    From day one, Designing Kaizen has not been forthcoming about who they are, nor what experience they have. They scoff at any question about how they became experts, as though one can step into any practice and know things that take decades of application and continued learning to truly grasp. There are no bios on their site. You can’t be anonymous and profess to be an expert. Doesn’t work.

    Here’s what also doesn’t work: lying. The street address listed on their site is a fake address. Fake zip code, fake street. They claim to be an LLC, but according to the New York Secretary of State, they are not. According to the New York County Clerk’s office, they don’t have a business license. These facts make me question everything on their site, including the clients they’ve supposedly worked with, whose logos are displayed. Deceit has no place in our community.

    Back to the product: For $25 you get a product that doesn’t carry even basic functionality. It gives you no ability to create a timeline, the single most important element of a value stream map. You can drag and drop icons, but have no ability to alter them. So unless your value stream includes nothing but “press” activities, you’re stuck. I could go on, but it’s not worth the real estate to say anything more. You get the picture.

    Eventually the market will take care of this problem. People are smart enough to check out products before they buy them and, if they know anything at all about value stream mapping, they won’t buy it. Track records make or break businesses, and Designing Kaizen won’t be immune to this reality. But, to Mark’s point, as leaders in the community, we have an obligation to warn others.

    Designing Kaizen’s product brings nothing to the table. If you need a software program to create electronic versions of your maps, iGrafx’s FlowCharter is excellent, as is eVSM. And the Designing Kaizen values aren’t “Lean” in any way, shape, or form. What our community needs are innovative products that help us transform organizations-created and marketed by knowledgeable, honest people. We deserve nothing less.

  5. Sweet, looks like I could’ve coded a better version of this in my sleep. Their founders probably aren’t software developers and they’re more than likely using an over seas development house (India, Ukraine, Russia, China, etc.) to get the software out the door.

    It’s not a small, agile team in NYC. If it were, they wouldn’t be acting like they are. It’s either a very inexperienced, non-agile team, or it’s out sourced.

  6. A search of the WHOIS database shows that the website (designingkaizen.com) was registered by someone who lives in TN.

  7. From Scott Sorheim on twitter — @scottsorheim

    funny. another fail: just noticed their logo at the top of their main site has “designing” spelled wrong. (desiging)

    • And to demonstrate how non-iterative and incompetent these guys are, their logo is STILL spelling wrong two days later.

      I seriously doubt their promised “ability to rename a process box” feature was really going to be delivered yesterday, as had been claimed.

      • Maybe they have changed their Twitter handle to @desigingkaizen? Somebody should check. No, better yet, somebody should register that Twitter name before they do. :-)

        Yes, I’m a stinker.

        • It’s fascinating to me that they STILL have not fixed their logo at the top of their webpage, as of 7/22 here. That’s just incompetent on their part, or they just don’t give a crap about quality or their company. Sad to see.

  8. A VSM in an “app” smells pretty fishy to me no matter what the credentials of its authors. Much of the power of mapping experience I’ve had comes from group interaction – if it is not hanging on the wall, I don’t see how you get that.
    Get the team together and draw a messy picture with butcher paper and pencil and stickies and flip chart markers… Then figure out what it should look like down the road awhile; then make a plan to get there.

    • Spot on, Andrew. This is a valid concern I forgot to mention. The “mechanics” of producing the VSM (how exactly it looks, which icons are used, etc.) are far less important than the shared learning/discovery, analysis, and consensus building that occurs among the team during the process. Putting VSMs into electronic form should only be done when it’s essential from an archiving or organizational sharing perspective. Butcher paper first. Always.

      • Warning: trying not to, but this may come off sounding overly commerical as I’m working on a web-based VSM tool (sort of).

        I agree that the process of building a VSM is important to be done in teams, and further, I feel that the “archiving” stage should be as painless as possible. I’m also a big believer in leveraging the data in a VSM for more advanced analysis (see my website link for a flavor of what we try to do).

        So to make the archiving phase as painless as possible, I’ve built a semi-web-based tool that automatically builds an eVSM map for you based on an Excel input file. The Excel input file is built in the same structure as the output of eVSM’s Excel Calculator feature, with an added column for specifying activity types (basically what shape to draw).

        The way the tool works now is, go here and enter your name and email, and upload an Excel file with your data. When our server finishes drawing your map in eVSM, it emails you a eVSM/Visio file of your VSM and deletes the Excel data it got from you. You can then run the eVSM calculator if you want to use their built-in equations, or if you want, it just draws the data you put into it.

        At this point it’s a very late alpha technology, and it puts most of the work on the user to put the appropriate variables into their spreadsheet. But if anyone reading this wants to try it, you can go to the link above and submit a file. There’s an example data file you can download from the same page, and modify with your own additions, and get a map back.

        For now it’s completely free to use, and eventually we’ll probably settle on a subscription-based business model, with the option of paying on a per-map basis as well. We may be able to provide a basic service for free, where we send you a GIF or PNG file of your map that you can view, but if you want to edit and embellish the map, you have to be a paying member.


        • Yes, am a user of eVSM. Our maps end up very very large and having an electronic version of the maps, apart from the analytic capacity, will give us a record when the originals are destroyed.

          Being a Visio based application it can be clunky, but does the job. Right-sized.

  9. On the topic of a “VSM app” not having seen this version…

    What is the purpose of value stream mapping?

    Here’s a hint: it’s NOT to build a map.

    It’s to get a group of people to have a common understanding of the current reality of their material and information flows by combining their collective, valid, and incomplete views through dialogue. The goal is the understanding. An app will help you build a map, but I would argue it gets in the way of shared understanding.

    Therefore, even if it’s a great app, I don’t think I would be interested.

    • Yes, yes, a million times yes to the idea that the map isn’t the most important thing.

      Like you said, the process of creating a value stream map is a shared team experience, not a solitary process.

      A few weeks ago, I tweeted “Value stream mapping is a participatory team sport, not a solitary activity at the computer.” to which somebody replied “tell my boss.”

      I also tweeted the advice that if you’re boss tells you to go draw a VSM, the first question you should ask should be about putting together a TEAM to do this.

  10. Thank you, Mark, for taking one for the team. I’m sorry you have to hassle with the refund process, but it was indeed good to uncover that a product being marketed doesn’t meet its stated intent. Hopefully J. Edward Carden and Jonathan Bell’s (if those are their real names) refund process works better than their software.

    • I’ll get my money back, since I used my AmEx to pay via PayPal. Both are good about refunding your money when a company screws you.

      It’s been almost 48 hours since DesigningKaizen said they were processing my refund. That should have been nearly instantaneous via PayPal.

    • I don’t think Mark really “took one for the team” as much as he created a bit of hassle and drama for himself, and I say that with all due respect, not to mock him.

      I don’t know if anybody was really being fooled by this “Desiging Kaizen” and their mis-spelled logo and vaporware. If this were April, I’d accuse Mark of pulling off another one of this funny april fools jokes, like the fake A3 app.

      So, bravo for calling these guys out, but I don’t think you were really falling on a grenade to protect anybody. It’s like if some six year old kid says he’s going to kick my ass… I don’t really need you to protect me from such a “threat.” :-)

      Interesting discussion though.

    • The “bio” page for Mr. Carden. Maybe because he speaks a little Japanese he thinks he knows Kaizen? Funny he talks about how the work of others “leaves much to be desired.”


      “J.E. Carden
      Entrepreneur & Developer
      I’m the founder of Designing Kaizen, a web startup bringing algorithms and analytics into companies that are serious about eliminating waste and cutting unecessary cost. We were founded in protest of mediocre and expensive consulting services that leave much to be desired. We provide full service engineering with online training, web-based advising services and kaizen design.

      I’m also an open source artificial intelligence software developer for the Synthetic Intellect Institute. We are building the world’s first open AI semantic navi for Ubuntu. I also dabble in angle investing.

      In years past I lived in Paris, Tokyo and Tennessee, and was an operations research engineer and data scientist for seven years. I’m also fluent in English, Japanese and Redneck.”

  11. I see there is already a trackback on this thread. I want to preface that I have no direct experience with the app but wanted to mention that I was just turned off in the little bit of experience I had with DesigningKaizen on Twitter. Enough, that I chose to Ignore and Observe instead of Mark’s approach.

    I wrote a blog post today – Will the Mvp crush the Lean Startup? :: Business901 and the reason is my concern of all the discussion about Iterative, Fail Early and Often, Beta, etc. As we go forward, we need to make sure the customer is not left behind. This is a great example of a MVP going bad.

    I am on way to many Beta platforms lately. Being an early adapter, I don’t mind mind most but it seems like every upgrade starts a new adventure. Quality still needs to be built into the product at every level and it still is determined from the view of the customer. You can’t simply hide behind beta.

    • Joe – thanks for your comment. I agree that “hiding behind beta” is a poor excuse for bad quality in software.

      It could be an unintended consequence of @EricRies and the story he tells about the first version of IMVU being more likely to crash your computer than do anything useful. They obviously moved beyond that to be a successful company, but I hope that hasn’t become carte blanche for people to release complete crap as v1.0 (or as beta) like DesigningKaizen did.

  12. Dang, Neutron Jerk, the reality is that none of us caught the typo until recently. And there was no way to know the software didn’t deliver as promised until Mark invested the time and money to investigate further. Maybe we were all guilty of hoping for the best? Or maybe you’re just smarter than everyone else. Or maybe… just maybe… you haven’t been following the Twitter feeds since April to understand why Mark’s reaction was as it was. He’s the only one who’s gone public with the degree of distaste many of us hold. Try not to cast stones until you know all the facts.

    • To Neutron Jerk – I don’t think I deserve a medal for outing this software sham… I really considered just ignoring them and not giving them any sort of exposure. But, after Karen and I had put our heads together on this, it seemed worth giving this some light of day.

      As Joe Dager has pointed out, this topic includes the broader dysfunctions that could, potentially, occur with people running with what they think is a “lean startup” idea in the wrong direction or without proper respect for customers and the need to “not waste people’s time,” as Eric Ries says.

    • Karen, no I had never heard of these clowns on Twitter (or the real world) and I would have likely never heard of them if Mark hadn’t blogged about them.

      Wasn’t meaning to cast stones, just adding another wrinkle to the discussion. If these DesigningKaizen guys are the equivalent of message board “trolls,” you have to follow the “don’t feed the trolls” advice and then they get ignored and go away.

      Speaking of feeding the trolls, the noisy “new systems thinking” people have made themselves very scarce around this blog lately. Good. Oops, now I’m being a troll myself. Just ignore me.

  13. Follow up — Designing Kaizen still has a misspelled logo on their main page… they are still “offering” the online video training.

    But, I did a test to see if I could pay for it (to check the quality) and PayPal gave an error:

    This recipient is currently unable to receive money.

    Return to Designing Kaizen
    At this time, we are unable to process your request. Please return to Designing Kaizen and try another option.


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