Why are Factories in Value Stream Maps Drawn That Way? What’s That Shape?


Typically, the customer (or supplier) icon in classic Lean “Value Stream Mapping” looks like a factory.

Well, it looks like what might appear to be a strangely-shaped building — or it might seem like a random shape:

In context, a VSM might look like this (a version posted by LEI):

If we're going a Value Stream Map in healthcare, is our customer a factory? Should we hold to that “standard” or maybe draw a patient who is making a request for care or an appointment?

But if we're using a factory, why is it drawn this way?

This style of factory roof is called a “sawtooth” roof. They're not ONLY found in Japan, but I saw this style of roof when visiting Toyota recently, as this one photo shows:

The building seen there was the original Toyota factory and it's now part of the complex called the “Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology” — it's a great museum that I never get tired of visiting.

Here's a model of what this style of factory building looks like (a photo I took during this most recent visit):

The Wikipedia page about sawtooth roofs talks about how this design helps bring in natural light and this design was popular before the spread of artificial lighting… and it's become more popular again as people and companies are more concerned about energy efficiency.

“The steeper surfaces are glazed and face away from the equator to shield workers and machinery from direct sunlight. This kind of roof admits natural light into a deep plan building or factory.”

I've seen this style of building in the United States and other countries, so this isn't just a Japanese thing.

I originally posted a shorter version of this on LinkedIn and that prompted some discussion.


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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