Value stream mapping (VSM) is a tool that is familiar to anyone who has studied Six Sigma. While VSM originated in the manufacturing field, it can be an extremely effective tool for any industry, including healthcare IT.
What Is Value Stream Mapping?
According to the Six Sigma dictionary, value stream mapping is:
A paper and pencil tool that helps you to see and understand the flow of material and information as a product or service makes its way through the value stream. A value stream map (aka end-to-end system map) takes into account not only the activity of the product, but the management and information systems that support the basic process.
Its purpose is to identify the value of each step of the process so the team can identify areas for improvement, reduce redundancies and waste, and look for ways to add value in the future. Typically, the VSM is created to illustrate the current process, and from there a model is created to outline an “ideal state” VSM. It can be drawn by hand, or VSM software can be used across the team to achieve a better flow of communication and collaboration.
The Human Aspect of VSM
The map itself is critical to VSM, but anyone analyzing a process should always factor in the humans who actually do the work and implement the process. The ideal state is not always practical based on procedural or technical constraints and human behavior can often be a roadblock itself. The ways in which the “human factor” can influence outcomes include:
- Resistance and defensiveness to a change in process or goals.
- The tendency of some to shoot down new ideas.
- Disagreements around the practicality or possibility of new processes.
- Divergent ideas of what constitutes success.
Value stream mapping can improve performance and increase the chances of a healthcare IT project sticking to its timeline and its budget. However, anything new can disrupt the flow and cohesiveness of a team. It is important to communicate the fact that a VSM’s purpose is to improve performance, increase the flow of communication at all levels and promote new ideas and innovations to achieve goals.
To get buy-in from the group, it’s often wise to attempt VSM on a small project with a limited scope, and work out the kinks before attempting to use it on a larger, more critical project.