The flow of the 411

Most of our MBOE students have now finished creating the value-stream maps that they can work with for their capstone projects, the culmination of our year-long program. The flow of information, one of the key components within a value stream, many times gets neglected. It is very important to indicate the flow on the map to highlight the intricacies and the challenges faced by the people who do work on a daily basis.

info flow symbols value stream map
A quick how-to on value-stream map symbols

In health care, the staff might be using the Electronic Medical Record for the most part to access or enter information. But if some staff members don’t have access to all modules, they might wind up making a phone call or writing an e-mail to someone who does. This adds a layer of complexity and non-value added activity to the work.

In manufacturing, lead time sometimes can be hidden when the customer places an order until the sales and operations group has made a decision to go into production.

In transactional processes, information flows through an online system, e-mail, fax, and phone or in-person conversation.

Regardless of your value stream, it’s important to show in detail how information flows. This highlights how long it takes to get to the receiver and what kind of decision he or she makes as a result. Does this information help provide a signal or authorization on whether to produce a product or advance an application – or does it just result in a need for more clarity or information? A value stream must expose all possible wastes that could be affecting lead time.

The key thing to remember here is that whether it’s a pull or a push system, information always flows from left to right in the value stream. You can use symbols in the picture to show manual and electronic information flow. Use symbols to indicate phone or fax or e-mail. Indicate rework, redundancies or breaks in information flow using angry clouds or starbursts.

In the end, any information flows in the value stream must have a purpose. Everything else is noise.

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