In the course of helping teams understand how their own project / service is structured and managed, I often facilitate value stream mapping (VSM) sessions.

What specific facilitation techniques are most effective when facilitating a VSM?


5 Answers 5


Most organizations, according to Gartner, are solidly cemented at low levels of BPM maturity. At these low levels, these organizations are barely aware of the processes it uses to get work done. There is typically a lot of work being performed that offers little to no value; work performed is often redundant, i.e., several roles or divisions performing the same work; ownership of a process or capability does not exist; and no one knows really what the other person is doing.

Jeff is right, in that the approach to begin scoping process and capability areas should be very simple and consistent with where they are in their maturity level. Nothing works better at this stage then facilitating small, well represented teams using nothing more than sticky notes and a big wall. Inundating your working team with a sophisticated modeling and simulating tool is a non starter. They will got lost and overwhelmed by the tool and make no progress.

By definition, the value stream level is a process map at a very high level. Therefore, begin decomposing your organization's capabilities top down. To help to deconstruct your capability breakdown structure, work right to left, i.e., identify the outputs first, then identify the capability needed to create the output, then identify the inputs (raw materials) needed. People naturally navigate left to right, but this proves to be a mistake. The best way to identify value added work, and thus non value added work, is to work in the opposite direction. You will quickly find a ton of work costing a lot of money that produces something no one uses anymore.

Use verb-noun descriptions of your capabilities. Instead of "customer service", use "service customers." This will help you avoid breaking down your processes by organization structure and help identify capabilities that are shared across organizations.

Define a capability as the combination of "process, people, tools, and information." These four enablers create a capability.

Before beginning, adopt a mapping method. Adopt a single way of capturing the work flow in terms of the symbols you will use. Train the team before beginning the work. This will help minimize re-work. And keep it simple. Remember that the value maps are a means to an end, not the end. So adopt a method and mapping style that resonates with the people who are going to do something with it versus trying to be totally technically correct from some official standard. HOWEVER, as your organization matures, you may end up deploying a rather sophisticated BPM tool; you would want the work you produce today to easily map to the tool's capabilities. It is a balancing act between reasonableness and your future BPM strategy.

Finally, use a strong facilitator with known skills, someone who knows how to read and control the room.


I take a very facilitated, "low fidelity" approach. My primary goal in facilitating a VSM session is to create the space for discussions. I personally do this by ensuring everyone understands WIIFM ("what's in it for me") about the VSM work. I like to also stress that there are no wrong answers. I like to use large butcher paper on a wall. I encourage an initial consensus on boundaries of the map ("what is in our sphere of influence?") as a starting point. I then encourage small group brainstorming. Each small group brainstorms items in the map, one item per sticky note. I stress, "There are no wrong answers." Teams gather at the wall with their sticky notes and begin to map them out.

You can use different color sticky notes to represent either classes of activities, or roles, or internal vs external dependencies. Colored dots on sticky notes can also provide additional categorization.

My short answer. It's just a starting point. And it's all about the conversations.


A couple of month ago we did a series of value stream mapping exercises, and here are the steps:

  1. Do the value stream mapping of your organization
  2. Show how the information flows through the organization
  3. Find out which phase is the most valuable and which generates most of the waste
  4. Generate an improvement queue based on the findings

You can read more about it here: see the whole flow exercise


Facilitating is primarily about listening and investigating and earning trust BEFORE the event ... good human intelligence is always necessary to win important battles; you can never have good enough intelligence ... but trust will always be the most important asset of the facilitator.

Carefully determine the scope of this exercise -- then use every trick in the book to meet, listen, understand and [attempt to] earn the trust of everyone who's work is affected. When you leave people out, you will tend to create saboteurs ... don't worry too much about the naysayers and people who are immediately negative [without bothering to listen to you]; it's likely that everyone already knows about their negative outlook ... it's usually impossible to get everyone's buy-in; just make sure you spend most of your effort listening, earning trust; there's no substitute for trust.

Almost everyone who is qualified and who takes any pride in doing their job gets a little nervous when group of uninformed idiots gets to jacking around with the "cheese" of their workflow ... it's not going to be any more palatable to them if you come up with a creative, color-coded form of collaborative performance art ... not everyone senses the same enjoyment when they see a deck of multi-colored sticky notes. Do your homework, listen, get the human intelligence, earn trust BEFORE you channel your hyperactive creative inner child to put people through something meaningless, ridiculous or even dangerous that Scott Adams would lampoon in a Dilbert strip.

In order to do the tough work in the trenches, you need to have faith in what you are trying to accomplish. Don't forget that what you are doing is important, will help people and will make the organization more successful. Most people will give you more latitude than you deserve as a facilitator [as long as they trust you] ... do not waste their time; do not squander their goodwill; do try to genuinely be of service ... everything will be fine.


Sticky notes on flip charts, usually preprinted stickies, no more than 5-8 clients, try to get everyone engaged. 2-3 hours max.

We have explosion to mark problem areas...

  • I'd appreciate if the down-voter could explain why? May 25, 2011 at 7:24
  • For myself, could you explain more detail around your facilitation approaches? May 25, 2011 at 7:24
  • I was down-voting this answer because it does not provide any answer at all... The sentence provided would fit 50% of the questions on this forum. To me looks like spam. Jul 5, 2011 at 7:17

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