Value Stream Mapping (VSM): 6 Steps to Improve Sales & Operations

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Lestraundra Alfred
Lestraundra Alfred


When was the last time your organization evaluated your sales and operational processes? If you aren’t sure or feel like your processes need a tune-up, your team could benefit from value stream mapping.


First, let’s get crystal clear on what value stream mapping is.

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In this article, you’ll explore:

It is important to note that effective value stream mapping is a team effort. Aim to have three to 10 people working on your value stream map to ensure your process improvement is thorough.

Value stream mapping is one of the principles of a management practice called Lean. Lean originated with the creation of the Toyota Production System in the 1950s. Today, sales and operations teams benefit by applying lean principles to improve their processes.

The five key principles of Lean follow.

  1. Identify value. Understand what your customer needs and how your product serves them.
  2. Map the value stream. This exercise helps you ensure value flows throughout your organization and processes.
  3. Create flow. Maximize efficiencies and reduce waste in your organizational processes.
  4. Establish pull. Considering customer consumption and how it relates to business operations.
  5. Seek perfection. Focus on continuous improvement.

Today, we’re going to focus on the second principle — mapping the value stream — and how it can benefit your sales team.

It’s important to note that value stream mapping is often compared to process mapping. Let’s take a look at the differences below.

Typically, value stream mapping comes before process mapping. Now, let’s walk through value stream mapping step-by-step.

The Value Stream Mapping Process

1. Identify the process you want to improve.

Begin by identifying the process you want to improve. You should also note key stakeholders, roles, and responsibilities that keep the activity on track.

2. Define the objective and scope.

Once the process has been selected, outline the objective of improving that process. For example, if your team chooses to optimize your sales process, make sure everyone understands why optimizing the sales process is important.

Let’s say the sales teams completing this exercise wants to increase pipeline velocity.

Additionally, you want to define the scope by understanding the specific start and endpoint of the process you want to optimize.

3. Map out the current state of the process.

Next, your team should document the process as-is.

Using the sales process example, document how a lead enters your funnel, the touchpoints they have with your brand (including handoffs), and all activities that lead up to making the sale.

As you document each step, make sure you indicate who is responsible and how long each task takes.

4. Identify inefficiencies and areas of improvement.

In order to improve your process, you’ll need to use a critical eye to identify areas of inefficiency or non-value-added activities. In the world of Lean, these are known as “waste.”

Common sources of waste in sales include:

  • Defects. This involves providing incorrect, unclear, or outdated information to a prospect.
  • Overproduction, or over-communicating with a prospect to repeatedly gather information or clarify requests.
  • Waiting. This is the time spent waiting on answers or information from other areas of your company. This impacts your ability to share information with prospects promptly.
  • Under-utilized talent, or the amount of time sales reps spend on tasks that are not related to selling and engaging with prospects. This can include manually running processes, creating proposals, and looking for information.
  • Transportation. While sales doesn’t typically involve the transportation of parts, sales teams experience an equivalent in the form of time wasted in the flow of information. Teams that don’t use a CRM to automate and prioritize communication often deal with a great deal of transportation waste.
  • Inventory. As a sales rep, your deliverables to your prospects are considered your "inventory." This can include providing quotes, pricing information, and negotiation deliverables on time.
  • Motion. In Lean, motion waste occurs when more steps than necessary are taken to fulfill a task or statement of work. For your sales process, look for ways to expedite or automate tasks to improve motion, such as setting up CRM integrations.
  • Processing. This type of waste occurs when the same set of data or information is processed multiple times.

5. Map out the future state of the process.

Once you have identified the areas of improvement, document the ideal future state, improving the inefficiencies you outlined above.

As you did when you outlined your current state, indicate how long each action will take using the improved process. This will help your team quantify the amount of time you’ve saved.

6. Create an action plan for implementation.

Now that you have your new process mapped out, it’s time to implement it. Create a realistic action plan your team can handle to make the new process a reality. It helps to have a project manager on hand to ensure implementation goes smoothly, and to keep stakeholders accountable.

In all, here’s what your final value stream map could look like.

value stream mapping example; value stream mapping templateImage Source

Not sure how to get started? Take a look at the following flowchart template that you can use to create a value stream map.

Value Stream Mapping Template

value stream mapping template, flowchart

Download your free flowchart templates to create a value stream map.

At its core, value stream mapping is the same as creating flowcharts — only with unique VSM symbols, which we go over below.

HubSpot’s flowchart templates will help you get started creating a value stream map. The best part is that you can start with a simpler, linear chart, then add more complexity as you go along.

Value stream maps have unique symbols. Chart maker tools typically include these symbols, but if you’re just now learning to create a VSM, we recommend downloading symbol packs first and playing around.

Here are two icon packs:

Now, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the symbols before starting to create a map. Let’s go over them below.

Value Stream Mapping Symbols

value stream mapping symbols

1. Customer/Supplier Icon

value stream mapping symbols, consumer/supplier icon

When placed at the upper left-hand corner of the value stream, this symbol represents the supplier. When placed in the upper right-hand corner, it represents the customer.

2. Dedicated Process Flow Icon

value stream mapping symbols, dedicated process flow icon

This represents a single department, process, or operational machine a material flows through.

3. Shared Process Icon

value stream mapping symbols, shared process icon

This represents a department, process, or operational machine that is shared by multiple value streams.

4. Data Box Icon

value stream mapping symbols, data box icon

On a value stream, this symbol is placed under other icons in the system that require more data for analysis. For example, a data box could go below a detailed process flow icon to show CRM data reporting.

5. Work Cell Icon

value stream mapping symbols, work cell icon

This icon indicates multiple processes integrated together to improve the quality, speed, and cost of product creation.

6. Inventory Icon

value stream mapping symbols, inventory icon

This symbol can represent inventory counts that need to take place within the value stream.

7. Manual Information Icon

 value stream mapping symbols, manual information icon

This indicates the flow of information through written content that is not shared electronically.

8. Electronic Information Icon

value stream mapping symbols, electronic information icon

This icon indicates when information is shared electronically through mediums such as email.

9. Push Arrow Icon

value stream mapping symbols, push arrow icon

This icon represents material or product pushed from one process to the next.

10. Verbal Information Icon

verbal information icon

The verbal information icon indicates the flow of information that is shared verbally.

11. Kaizen Burst Icon

value stream mapping symbols, Kaizen burst icon

A Kaizen burst highlights problem areas on a value stream. It is designed to indicate areas of waste that can be improved to optimize the entire process.

12. Other Information Icon

value stream mapping symbols, other information icon

Any additional information that doesn’t fit into the categories above can be communicated through the other information icon.

At this point, we’ve covered the key steps and symbols you need to facilitate a value stream mapping exercise. Let’s put it all together with an example.

Value Stream Mapping Examples

Now that we’ve looked at the process, let’s see what it looks like in practice.


value stream mapping example, healthcare

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This is an easy-to-read value stream map with clear symbols for wait time, information flow, and communication transfer. By collecting data, a clinic can easily see where its bottlenecks are and improve the flow of service.

Pro tip: Use a legend like this diagram does to make symbols easy to understand.


value stream mapping, manufacturingImage Source

This manufacturing value stream map has arrows that clearly indicate the cadence of every step of the value chain. Metrics on each step of the value stream are displayed in easy-to-read boxes.

What we love: Adding a timeline at the bottom of the value stream map, like in this diagram, enables you to see your total lead time and value-added time at a glance.

Logisticsvalue stream mapping, logistics

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This logistics value stream map simplifies a complex workflow, with clear labels that explain each type of communication and easy-to-read metrics at each step of the process.

Pro tip: Using the Kaizen burst diagram enables you to quickly see key inefficiencies in the value stream.

DevOpsvalue stream mapping example, DevOps

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When you’re creating a value stream map, fancy diagramming software is a nice-to-have, but not a need-to-have. Sometimes it’s better to use the tools your team already uses, like this user-friendly DevOps value stream map that was built in Miro.

Pro tip: Consider how you’ll get your team to actually use your value stream map and implement your findings.

Insurancevalue stream mapping example, insurance

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This insurance claim map is laser-focused on their key customer requirement: delivering claim checks in five days. Actual processing time (75 minutes) and typical lead time (26 to 39 days) are set in large, easily readable boxes.

Pro tip: To get results, design your value stream map around your key metrics.

Value Stream Mapping Case Study

We’ve discussed different industries that use VSM above. To make it concrete for your sales team, let’s dive into a case study.

Let’s say the enterprise sales team at a SaaS company recently completed a value stream mapping exercise. They first mapped their current state, then mapped their future state. Here’s what the team found.

Current State VSM

When mapping out their current state, the enterprise sales team realized, on average, each customer was being passed off to three different sales reps during their buyer journey. They also realized the handoff points were where they saw the greatest leaks in their sales funnel.

By handing prospects off from sales rep to sales rep without sharing context or information each time, customers were having to repeat information. Additionally, the team realized they didn’t have a central system in place for managing customer data, so each rep was responsible for keeping their own records of customer interactions.

This led to inconsistencies in their reporting and the experience of each prospect.

Future State VSM

As the team mapped out their sales process’ future state, they outlined a new structure involving the implementation of a CRM. This helped them manage their data and serve as a single source of information for reps.

By implementing these improvements, the enterprise sales team was able to cut their average conversion time in half, while increasing their sales month over month. Because the improvements were well-documented, the company was able to share best practices that could be easily implemented by mid-market sales teams.

Value Stream Mapping Tools

While some teams prefer to use pens, paper, and sticky notes to complete their value stream map, there are helpful digital tools available as well. Here are some value stream mapping tools to check out.

1. Lucidchart value stream mapping tools, LucidChart

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With Lucidchart, you can create a digital value stream map in minutes. Lucidchart integrates with HubSpot through Zapier, simplifying your process and making data collection easier.

Plus, you can use drag-and-drop features to rearrange and improve processes in minutes.

Pricing: While free options are available, individual plans cost $7.95 a month. Team access costs $9 a user per month.

2. Microsoft Visio

value stream mapping tools, Microsoft Visio

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Visio is part of the Microsoft Office suite, and it's a great choice for creating flowcharts and value stream maps.

If you use Office 365, the Visio web app is a highly flexible tool that enables anyone in your organization to build value stream maps.

Pricing: Individual plans cost $5 a month. Team plans cost $5 per user a month.

3. SmartDraw

value stream mapping tools, SmartDraw

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SmartDraw is an easy-to-use drawing program that allows you to create value stream maps with minimal effort. With templates and pre-made diagrams, it's a great choice to help your team work through the value stream mapping process with ease.

Pricing: Single user plans cost $9.95 per month. Multiple user plans cost $5.95 per user a month.

4. Creately

value stream mapping tools, Creately

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Creately provides a large library of VSM templates, as well as all the standard VSM icons. If you’re looking to build value stream maps quickly, these features make the process a breeze.

Creately also lets you collaborate with others on your value stream map. You can make changes in real-time and even video conference with others to discuss your diagram.

Pricing: Prices range from $5 to $89 per month. Free and enterprise plans are also available.

5. VisualParadigm Online

value stream mapping tools, Visual Paradigm

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Visual Paradigm Online is another data visualization tool with a wide range of VSM features, including multiple VSM templates to choose from.

For example, this template is useful for current state mapping, while this one is ideal for future state mapping.

Pricing:Price range from $4 per user a month to $15 per user a month. Free plans are also available.

Create a Value Stream Map to Improve Your Processes

When you’re looking to increase efficiency and sales in your department, value stream mapping is an ideal technique to use. It enables you to pinpoint areas for improvement, reduce inefficiencies, and ensure that your department is operating at peak profitability.

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