Value Stream Mapping should be left on the Shop Floor

Show a little respect for your customers and don’t use value stream mapping in the sales process. The problem is mapping becomes a prediction of what someone might do. We typically take that “prediction” and that “might” and turn them into a guide and should do. We end up trying to manage our customer through the flows that we have decided for them.Businessman puppet

If there is one tool in the Lean arsenal that is overused, it has to be Value Stream Mapping. We want to determine the current state and “fix” the process. The problem is that, in sales, there is seldom a current state. In the appropriate context where there is facts and evidence, it is excellent. However, in sales I question whether it should be introduced. In fact, I might go so far and say, “Value Stream Mapping is a process better left on the shop floor or at least on the supply side.”

The problem with most mapping processes is that we are making a prediction about how our customer is going to act. After we make this prediction, we determine the reactionary steps that we take to satisfy this prediction. We are driving towards a decision, resolving issues and concerns. We are trying to solve the problem from the inside-out. We think we can control things and shape the outcome. I think by the time we are done we have invested so much in what we think the customer should do, that well, we better make them do it!

In Lean, where do predictions come in? In Lean 101, I was always taught to form a hypothesis. In sales, we must employ divergent thinking and develop multiple hypotheses. We must seek to understand (which means including the customer) and map out the different hypotheses that are plausible for the customer. One way to do this is through the use of scenarios.

Scenarios are not predictions; they are hypothesis on what might happen. This outside-thinking process starts by exploring your product or service at the point of use (Service Dominant Logic). It introduces multiple perspectives, which shed a different light on your value proposition. You will see strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and even threats (SWOT) in an entirely different view. It allows for greater opportunity for mutual collaboration.

When we look at the different perspectives that will take place it does not limit the use of your product or service. Instead, it enhances the possibilities and long term rewards that exist in the marketplace. It takes a different type of sales person to thrive in this model. It takes a Challenger, more on that subject in this blog post, Lean Salespeople are Challengers, not Problem Solvers. Another blog post of equal interest is Shaping your Customers Vision.

Should we be mapping the sales process at all? There is merit in the use of casual mapping or cognitive mapping in the sales process. These tools, when used appropriately, can identify influencers, users and decision makers. They can assist in visualizing the multiple scenarios that may play out and highlight the social context of the process. Sales people work in the social context. It is that context that we must seek to understand.

10 thoughts on “Value Stream Mapping should be left on the Shop Floor”

  1. Interesting observation if the mapping tools are used upfront.

    A startup I am involved in we just use (e.g. customer journey mapping) to document what we have learned by doing experiments. So, for us it is means in order to have a view on our latest insights and to distribute and make available the knowledge.

  2. Wim, thanks for the comment.

    I think mapping when used to define the process internalizes the process and therefore is very limiting. Sales and Design is an external function and needs the flexibility of cognitive or casual mapping. The use of concept maps or cognitive mapping is more appropriate in the sales arena. We are mapping roles of people and value versus the process. Value Stream Mapping seldom can be used and often is forced fit into the sales process.

    I would agree that mapping can be very important tool to visualize a customer journey process in a startup. Where I would disagree is the use of it without alternative scenarios for the paths customer may choose. I struggle with the concept of people standing around choosing the most logical or best path for the customer. If you test to determine a path and are willing to accept one path that is your prerogative.

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