Value Stream Mapping Training


Value Stream Mapping Symbols

Value stream mapping shapes and symbols
using your Systems2win value stream mapping template and supply chain map

Value Stream Mapping Symbols - Systems2win

Get all of these Excel value stream mapping shapes (and more) when you download your free trial

To get Help for any Systems2win shape

RIGHT-click the shape > Size and Properties > Alt Text

Free training and videos

How to use Excel as a drawing tool





to find keywords


More VSM training

You will find this sidebar menu >>>

on every training page related to value stream mapping

It will help you keep track of:

  1. What you have yet to learn
  2. How to quickly go back to review what you have already learned

Bookmark = Sections

Sections of the Value Stream Map

Most value stream mapping symbols are used in:

Section 2) Information Flow

Section 3) Flow of the thing being processed

value stream map example

Learn more about the Sections of a Value Stream Map

Pop Quiz Question: What is the most important section of a value stream map?

Answer: Section 3: Flow of the thing being processed

What is the most important shape in section 3?

Answer: The Continuous Flow Process Box

Bookmark = ProcessBox

Continuous Flow Process Box

What is a Continuous Flow Process Box?

Process box symbol for value stream mapping
A Continuous Flow
Process Box
on a value stream map
is VERY different
from a similar shape
on a traditional flowchart

In Section 3 of your Value Stream Map (see illustration above)

a Continuous Flow Process Box is used for

a process that has continuous flow

In other words...

As long as the thing being processed doesn't stop flowing,

even if there are dozens of steps or sub-processes,

if the thing being processed doesn't get stuck
in a pile of inventory, or put on a truck, or stopped in any other way

then it appears on your value stream map as a single Process Box

At the value stream mapping level, we don't care about cluttering details

All we need to know for value stream mapping purposes
is that some raw or semi-finished stuff went into the "black box",
and some more-finished stuff came out of the "black box"
without ever stopping for more than a few seconds along the way

How is that different from a traditional flowchart?

A flowchart shows much greater detail than a value stream map.

A rectangle (or rounded-corner rectangle) on a traditional flowchart represents an Activity


(also known as a Step, Task, or Work Element)

and a flowchart might have dozens (or even hundreds) of Activities
that the value stream map for the same process would depict with a single Process Box.

A value stream map views interconnected processes from a higher perspective than a flowchart.

In the 'Sections of a Value Stream Map' illustration (above),

Section 4: Lean Metrics within each process
is the section where a value stream map can optionally analyze many Lean Metrics 'within' each process,

but those metrics are always summarized for each entire Process.

In a value stream map, the lowest degree of granularity is the 'Process'.

And a Process Box on a value stream map means:

"the thing being processed didn't stop flowing"


In your value stream map,
you can optionally unhide the row for 'Steps'

where you simply count the number of steps within and between each process.
You don't show the details of those steps.

Bookmark = drilldown

How can my users see the details of the steps within a process?


Use your Systems2win menu > Insert Link Icon

and then select the international shape for a 'SubProcess'

and then create a hyperlink, so that your users can click that shape
to drill down to a related document that has all the details for that process.

Most commonly, you might drill down to a swim lane cross functional flowchart.

And if you're an advanced Excel user

and you followed our advice for document storage and naming conventions

(so that you don't accidentally break your hyperlinks between related documents)

then you can even optionally roll up summary data from a subprocess — using Link Cells

so that data in your value stream map is instantly updated whenever the subprocess flowchart changes.

How many Process Boxes should be in a value stream map?

If one of the primary goals of a value stream map is to maximize flow,

then the ideal would be one single Process Box, right?

The correct answer is 5-12, but if you answered "1", you're on the right track.

The Continuous Flow Process Box is the holy grail of a value stream map

Why? Because the ultimate goal of value stream mapping is to maximize flow.

Definition of continuous flow = the thing being processed doesn't stop flowing

Holy Grail

If you skipped or skimmed
the foundational training for value stream mapping

then now might be a good time to refresh your memory on:

  1. What are the purposes and goals of value stream mapping?
  2. Why is flow so important?

The ideal number of Process Boxes is 5-12

If you have less than 5 Process Boxes, then either:

  1. Expand the boundaries of the segment of the value stream that you are mapping

    That's a really good thing when you reach milestones on your lean journey when you're ready to start connecting previously disconnected "islands of flow"

  2. Change the rules for your definition of "stopped flow"

    Perhaps you used to consider flow as being "stopped" only when it got stuck for a few hours,
    and now you consider it "stopped" if it gets stuck for more than 5 minutes

  3. Consider using some other type of flowchart to analyze the process in more detail

    because it's probably not worth the effort to map a value stream that is that simplistic

If you have more than 12 Process Boxes, then either:

  1. Make quite certain that you are analyzing one (and only one) very narrowly-defined scenario

    This is a VERY most common mistake

  2. Narrow the boundaries of the segment of the value stream that you are mapping
  3. Bend the rules for your definition of "stopped flow"

    Combine some less-important technically separate processes into one — just for simplicity

Why is the Process Box a shape? (rather than just a cell with borders)

So that you can snap arrows and connectors to it.


  • If you accidentally move a Process Box rectangle, use Snap To Grid to snap it back into place.
  • When you click the button to 'Add or Remove a Process',
    your Systems2win application will correctly handle the shapes.

What are those other symbols sometimes seen inside a Process Box?

You can optionally include other symbols within a value stream mapping Process Box, including (but not limited to):

  • U-Shaped Work Cell
  • Operator (copy it to visually indicate the number of operators)
  • Link to Subprocess value stream mapping shapes
  • Point of Sale Moment of Truth
  • Repeat Process
  • FIFO Processing
  • Warehouse (door)
  • Cross dock (inventory comes in out without being stored)
  • ANY standard Systems2win Link Icons
  • ANY other shape, such as... Shapes - quality and safety
  • Quality Issue (stop sign)
  • Constraint Funnel
  • Quality Inspection Diamond
  • Safety Cross
  • ANY of the shapes found in Systems2win menu > Copy Shapes

Why is there a dropdown list in the lower half of each Process Box?

value stream mapping process types

To make it easy to visually highlight special types of processes that deserve extra attention:

  1. Your Pacesetter — the single most important process in any value stream
  2. Constraints — which might deserve attention to Change Overs
  3. Shared processes — processes shared by multiple value streams
  4. Outside processes — shared processes that are managed outside of your authority
  5. Periodic Processing Cells — a powerful way for Lean Office and service processes to come as close as possible to flow in highly disrupted office environments

Bookmark = Repeat

Repeat Process

Also known as iterative process, repetitive process, repeated process, cyclical process, circular process...

The circular orange arrows indicate a repeat process (the thing goes through this process more than once).

To get the math right for a Repeat Process...
you might need to calculate one or more standard fields — by multiplying some user-defined fields.

Repeat process within a value stream mapFor example, using user-defined rows,
you might create user fields for:

  • Process Time per Rep
  • Number of Times Repeated

And then in the Processing Time field...
rather than entering a static number,
you would instead enter the formula...
=Process Time per Rep * Number of Times Repeated

Everything on this page below this line is a compromise

because perfect continuous flow is not always easy or even possible.

Bookmark = SharedProcess

Shared Process

value stream map process dropdown

Also known as a Monument

For a process that serves more than one value stream...

  1. Use the dropdown list in the Process Box to choose 'Shared Process',
    'Outside Process', or 'Periodic Process'

    If you are using an older version template,
    use Shadow Style 13 to visually differentiate a shared process from a dedicated process.

  2. Brainstorm ideas for future state improvement

A shared process is a big compromise to flow.

If there is any way that equipment can be dedicated... get creative.


Many people get confused by Shared Processes

  • They don't know how to correctly handle Queue Time for a shared process, so they try all sorts of "get around" math to try to make it work.
  • They get confused by the paradox that the shared process runs to its own takt time (which is the sum of the takt times of all value streams served), and yet still needs to meet the unique takt time for each value stream. Learn more.

Bookmark = Queues or Buffer

Inventory and Queues

Also known as delays, annoyances, and lost profits

value stream map shapes

Whenever the thing being processed gets delayed between processes — you will use one of the above shapes
in Section 3: Flow of the thing being processed.

Triangles always highlight some form of waste on a value stream map.

Use a green triangle for inventory, or a yellow triangle for any other form of delay

(for example, in an office environment, you might find piles of paper in someone's In Basket)

In the text label beneath each triangle, you will usually describe what is in the pile represented by the triangle.

(for example you might replace the word "inventory" with "widgets", or the word "queue" with "orders")

In Section 5: Lean Metrics — between processes, you will usually enter the quantity in the Inventory (Standard WIP) field.

Buffer and Safety Resources

If your team has strategically designed your value stream to include strategically placed piles of buffer or safety inventory to protect downstream operations from being starved due to (currently) out-of-control process variances, then use the Buffer or Safety Resource symbol (rather than a triangle symbol).

Buffer or Safety Stock VSM Symbol

Use the Buffer or Safety Resource symbol for ANY form of protection against process variance — including (but not limited to):

  • Inventory
  • Overtime
  • Cross-training and departmental borrowing
  • Temporaries
  • Outsourcing
  • Pre-trained workers available as needed (seasonal, retirees...)
  • Pre-negotiated availability of overflow facilities
  • Customers that agree (in advance) to accept delay to allow load leveling to non-peak periods
  • Contingency plans
  • Automation
  • Any other form of protection against process variance that might be found in a Lean Manufacturing, Lean Office, or Lean Healthcare environment

Bookmark = CustomShapes or StandardShapes

Transportation shapes

value stream mapping symbols - transportation

Most transportation shapes need no explanation.

There are so many modes of transportation, however, that you might want to add some custom shapes to depict a mode of transportation used in your unique value stream.

(Perhaps a pipeline? A vacuum tube? A rocket? A horse and buggy?)

Rather than cluttering our standard template with every form of transportation known to mankind, we make it easy for you to add your own custom shapes.

Custom Shapes

In addition to all of the standard value stream mapping symbols that come with your Systems2win template,

it is very easy to add your own custom shapes.

Standard Shapes

In addition to the standard palette
of value stream mapping symbols,

you can also have access to the palette of Systems2win's standard shapes,

which you can use in ANY Excel document
(not just a Systems2win template)
by selecting Systems2win menu > Copy Shapes

Notice that there is also some very helpful training for how to use Excel shapes,

and you access that training by selecting Systems2win menu > Copy Shapes

Standard Shapes

Bookmark = Arrows

Connector Lines and Arrows

used in value stream mapping and other types of lean process flow charts

How to format Connector Lines and Arrows

To snap to a shape — (or not) — choose the right type of connector

The white circles on the ends of Connector lines turn red when snapped to a shape.

Non-connector lines are useful for situations where you don't want the line to snap to the nearest shape.

Your Systems2win pallet of shapes usually provides you both choices. (A feature unavailable with standard Excel)

If you want to snap to a place that doesn't have a convenient connector

Use the (almost invisibly tiny) Connector Diamond

which is always conveniently available to copy from Systems2win menu > Copy Shapes

To change between elbow, straight or curved

Right-click > Connector Types

This works only for 'Connector' lines

To change arrow head, color, thickness, dash type, etc.

Right-click > Format Shape

To get help for any Systems2win shape (including arrows)

Right-click > Format Shape > Alt Text

Types of Connector Lines and Arrows

value stream mapping arrows

Red dashed arrow = message flow arrow — indicating the flow of information.

Every message arrow should have a text box to explain the type and frequency of information,
and can optionally have a shape indicating the mode of information transfer (e.g. phone, FAX, email, etc.)

In these days when almost all information is in some electronic form — we do not suggest attempting to differentiate between electronic and non-electronic information. (Is a FAX electronic? Isn't a telephone electronic?) If you (or your boss) find it valuable to attempt to differentiate electronic from non-electronic information, then you can change the "dash" property of any arrow line — perhaps using a solid red line for non-electronic information. Or simply spell out the mode of communication in the red text box.

Red dot-dash arrow = Expedite information

Example: The expedite arrow containing the telephone — between Process 3 and 4
To change the "dash" property of any arrow, right-click > Format Shape > Line Style > Dashed.

Broad white arrow = Shipment to Customers or from Outside Sources

such as suppliers and third-party logistics providers.

Thick black dashed arrow = Push Arrow

Example: Between Process 4 and 5
The thing being processed is being produced according to some predetermined (non-Lean) schedule — and then is "pushed" downstream — whether or not the next downstream process has any need for it.
There is almost always a pile of inventory or a backlog queue of whatever is being processed — which is why you will almost always see the triangle symbol on top of a push arrow. (Green triangle for physical inventory. Yellow triangle for a queue of something non-inventory that is being processed.)

Thin black arrow = Flow Arrow

Examples: Between Processes 2, 3, and 4
This is the most common arrow to indicate the flow of the thing being processed.

Dotted black arrow = Expedited Flow

Example: The dotted black arrow containing the airplane — between Processes 3 and 4
In this example, there are usually daily shipments between Processes 3 and 4, but about twice a year, the production manager for Process 3 gets a phone call requesting an urgent plane shipment.

kanban withdrawal

Dashed blue arrow = Kanban flow

Kanbans are a simple way to authorize release of work or materials.

Circular black arrow = Withdrawal

The circular arrow between Process 1 and 2 conveys the exact same information as the symbols between Process 2 and 3 — using one simple symbol as a shorthand shortcut.

Bookmark = Supermarket

Lean Supermarket

A lean supermarket is a place between processes where a standard amount of inventory is stored — in order to supply a downstream process without interruption due to product variations and/or batch sizes.

Keep in mind that the "inventory" in your supermarket might be paperwork forms,
or medical supplies, or anything else that can be stored.

Longhand illustration
of what is really happening
in a lean supermarket

Value Stream Mapping supermarket

A value stream mapping supermarket is often the best way to control the flow of production between two processes that can't be integrated into a single Continuous Flow Process Box, for reasons like:
  1. Cycle times are very different between the two processes. (A process might be very fast
    or very slow.)
  2. A process might have very long change-overs
  3. A single process might serve multiple product variations or product families
  4. A process might require transportation to another location or sub-contractor
  5. A process might have unreliable yields or quality

Even though some of the above things might be changed in the long term, we often need to work with "the way things are now" — and a Supermarket is a great way to create a relationship that is close to flow between two decoupled processes.

Common abbreviated notation for a Supermarket

Value Stream Map supermarket

Or even more abbreviated

VSM supermarket

Notice that the open slots of the VSM supermarket always face the upstream supplier — to whom the supermarket belongs.

Bookmark = kanban

What is a kanban?

value stream mapping kanban symbols

A kanban is any signaling device that gives authorization and the minimal instructions needed:

     a) for a supplying process to know what to produce, or
     b) for a material handler to know what items to replenish

Most commonly, a physical paper card is physically placed in a container of parts. When stored items are actually used, the kanban card gets "freed" (perhaps it was in the bottom of the container), and gets put back into a kanban stand where the kanban "requests" are fulfilled in First In First Out (FIFO) sequence.

In some simple situations, the empty container itself might provide sufficient instruction for the upstream process to "fill it up". (And they know what to fill it with, perhaps because of the unique shape or color of the container, or maybe brief instructions are engraved right onto the container.)

A production kanban will typically include information such as part number, batch size, setup time, run time, container type, upstream producing operation, downstream receiving operation, and any other information needed for the supplying operation to know what to produce, in what quantity, and where to deliver it.

What is a signal kanban?

kanban signal symbol for value stream mapping

When Change Over Time has not yet been reduced enough to produce a single bin at a time
(or when an upstream process requires change overs), then a signal kanban is used to trigger production of a specified number of containers when a reorder point is reached.

A colored metal triangle often serves as a signal kanban.
(Hence the symbol used for any kanban signal is the symbol of the upside down triangle.)

What is a sequenced pull ball?

sequenced pull ball symbol for value stream mapping

A sequenced pull ball is a kanban signal used in a special way that eliminates the need for the supermarket storage of items between processes.

The supplying process produces a specified quantity (often one unit) to quickly fill the customer order.

This only works if the supplying process has a VERY short and reliable lead time.

Why the symbol? Because colored golf balls are the most common kanban signal used for this type of replenishment system.

Bookmark = FIFO or SequencedPullLane or push

What is a FIFO lane?

Also known as a sequenced pull lane

FIFO Lane symbol for value stream map

Think of a FIFO lane as a chute that can only hold a specified amount of items. When the chute is full, the supplying process stops producing until the downstream process finishes "digesting" the items in the chute, and there is room in the chute again.

A value stream management FIFO lane could use a kanban card or signal, but more commonly, a FIFO lane is used for more "unusual stuff" that often involves unique work instructions.

FIFO Lanes are used when it is not practical to keep a supermarket full of items between processes. Some reasons might include:

  1. Too many variations (custom items)
  2. Usage volumes are too low
  3. Short shelf life
  4. Too fragile to risk storage
  5. Very expensive

Between two processes there is sometimes both a supermarket and a FIFO lane — for different types of items.

Rules of a FIFO Lane:

  1. Process in First In First Out sequence
  2. When the FIFO lane is full, the supplying process must stop filling it.
    (Perform other activities — most commonly assisting the downstream process)

Sequenced Pull Lane

A Sequence Pull Lane is identical to a FIFO Lane — except that sequencing criteria other than FIFO is used.

Perhaps earliest due date, shortest processing time, largest dollar value of customer order... whatever.

A "Holey FIFO" Lane is a (usually ill-advised) novel solution to allow for expediting.

Leave the front of the queue open for rush orders.

(to an experienced lean coach, that's like the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, but some people do it)

What’s the difference between a FIFO lane
and a simple FIFO symbol?

FIFO - no lane

You place a simple FIFO symbol inside a Process Box if it is simply processing things in First In First Out order (with no Lean FIFO Lane that signals the downstream process to stop producing until there is room in the chute again).

In other words, you can still have simple FIFO processing in the middle of a very non-Lean "push" system.

What’s the difference between a FIFO lane
and a “push” system?

inventory push arrow for value stream map

Push means that the supplying work center is building to some central "plan" (e.g., MRP, MPS, DRP, or some other usually-wrong forecast), and then items are "pushed" to the downstream customer process — whether or not they are ready for them — and whether or not they even have space available to store them ...

Although there are valid reasons for building to forecasts and central schedules, if there is any way to implement Continuous Flow — you will reap dramatically superior results in every performance objective that you measure.

You should only resign yourself to accepting a push system as the very last desperate acknowledgement of failure to come up with more creative means of approaching Continuous Flow.

Bookmark = pacemaker

What is a pacesetter process?

also known as a Scheduling Control Point or pacemaker

A pacesetter Scheduling Control Point is a process that you schedule.

Think of your pacesetter as the gas pedal in your car. It regulates the speed of your entire value stream.

value stream mapping pacemaker operation

Objectives for designing the Control Points in your value stream

  1. You ideally schedule only one process.
  2. All upstream processes are either FIFO Lanes or PULL systems

    (such as supermarkets, pull ball systems, or simple kanban withdrawals)

  3. All downstream processes are ideally FIFO Lanes

    (but might also be non-Lean PUSH inventory, and/or a finished goods supermarket)

  4. Both upstream and downstream processes pulse in harmony

    with the heartbeat production pace of your one pacemaker process

    (this heartbeat production pace is also known as Pitch)

  5. Your chosen pacesetter process is ideally the Continuous Flow Process Box that is located the farthest downstream

    (nearest to actual customer delivery)

Use your pacesetter (and only your pacesetter) to determine

Takt Time, Pitch, Pitch Batch Size, Change Over Batch Size, and Guaranteed Turnaround Time 
for the overall value stream.

Tip: Your Systems2win Value Stream Mapping template auto-calculates all of these formulas,
which are easily mis-calculated using your pocket calculator — sometimes with disastrous results.

Load Leveling lean icon

Also see training for heijunka and pitch board load leveling

templates to easily monitor your lean schedules for mixed model and one piece flow.

Bookmark = KaizenBurst

Clouds and Bursts

We suggest that you use our standard shapes (accessible from ANY Systems2win template by selecting Systems2win menu > Copy Shapes)
to teach all of your users to use the following conventions:

Your As Is State should contain:

  • Bursts to define problems
  • Perhaps some Fluffy Clouds to ponder thoughts

Your Target State should contain:

  • Fluffy Clouds containing your team's proposed improvement ideas
  • Shaded Clouds for approved objectives

Any objective that appears within a Shaded Cloud on a value stream map should have a corresponding line item in the Value Stream Plan with one of the following:

  1. A3 project (Type A3)
  2. Kaizen Event (Type KZ)
  3. Project (Type PRJ)
  4. Just Do It (Type JDI) also known as
    Quick & Easy Kaizen, or mini kaizen


kaizen symbols - clouds and bursts
Clouds and Bursts are standard shapes
that are always available to use in any Systems2win template
by selecting Systems2win menu > Copy Shapes

Watch the training video for the To Do List template
for a demonstration of how to copy bursts and clouds.

Can we use our own shapes and meanings for Clouds and Bursts?

Yes. Simply:

  1. Teach your people your own shapes and meanings
  2. Personalize your shapes.xlsx file

Thinking we were inventing something new from scratch, our older templates used clouds to identify problems, and bursts for ideas. But when a popular book did it the other way around, we switched to the way "they" did it.

Now we see other books that suggest the opposite meanings of clouds and bursts. Argh.

The important thing is that YOUR team members can differentiate problems, ideas, and mandates.

Bookmark = ValueStreamPlan

Value Stream Plan Excel template

Value Stream Plan

The final tool needed in each round of value stream management improvement
is the Value Stream Plan template.

Bookmark = Reading

Suggested Reading and Resources
for Value Stream Mapping

Suggested books to purchase through our links to

More Suggested Readings

Get all of the Excel templates you need — for one low price
as part of the Value Stream Mapping bundle of templates









Try the Value Stream Mapping template
along with many other
free trial templates















Don't skip the Initial Training

When you learn one,
you've learned them all

If you ever get stuck in Excel...

Welcome to Systems2win

menu bottom














Attend a free live webinar










Get all of the Excel templates you need for value stream analysis — for one low price










Burning up money

Sure, take another day
to invent another tool...

And take a few more days to
support, continuously improve,
and train people to use
all those other tools
you took all those other days
to invent...

As your coach, all I ask
is for you to complete
this ROI calculator
and then explain to me
why you can't start with
professional Systems2win







Everyone wants to be proud of the work they deliver

Professional tools help






two bikers

Training to get you started.
Tools you won't outgrow.






victory at sunset


Continuously improving your tools for continuous improvement









You already knew about Systems2win?

Why didn't you tell me?