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Lean Tools, Training, and Systems

Mixed Model Value Streams

for High Mix (real world) environments

Tips for creating mixed model value streams for a complex environment
with high variability of demand, mix, and/or customization

The Lean methods described on this page are countermeasures to variability — variability of customer demand, and variability of a large number of potential deliverables.

It is a common misconception

(or attempted excuse?)

To believe that "lean won't work here because we don't have a customer like Toyota that feeds us a steady flow of predictable demand."

or "lean won't work here because we have too many offerings that are too customized and routed through a spaghetti maze of unpredictable and ever-changing processes."

Value stream mapping for high mix

The truth is that there are lean tools and techniques that can radically improve the quality, cost, and speed of delivery for ANY mix of ANY product or service. 

A few concepts, tools, and techniques are introduced here to help you design your value streams to gracefully handle fast-changing variable demand.


Product Family Matrix

to define both Product Families and Service Families

The single most important lean technique for dealing with high variability

Product Family Matrix template

The Product Family Matrix template comes with all of your other Value Stream Mapping tools

is to segment your products into the right product families to maximize lean flow, and then to manage the total demand for the entire product family.

Use your Product Family Matrix template to:

  1. Segment all of your products into rough product families
  2. Refine each product family:
    1. To identify any offerings that take so much more time to produce that they might need to be either moved to another product family or be scheduled using special techniques
    2. To determine resource requirements (for equipment or any other potentially-constrained resource)



Just Married

The more that you can commit resources to be dedicated to one (and only one) product family — the less confusion and variability you will have.

Dedicated equipment is not a requirement for lean methods — but it sure makes things a whole lot easier whenever it is possible.

Get creative.

It might be worthwhile to trade the speed of an expensive shared machine for the flexibility and availability of a smaller dedicated machine, or even manual processing.


Mix Logic Flowchart

In the 'Information' section of your value stream map,

(near the top, where most of the shapes are... above the Critical Path Processes...)

it is often a good idea to use the blue Y/N Diamond shape to provide a hyperlink to a Mix Logic Flowchart containing yes or no logic paths to guide your Scheduler for what to do in any circumstance.


What to do if there there more orders than you can produce in one day?

When to work overtime?
When to bring in cross-trained staff?
When to pull from inventory?
When to level the volume?

Mixed Model Flowchart burst

What to do if there are fewer orders than the planned production level?

When to replenish inventory?

When to assign workers to other assignments?

What assignments? Maintenance, 5S, cross-training, continuous improvement...?

Do we have pre-established Standard Work Instructions

pre-established that divide the work load between different numbers of workers?

What to do if the mix of orders is outside of system tolerances?

When to limit the quantity per interval for an usually-time-intensive product?

When to stick to your guns and keep labor constant — building products in a load leveling sequence?

When to build ahead to a supermarket and/or a FIFO Lane?

Mix Logic Chart requirements


Pitch to your Pacemaker

aka pacesetter

One of the key lean principles to radically simplify any complex environment is to schedule only one process in the value stream.

Use your pacemaker (and only your pacemaker) to determine each of these for our overall value stream:

Takt Time, Pitch Pulse, Pulse Batch Size, Change Over Batch Size, and Guaranteed Turnaround Time


Tip: Your Systems2win Value Stream Analysis template auto-calculates all of these formulas that are easily miscalculated when using a pocket calculator — perhaps with disastrous results.

A Swing and a Miss

Home Run

If every member of your team is not VERY familiar with the lean concept of Pitch, then your lean effort does not have any chance of hitting one out of the park.

Yes, pitch is THAT important in a high variability lean environment.

Your Systems2win Value Stream Mapping template automatically calculates Pitch, making it infinitely easier for your people to quickly 'get it'.


Guaranteed Turnaround Time

aka Every Part Every Interval

Your value stream map will automatically answer:

"What is the Guaranteed Turnaround Time for the pacemaker?"

(which then serves as the GTT for the entire value stream)...

"What is the Guaranteed Turnaround Time for any constrained or shared resource?"

What-if scenarios to answer the even more powerful question:

"What Change Over times are needed for our TARGET Guaranteed Turnaround Time?"

And then use SMED setup reduction methods and Kata PDCA Coaching methods to do what it takes to meet your strategic objectives.


value stream map examples of Guaranteed Turnaround Time


Queue Time for a Shared Process

VSM Shared Process Design template

Use your
Shared Process Design
template to optimize
your shared resources

How to handle Queue Time for a shared process?

(a resource shared by more than one value stream)

Some people (incorrectly) try to change the Takt Time for the shared process

The definition of Takt Time =

How often completed units NEED to come out the end of the pipe — as established by customer demand

Or more precisely... "Customer demand for THIS product family."

So a shared process might serve many different product families, each with their own takt time.

That shared process needs to churn out each of those product families at the varying paces required for each product family.

So from a value stream mapping perspective, the takt time for THIS product family is still the same for any shared process or non-shared process.

Now if you are the operator for the shared process, you need to know YOUR takt time, which would be calculated from the COMBINED weighted average demand for all value streams served.

And if you think about it, those value streams might be so different from each other that there might be no common unit of measure that makes any sense — which is why it is not uncommon for a shared process to measure its takt time in terms of some generic unit of measure, such as weight, or linear feet, or dollar value...

It would serve no purpose other than confusion to include on each value stream map that generic unit of measure with that "out-of-the-blue" takt time (which is constantly changing every time that the demand for ANY product family changes. Talk about non-value add activity... trying to keep each value stream map in sync with those rapid changes...)

So the takt time for a shared process on a value stream map is treated just like any other non-shared process.

So what needs to vary in order to accurately depict a real-life queue time for a shared process?

The Standard WIP Inventory in the queue feeding the shared process.

It is sometimes helpful to think of it this way...

Your inventory is standing in line to get theatre tickets — waiting in line along with a whole queue of other people also waiting for the same ticket person to serve them.

So there are three ways to handle it on your value stream map:   (and overriding Takt Time is not one of them)

  1. Whatever you do... don't calculate Queue Time based on the Takt Time for just own product family's Standard WIP. You could enter an estimate of the typical Standard WIP for ALL product families served by the shared process, but options 2 or 3 are usually easier.
  2. Ideally, the shared resource will publicly commit to a Guaranteed Turnaround Time — and you can simply enter that value in the Queue Time Override field for each value stream map that shares that resource.
  3. If not, then (in the Queue Time Override field) just enter your estimate of how long your inventory usually waits.

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Suggested Reading

More Suggested Reading






Training and Coaching

Consider Training and Coaching to support your teams to succeed


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



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Not just templates.
Not just training.

But also systems
that you won't outgrow




When to use Value Stream Mapping

in a Typical Lean Journey for Lean Transformation

  • Phase 0) Firefighting
  • Phase 1) Prepare Your Leadership
  • Phase 2) Design Value Streams to Flow
  • Phase 3) Analyze, Stabilize, Visualize, and Standardize each process
  • Phase 4) Continuously Improve
yellow brick road

Road map for a typical
Lean Transformation