Value Stream Mapping and Kaizen Events

26 May 2021

Lean Six Sigma

A brief article on the relationship between Value Stream Mapping and Kaizen Events.

Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping is one of the most popular and effective tools in the Lean Six Sigma arsenal. It helps you map out an entire process, whilst also documenting and visualizing customer value and waste throughout each process step. It can be used to described a process as-is, or as-should be.

Kaizen Events

A Kaizen Event is a 2 to 5-day problem-solving workshop that is divided roughly in two phases – discovering the root causes of your problem and solving them. Value Stream Mapping is a standard tool used in both the first phase and the second. First to map the process as is, and later to map the ideal state as a blueprint for implementation, according to the devised solutions.

Tools, methods and more

While the VSM is more often considered as a tool or technique and the Kaizen Event is considered a lightning-speed project method, in practice the difference is often blurrier. Value Stream Mapping can be done in a full or even two-day session, depending on the scope and complexity of the process you are aiming to improve. Part of the session might even include devising solutions, on which the future state/should be VSM is then based. Such a VSM session is practically a Kaizen Event in everything but name.


Both Value Stream Mapping sessions and Kaizen Events do not have a standard set-up beyond the idea that you wish to uncover the root causes of a problem and solve them. Kaizen Events haven often been fashioned according to the DMAIC structure, and technically the same could be done to a VSM session with roughly the same result.

The difference

The difference therefore lies only in the fact that a Kaizen Event can not be considered a technique or tool in itself, whereas Value Stream Mapping at its core is a tool. You can make a Value Stream Map as part of a Kaizen Event, but you cannot do a Kaizen Event as part of a Value Stream Mapping session.

The framework as training wheels

It can be very useful to study all of the tools, techniques and methods within a conceptually tight framework that categorizes them according to their standard usage. However once you’ve learned the nuances of each of these concepts, you can let go of the framework a little and learn to see the concepts as what they truly are: ideas that can help you with problems in an effective and efficient way.

Results matter

Once you make that realization, you will understand that in truth it doesn’t matter whether you call it a VSM session, Kaizen Event, Process Mapping workshop or Improvement Blitz. It also doesn’t matter if it takes one day, two days or five days. At that point, the only reason to stick to the framework is to give the people you are working with some clarity and structure to cling to before they reach your level as well.

So the next time you lead or participate in a Kaizen Event or Value Stream Mapping session and someone asks why it’s called that way, just smile and give them the standard history lesson answer. Soon enough, they too will know that the only thing that matters is the result.


If you’d like to learn more about Value Stream Mapping and Kaizen Events, you can always give our online VSM and Kaizen Event courses a try. You’ll learn both the frameworks and standard structures and the nuances with which you can make them work in practice – within just a few hours!

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