Planning the value-stream map event

Planning the value stream map event is critical for success, do not take shortcuts.

Lack of visibility and clarity are common mistakes while planning all kinds of events.  Most of the time, the reason is not enough time spent on planning.  Given that it is a strategic tool, planning the value stream map event is crucial for success.  For that reason, you should ensure to complete this step without shortcuts.  This is the second post from a series dedicated to VSM.

Aim to provide clarity while planning the value stream mapping event

Ensure clarity about what is the subject by stating the scope of the event.  Describe what triggers the process, where it starts, and where it finishes.  Also, think about regulations, policies, or critical procedures that cannot change.  Those are the limitations or boundaries that cannot be crossed or change during the exercise.  In addition, indicate the specific conditions for the process map.  Does the map is for one product or service or a family of products or services?  Are you mapping the process for new customers or existing customers?

Based on the objective of the event and the process itself, determine how you will measure success. What metrics will you use to measure progress?  Learn the process’s actual and forecasted volumes.  Furthermore, the types of tasks manual or automatics, machines, or technology used.  That information supports the mapping discussion where capacity, inventory volumes, and staff are conversation points.  Besides, you should gather relevant data to accelerate those conversations.

The VSM team for the event

During planning, you also choose your mapping team.  The team should be a multi-disciplinary group representing all the functions along the value stream.  Because the VSM is a high-level map for strategic purposes, team members are managers and above.  In other words, people who have the authority to approve changes, assign resources and change current strategies.  To facilitate effectiveness, limit the number of team members to 5-10 people.

The focus of the preparation stage is to get clarity and information.  However, that is not the only objective.  Like with any kaizen event, you need to communicate its purpose.  Gaining support from leadership before the event starts is convenient for success.  For that reason, ensure that all leaders know what you want to accomplish and why.

The facilitator must ensure that all team members have a basic understanding of value stream mapping. Also, they need to know the basics of lean manufacturing principles.  For instance, knowing what waste is, is critical to achieving the mapping objective.  If there is a knowledge gap, then it should be closed before the event.

There is more regarding the planning the value stream map event

Another activity for this stage is to determine who is the owner or champion of the value stream.  That is the person accountable for the performance of the value stream that is the subject of the mapping activity.

Other planning actions are choosing the date(s) of the event and location.  For instance, to ensure that all necessary equipment and materials are available.  In addition, to coordinate break times and snacks or lunch. 

Once the plan is complete, it is time to share it with the event sponsor and the champion.  If all agree, the next step is the event itself.  In part 3 of this series, we will address the first step of the value stream mapping event, draw, and understand the current state.

What are the steps to create a value stream map?

Value stream mapping is a high-level tool where we can see the process from request to delivery.  It is used to create strategy.

Value Stream Map (VSM) is a high-level tool used by leadership for strategic planning. It represents the flow of material and information through the value stream. It is a tool that allows you to see waste.  In addition, you can create your plan to eliminate it.  However, this is not a one-person tool.  For best results, organize a kaizen event to create the value stream map with a multi-disciplinary team.

Things to do prior to create a value stream map 

Like any other kaizen event or improvement activity, planning is critical for success.  During the planning stage, the facilitator will guide the team to prepare for the VSM event.  The preparation includes details such as team composition, scope, and limitations.  

Steps to create the value stream map

At the kaizen event, the team must complete three critical steps.

  1. Draw and understand the current state map.
  2. Design and draw the future state map.
  3. Develop the plan to arrive at the future state.

Understand what you want to accomplish before start drawing

What is the motivation or reason for wanting to do a value stream map?  Do you want to understand how the organization works from order requests to product or service delivery?  Or is there a need to learn how to serve your customers better?  The objective of the event must be clear before executing the planning phase.  

Knowing what you want to learn from the VSM facilitates the process of forming the team.  You want to have a cross-functional team of managers and decision-makers from all the areas that cover the process under study.  Remember, this process map is a high-level study of the process; the purpose is to make tactical decisions.

Planning is so crucial that I will dedicate an entire post to talk about it in detail.  More posts will follow with the different steps of the value stream mapping process.

How do you identify all the steps in the value stream?

Drawing a value stream map enables the process of identifying the steps in the value stream.

The value stream is all the steps required to bring a product or service from order to delivery.  The first lean principle is to define value from the customer’s point of view.  The second is to identify all the steps in the value stream and eliminate waste.  How do you determine those steps?

Identifying the steps in the value stream

A value stream map (VSM) represents the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service from order to delivery.  You identify value-add activities using the customer’s lenses as a reference.  This visual representation helps to accomplish the goal of eliminating waste within and between processes.  

The first step is to determine the scope and form the team to draw the map.  You need to decide the boundaries of the VSM event to be clear about what process you will be working on.  A process can start with the suppliers or the customer’s request.  Similarly, it can end with the end of the process at the site or the delivery to the customer.

In general, during the VSM event the team will complete the following steps.

  1. Determine the process family.
  2. Draw the current state map.
  3. Determine and draw the future state map.
  4. Draft a plan to arrive at the future state.

Benefits of the value stream map

Drawing a VSM enables a high-level view of the process, which uncovers where the stream stops.  Many times this map is the first time that people see the entire process from start to finish.  Therefore, it brings clarity to what happens between departments and the challenges associated.  For instance, it helps to see the materials flow and the information management as well.

The conversation around the drawing activity promotes discussions regarding efficiency, resources, and individual processes themselves.  The depiction of the process crosses departmental lines, which breaks silo thinking.  As a result, teamwork and collaboration drive the brainstorming process seeking improvement ideas.  Furthermore, it conveys the flow of action plans to execute those ideas.  

Another word about identifying the steps

Drawing the map is not the objective or the most meaningful thing of the VSM.  What matters is the thinking process to identify the process steps and identify the value of each one.  Moreover, the conversations around the subject, the collaboration within departments, and the clarity to see the opportunities for improvements.

In the next post, I will write more about the steps to draw the value stream map.

More focus on achieving goals than people?

Managers, business owners, or entrepreneurs have many responsibilities.  One of them is to help their staff learn, develop new capabilities, and grow.   However, their most important job, being a servant leader, is not always a priority.  The reason is that leadership sometimes focuses more on achieving goals than people.

Why more focus on achieving goals than people?

In traditional businesses, the desire to meet goals drives the company culture.  Therefore, leaders focus on activities to achieve them.  Most of the time, the target is cost reduction.   Some cultures give so much importance to it that rewards reducing costs without regard to the means.  That is a way to promote a toxic work environment where achieving goals is more important than caring for the people.

On the other hand, in a continuous improvement culture, the focus is on the people.  Leaders understand that their job is to help their team to learn and grow.  Moreover, to build a culture of inclusion, respect, and collaboration.  The only way to achieve it is to keep people in the spotlight all the time.

Leaders and priorities

Hyper focus on the goals also causes another problem.  In their quest for achieving them, leaders may decide to do things on their own.  With that decision, two different things can happen.  One, they would stop training and mentoring, which will hinder their team development.  And two, they could go back to the control and command state.  These actions are the opposite of the learning and empowering environment that they would like to build.

Even when leaders recognize that the secret ingredient for the business’s success is their people, sometimes they lose focus on their team.  For me, this is one area where I keep working to improve.  I want to be so effective with my time that often, I do not allow myself to deviate from my goals for the day.   The problem is that sometimes that means that I only do what I planned.  For instance, I don’t take advantage of informal situations to keep building my relationships because I am focused on something else.  

How not more focus on achieving goals than people?

Highly efficient leaders know how to balance their time between people-focused activities and their other tasks.    We need to ensure that we included some time to fulfill our top responsibility with our team, build relationships, and enjoy being part of the group of people we work with.  Including the intention to do it in our daily plans is a way to ensure that we don’t overlook it.  Include a reminder to check on your colleagues and team members is not cold and calculated.  On the contrary, it is a way to recognize that it is so critical that it deserves a top spot in your leader standard work.

Accountability and visual display boards during the daily meeting

Using visual display boards during the daily meeting helps to keep everybody aligned with the company KPIs and drives improvements.

One difference between traditional culture and continuous improvement is the focus on the things that matter most. Another difference is that we want to make problems visible.  A daily management system supports both things by using gemba walks, daily meetings, and leader-standard work.  Daily meetings are the place to discuss progress and actions while keeping everybody aligned with the site KPI’s.  The use of visual display boards during the daily meeting is how this alignment occurs during the accountability portion.  

What is the daily meeting accountability process?

A daily stand-up meeting with the team is one of the fundamental activities of the daily management system.  However, the huddle meeting is not complete unless it has a visual review of the critical objectives.  The daily accountability process is the way to involve everybody in the organization to check progress and further action needed to close the gaps.  

This process is done through daily meetings at different levels.  These tier meetings typically occur at two or three different levels, depending on the size of the business.  Tier 1 is between the team leader and team members, and tier 2 is between the supervisor and team leaders.  A manager leads Tier 3 with the participation of a group of supervisors.   These gatherings help the team to keep the focus on the performance of the daily process.   Also, it makes visible the effect of their actions on the site metrics, which drive accountability.

We use a visual management system to track those metrics.  During the meeting, the discussion is around the results presented on the board.  During the conversation, we seek to answer two questions.  What we did well? and what could we have done better?   

What should be part of the visual display boards during the daily meeting? 

Every company goal must have a metric to measure progress.  Usually, what we use at the top leadership level does not make sense for the office or shop floor people.  Therefore, they must be cascade to the team as a metric that they understand.  That way the metrics, are aligned with the KPIs.

The board should be easy to understand by the people working in the area.  Everybody should know the meaning of each metric.  Also, they should know how their work affects the performance measured by each one.  The board should provide information to know when the process is out of range.  That way, they can see how yesterday’s actions affect performance.

The purpose of the visual display boards during the daily meeting

The meeting must be a safe place to discuss the problems, reasons, and possible solutions.  It is the leadership’s responsibility to ensure that it is that way.  While it is not the place for long problem-solving sessions, the group should agree on what actions to take.

When the design is correct, a visual system will help see what should happen and what happened.  The objective is to understand what happened and create the appropriate actions to correct the deviation from the target.

While reviewing the KPI’s, people should understand the results and the gap with the target.  Understanding what went well or not helps to learn the source of concerns and frustrations.  After this step, the conversation should focus on taking action to solve the daily problems.  When problems are too big to solve, capture the ideas for further discussion during kaizen events.

The goal of these tier meetings is to foster a collaborative environment for problem-solving, ideas sharing, communication, and learning.  The daily meeting is where we see problems and take action to make improvements every day.  The spirit of continuous improvement is making small improvements every day, everywhere, by everybody.   Live up to it by using the morning meetings and display boards to drive improvements!

5S every day, not just once a month!

5S every day

A colleague who works in logistics is responsible for two warehouses in the same city.  Both sites have been implementing 5S.  One of them has been successful, while the other is not.  He asks me how it is possible to have different results.  Although both locations received the same training and support, their implementation approach was different.  Only one of those teams was practicing 5S every day.  

Change behaviors to do 5S every day

Have you ever tried to lose weight?  How well did it go?  I tried many times with no sustainable results until I learn what I was doing wrong.  Each time I failed; I was following a diet.  I treated my weight loss as individual events with a common goal.  However, healthy eating is for every day, not for special occasions.   It wasn’t until I change my eating habits that were able to lose weight for good.

Like with weight loss, 5S will not be successful until people build new behaviors.  Get used to putting things back in their place immediately after use takes time.  After all, it’s easier to leave things where you last used them.  The problem is to remember where that was.  For sustainable results, you have to change that behavior by creating new habits.

5S is an activity to practice every day, throughout the day.  Before launching the program, leadership needs to agree on how to achieve the fifth S, sustain.  The effort requires the participation of all site leaders.  Everybody needs to walk the workplace every day to verify cleanliness and organization conditions.  If shadow boards have empty spots, it means that tools are out of place.  If the material is missing from their allocated staging floor areas, it means that material is missing.  For instance, those examples represent future problems, either searching time or delays.

How to create the habits

While setting up the materials and equipment, work on how to create new habits.  Ask the team how they could trigger the desired response.  Once they finish work, what will trigger putting the tools or equipment back on their location.  

For example, empty printer cartridges go inside a labeled box in the office supply room.  However, some people throw them in the trash or leave them in their office or cubicle.  To build the habit, add how to dispose of the cartridge as part of the instructions to change it.  Also, include what the trigger would be for this action.  For instance, a good time would be the completion of the printer testing.  After confirmation that the printer is working, take the old cartridge to its designated location.  The problem is that most people would decide to move it to a location later.  And then, they don’t remember.  

Sometimes, people convince themselves that it is better to put things back in their place at the end of the shift.   Ask questions to understand why they think that way.  Where they leave them throughout the day?  Are there any safety hazards?  Are they wasting time searching for them?  Maybe the designated area is not the best.  By working with the team to understand their reasons and creating a plan together, sustainability will have a better chance.  

At times, like in the printer cartridge example, it makes sense to compromise.  For example, have a mailbox by the door or entrance.  They see it while walking out, take it, and move it to its place.

After launching the program, sustain it with 5S every day

That is the difference between the warehouse teams.  One group completed all the kick-off event preparation in detail.  After that, they completed the first three steps, leaving the areas with temporary marks.  They planned to test locations and quantities before making them permanent. The problem is the responsible parties never follow-up.  At that time, those temporary marks became permanent.  And then, when things didn’t go as planned, people were discouraged to continue.

At the same time, the other team follows similar planning and initial execution steps.  The only difference was that as part of their plan, they agreed on triggers for 5S activities.  The senior supervisor and his team had on their leader standard work a daily 5S walk.  They also had a board where they mark their visits and top three observations.  This information was part of the daily huddle meetings.   Also, the leadership group makes a point to acknowledge at least one positive comment every day.  That simple action helps to enforce the desired behavior.  For instance, supervisors celebrate each program milestone and recognize groups or individuals that achieve their 5S goals.

Forklift operators and clerks have their triggers for 5S activities as well.  For example, lunch break is one of the triggers for the operators.  With this one, they know it is time to park and charge their truck in one of the designated spaces.  

By identifying what will signal the start of each 5S task, the group initiates to build the habit of doing 5S every day, all day.  This way, their program for housekeeping and organization became a daily activity.  They created new behaviors to ensure sustainability.  For the other warehouse, it happens only when the warehouse was a mess or visitors were coming.  

How to build a user story map

build a user story map to visualize the customer journey

A user story is a short and simple description of the product or service from the customer’s lenses. You can use this tool to map the primary steps in the customer journey and design the best experience.  How do you build a user story map?  First, take a look at the steps below.  After that, let’s discuss each one at a time.

Steps to build a user story map

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Understand your customers
  3. Map user activities
  4. Map user stories under user activities
  5. Rank stories from most important to least important
  6. Identify roadblocks
  7. Create your execution plan 

Before you build a user story map, understand the problem you want to fix and your customers

Before you start mapping, there are two things you need to know.  First, what is the problem you are seeking to solve?  In other words, what problem your product or service is helping your customers to overcome.   Answer this with as much level of detail as you can.  Look at the problem from the customer’s lenses.  Knowing their pain points or motivations helps to understand what has value for them.  

Identify who would be the primary user or customer.  Who is your target audience?  Likely, there will be more than one, and each will have different goals and motivations.  Also, they will have different ways of interacting with your product or service.  For that reason, it is critical to determine who is the primary audience.  Focus your design efforts with this group in mind.

What are the user activities and their stories?

User activities are broad descriptions of how the user interacts with your product or service.  In other words, they are general steps that the user follows to complete the process from beginning to end.  These activities are the backbone of the user story map.  

You can draw the map using one of the diverse options.  Examples are drawing on a whiteboard, using sticky notes, or with one of the various software tools available.  Regardless of the format, you decide to use, remember to update the map as you make changes throughout the designing or execution process.

When you build a user story map, prioritize the stories

Stories are the sequence of tasks to complete each activity.  Draw each array underneath the corresponded activity.  When you see those stories together, you will visualize the customer journey.  Stories are like a medium-level flow process map.  Sometimes it is helpful to visualize one step down in the process.  You can do that in the user story map, with sub-tasks.  However, use sub-tasks only when they help to visualize possible challenges or roadblocks. 

Once all the stories are in place, it is time to prioritize them.  Do so by ranking them vertically, leaving the most important ones at the top.  In the example below, I draw them horizontally instead of vertically.  If you choose to do it this way, remember to rank them from left to right.  Think about which one of these stories has more value for the customer.   

build a user story map

The same example but using vertical ranking would look like this.

Identify challenges and roadblocks before creating the execution plan

After prioritization, it is time to look at the customer journey flow again.  Put yourself in the place of the customer or user.  Do you see any problem?  Think of it there is a step or feature you need or most have that is not there.  Moreover, see if you can identify anything that the customer should or could have. 

Following this exercise, put your designer hat on and check for missing information or possible bottlenecks.  Identify any challenge or roadblock during execution.  That is, look for potential trouble and mitigate them by creating solutions ahead of time.

At this point, all you need to do is add the plan.  Based on priorities, budget, and other considerations, you decide how you would execute the plan.  Sometimes it makes sense to divide it into phases.  This way, you can plan for what is most important first.


User story maps are a tool that allows teams to visualize the story of the customer journey.  It is helpful to break those stories into smaller parts.  Therefore, it is easier to prioritize and identify challenges.  In other words, user story mapping help to design better products or services from the customer’s lenses.  After all, a product or service designed from the customer’s view has more chances of success.

User story map, what is it?

build the customer journey with a user story map

In a continuous improvement environment, the customer is who defined the value of a product or service.  If you are thinking about launching a new product or service, you may need to create the user story map first.  This tool will help you to visualize the customer journey.

What is a user story map?

User story mapping is a tool used in software development to identify the work that will create the best user experience.  Through the use of this tool, teams understand their customer needs better.  The structure is similar to the swim-lane chart.  It uses horizontal lanes for activities, tasks, sub-tasks, and priorities.  Each activity has a column with its duties or stories drawn below.   The example below is my version of the user story map.

user story map

Although it is a software development tool, you can use a user story map in other settings.  No product or service will be successful unless designed with the customer in mind.  A user story is a short and simple description of the product or service from the customer’s lenses.  Therefore, it is a good idea to use a user story map before you execute your plan.

Steps to create a user story map

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Understand your customers
  3. Map user activities
  4. Map user stories under user activities
  5. Rank stories from most important to least important
  6. Identify roadblocks
  7. Create your execution plan 

Benefits of this type of mapping

If you are a product manager or an entrepreneur, this exercise will help define the work or activities that would create a good customer experience.  While mapping the customer journey, you will have the following benefits.

  • By defining the problem that you expected to solve with your product or service, you get clear objectives.
  • Design the product or service from the customer’s lenses, which ensures the desired experience.  
  • By identifying major steps in the customer journey, you will understand better the essential tasks.
  • Another benefit is that you can organize and prioritize those tasks for better plan execution.  
  • While drawing the customer story, the team can identify challenges or roadblocks. 
  • Also, they will have the chance to see opportunities to improve.  
  • By creating the story map as a group, you are promoting teamwork and collaboration.  

Different uses for a story map

These are some examples of areas where you can use a story map.  

  • While writing an article, blog post, or book, you start with what question do you want to answer?  Tailor your writing style to your audience by knowing who they would be.  Your activities are your book chapters or article headings and sub-headings.  If you have too many headings, prioritize to decide what to include and what to left out.
  • During my years facilitating training, I found out that people learn better when you tell them a story.  Moreover, it is more effective when they can relate to the story.  For that reason, this type of map is helpful to design a successful learning experience.  With it, you can visualize the trainee’s needs and identify challenges.
  • For new product development, it is necessary to understand your users and the problem you want to solve.  There is no time for guessing the right story or workflow for your design.  
  • It works well to design a new service as well.
  • You can define and divide any project into activities, tasks, and sub-tasks.

To sum up

User story mapping is a great tool to visualize the work needed from the customer’s lenses.  Although it is known as an agile tool, it is helpful to design a product or service.  The focus of the design process is the customer, as it should be.  The story map tells the story of the customer’s problem and the activities to solve it.  In other words, it explains the customer experience.

A story map is not written in stone.  Just like standards, they are live documents that should reflect what is happening in real life.  Include all changes and additions in the map as soon as possible.   In the next blog, I will explain how to build your user story map.

Keep it simple! Processes, training, everything.

keep it simple! Simple procedures and communication is easier to understand and follow.

A company culture transformation is an undertaking.  You will attempt to break with old habits and mental models.  Also, you will introduce new ones.  For that reason, you and your leadership team will make many decisions regarding what to do and how to do it.  Later, there will be a lot of communication, skills development, training, and new standards.  While teaching new behaviors, mental models, and ways to do things, keep it simple.

For a successful transformation, keep it simple

Along the transformation journey, you and your team will have countless communication efforts. That communication will happen in different scenarios and formats.  In other words, individual or group settings, in writing or verbal.  Also, you will write new policies, standards, work instructions, and others.  The purpose of the communication or procedures and other details needs to clear.  Keep the receiver or user in mind while deciding the language, design, or communication structure.  Moreover, it needs to be simple, easy to understand and execute.

If you can’t explain it simply, take a step back.

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 

Albert Einstein

Any continuous improvement activity starts with gaining an understanding of the current situation. The cultural transformation begins with a similar process, understanding the present culture.  The knowledge gain during this step helps to design the best way to share with the team the intention to change.

Why do you want to engage in the transformation process?  Why you propose to use continuous improvement?  What are the steps?  A long and hard thinking process is required to answer these questions in a simple way.  Refine your thoughts, do not use too many words, do not overthink.  Be honest and talk from your heart without fancy words or excuses, just the truth.

You are not ready to communicate this idea until you can say it in simple words.  

Keep it simple, all of the processes, language, structures, and formats.

Simple language is easier for the reader or receiver.  For instance, try to avoid the use of technical words unless it is necessary.  The same rule goes for industry jargon.  For example, in continuous improvement, we use many Japanese terms like kaizen.  Depending on the current culture, you should use generally accepted American words as a substitute.  In our previous example, you can use continuous improvement or rapid improvement events instead of kaizen.

While teaching new tools, use simple structures.  Further, give examples of things related to their work.  Things are complicated enough as it is, keep it simple.  Processes that are easy to understand have more probability of sustainability.  It is much easier to execute simple instructions than complicated words.  


Trying to explain something complex is often a humbling experience.  It makes you realize how much you don’t know.  Therefore, it forces you to break the subject into smaller pieces and understand each one of them.  When you think you know the process well enough, try to explain it with simple words. Would your five years old self understand?  If the answer is no, then keep refining your thoughts, keep improving your pitch.  

Simplicity avoids confusion, and processes are easier to execute consistently.  Don’t complicate it, keep it simple. 

Time studies and continuous improvement

time studies and continuous improvement

From everything I learned while studying industrial engineering, time study is what I have to use the most.  Time studies and continuous improvement have always been part of my job. Early in my career, I use time studies to establish or update time standards.    Later on, when I started to learn and practice CI, time studies were part of the data collection process.  This time, the time study was a component of the process to define the problem under analysis.  

Numerous times in my career, I found well-intended people trying to do formal time studies as part of kaizen or continuous improvement activity.  There is no need to complicate your life.  Nevertheless, it is necessary to follow some basic rules to ensure satisfactory data collection.

Time studies and time standards

Time study or work measurement is a method to establish an allowed time to perform a given task.  Frederick Taylor envisioned industrial engineers using time and motion studies to determine the best way to do the job.  Standardized work and cycle time reduction are two more of Taylor’s innovations.  

While establishing a time standard, industrial engineers would use a detailed process to observe and analyze the method and measure time.  The standard calculation includes rating the operator’s performance and applying for allowances.   This type of time study seeks to establish a standard used for manufacturing cost and wage calculations.  They need to be specific and accurate.  The focus is on the process, looking to reduce the cycle and make it more efficient.

Time studies and continuous improvement

On the other hand, when using time studies in continuous improvement, you don’t need to rate performance or use allowances.  You are not trying to create a time standard.  The purpose is to see if the changes are moving the needle in the right direction.  The focus is on the operator and how to reduce his/her pain points.  How can you make the work easier and safer?  While doing that, you will reduce the cycle time, but that is not the priority.  

Although you won’t need to calculate a standard time at this point, you need good data.  For that, there are a few steps that you need to follow.  Talk with the operator who is completing the process.  Explain why you are there and clarify that you will measure the process, not the person.  Observe the process and ask questions to understand what he or she is doing.  Also, look at the flow of materials and/or the information and learned about the pain points. Your objective is to eliminate waste.

This preliminary work will help you to get familiar with the process.  Once you are familiar with it, you can divide it into general steps for further time measurement.  You to measure how long it takes to complete a process, before and after the improvements. 

Keep it simple

Learning is always better when you keep things simple.  Concepts that are too complicated may distract you from the real purpose of the exercise.  All you want to accomplish is to get data to compare if the proposed improvements reduce the cycle.  

There are many other ways to improve a process besides cycle reduction.  Focus on finding the waste within the process.  Then look for ways to eliminate or reduce it.  Waste reduction will reduce the cycle time while making the process easier, minimize errors, eliminate waiting times, and others. There are two key things for sustainable improvements.  First, you need participation from the team doing the work.  Nobody knows the process better than them.  Second, the focus of the improvement efforts is always the customers, internal and external.