Solar Survival: Using Value Stream Maps to Enhance Customer Experience

Nov 02, 2015

Solar Survival: Using Value Stream Maps to Enhance Customer Experience

By Matthew Hirsch

Enphase has a Solar Survival Guide for residential installers that offers lots of tools that can help streamline business processes and gear tasks to create customer value. One of these tools is the value stream map, a planning tool that helps visualize the customer experience step by step with a project timeline that shows how long it takes to complete tasks and wait times between tasks. Businesses of all kinds can use a value stream map to set expectations for themselves and their customers.

Residential solar has experienced extraordinary growth, but less than 1 percent of all homes in the US are solar homes. This tells you that when it comes to the solar installation process, customers don’t always know what to expect. It’s not like buying a car for the first time. The customer might not know anyone who’s gone through the process.

To help create a positive experience for these customers, we’ve asked Pamela Cargill, a co-author of the Enphase Solar Survival Guide, to share an example of a value stream map and some tips on customizing the map for continuous process improvement.

First of all, which tools do I need to draw a value stream map?

Well, what drafting tools do you have available? You can use a process development tool like Microsoft Project or Visio. You can use PowerPoint or any CAD tool. Basically, whatever drawing tool you have.

What process should I follow for creating a value stream map?

I’d recommend a couple of ways, depending on the size of the organization. For a small company, have a roundtable discussion. Start with the first thing you do. Who’s responsible? Ask roughly how long it takes. This is not an exact science. Now, look at the handoff to the next step in the process.

If you’re a larger organization, you may want to start with the sales process and get subject matter experts within the company to map out each task and how long it takes.

Doing the value stream map is about evaluating the situation as it is now. Installers know the process they’ve set up and used. But as they grow and add people, the process starts to get more complex. These things tend to drift.

How much variation would you expect to see from one installer to the next as they go about creating a value stream map?

There are a lot of common milestones. A sale has to occur. A permit has to be pulled. But the map that includes those milestones is pretty different for each installer, and that’s speaking to the hyper-local nature of this. There ends up being a lot of variability, especially before the site evaluation.

Does the sample map you provided reflect a simple installation process or a complex process?

I’d say this is on the simple to average side. Jurisdictions that have over-the-counter permitting are really where it’s going to be simplest. You get your permit package, put it together, take it right to the AHJ [authority having jurisdiction] and get your permit while you’re standing there. In contrast, New York City is probably the most complex jurisdiction in the US. It has complicated systems for tax abatement and documenting asbestos, things that really have nothing to do with the safe installation of solar.

Once you’ve created a value stream map, how do you make use of it?

Looking at the map, you’ll start seeing obvious opportunities for improvement. Where are the wait times between these activities that we can compress? What steps can we combine or eliminate? How can we rearrange our human resources to deliver more effectively? Is there a better business process that we could use or a tool that could help automate activities?

Matthew Hirsch runs Hirsch Media Services, a B2B content marketing agency with deep roots in the energy industry. He co-authored the Solar Survival Guide with Pamela Cargill and Enphase marketing lead Deborah Knuckey. Pamela is Principal of Chaolysti, a solar consulting firm backed by over a decade of experience in residential solar. To learn more about value stream mapping or to download the Enphase Solar Survival Guide, visit

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