A tool, developed by Michael Porter, that decomposes a firm into its core activities.
A value chain is a chain of activities for a firm operating in a specific industry. The business unit is the appropriate level for construction of a value chain, not the divisional level or corporate level. Products pass through all activities of the chain in order, and at each activity the product gains some value. The chain of activities gives the products more added value than the sum of the independent activity's value. It is important not to mix the concept of the value chain with the costs occurring throughout the activities. A diamond cutter, as a profession, can be used to illustrate the difference of cost and the value chain. The cutting activity may have a low cost, but the activity adds much of the value to the end product, since a rough diamond is significantly less valuable than a cut diamond. Typically, the described value chain and the documentation of processes, assessment and auditing of adherence to the process routines are at the core of the quality certification of the business, e.g. ISO 9001.
The value chain categorizes the generic value-adding activities of an organization. The "primary activities" include: inbound logistics, operations (production), outbound logistics, marketing and sales (demand), and services (maintenance). The "support activities" include: administrative infrastructure management, human resource management, technology (R&D), and procurement. The costs and value drivers are identified for each value activity.
An industry value chain is a physical representation of the various processes that are involved in producing goods (and services), starting with raw materials and ending with the delivered product (also known as the supply chain). It is based on the notion of value-added at the link (read: stage of production) level. The sum total of link-level value-added yields total value.
The value-chain concept has been extended beyond individual firms. It can apply to whole supply chains and distribution networks. The delivery of a mix of products and services to the end customer will mobilize different economic factors, each managing its own value chain. The industry wide synchronized interactions of those local value chains create an extended value chain, sometimes global in extent. Porter terms this larger interconnected system of value chains the "value system." A value system includes the value chains of a firm's supplier (and their suppliers all the way back), the firm itself, the firm distribution channels, and the firm's buyers.
Capturing the value generated along the chain is the new approach taken by many management strategists. For example, a manufacturer might require its parts suppliers to be located nearby its assembly plant to minimize the cost of transportation. By exploiting the upstream and downstream information flowing along the value chain, the firms may try to bypass the intermediaries creating new business models, or in other ways create improvements in its value system.
Value chain approach could also offer a meaningful alternative to valuate private or public companies when there is a lack of publically known data from direct competition, where the subject company is compared with, for example, a known downstream industry to have a good feel of its value by building useful correlations with its downstream companies. Value chain analysis has also been employed in the development sector as a means of identifying poverty reduction strategies by upgrading along the value chain. Although commonly associated with export-oriented trade, development practitioners have begun to highlight the importance of developing national and intra-regional chains in addition to international ones.