A4. Flow

flow-index-pictureUnderstand where customer demands have to flow, from initial need through to their satisfaction (measured by the customer). This is done by following units of work right through the process.

The only place that you can understand flow is by ‘going to the gemba’ (the place where the work happens). Otherwise you are guessing, and will create an incorrect and oversimplified picture of reality. This is not a one-off activity…it is a way of working.

You will see value adding activities and waste. The aim is to understand, and reduce/ remove the waste.

There are a number of principles that can help make the work flow, though these need to be pursued through experimentation and understanding, not implementation of an ideology. Two key principles to consider are: ‘from batch to single-piece-flow’ and ‘from push to pull’. These need to be combined with a ‘stop-the-line’ mentality.

Note: Most people start with flow (mapping their processes). However, flow is intentionally the 4th step in the model – the other 3 steps need doing first.

Post Title: Summary ‘teaser’: Month Published:
Meet the process Gemba walking: The only way for management to understand what is really happening is to regularly ‘go to the gemba’, study actual demand and the actual flow of work…doing this in partnership with the workers, not in judgement of them. Dec 2014
One at a time please Sharp knives example (with HP video): Batching causes much waste and is the enemy of flow. The ideal is single-piece flow, in sequence, on demand. Feb 2015
A gulf in thinking Andon cord example: Improvement requires a true ‘stop the line’ culture…not a sham. Mar 2015
Déjà Vu I’ve been here before! Process knowledge belongs to the people who perform the process, not to some separate project or ‘higher’ silo. Sep 2015
So why can’t we do that?! Tesla factory example: Beware the manufacturing mantra of ‘specialise, standardise, centralise and automate’. In service, this is to solve the wrong problem. Sep 2015
Pulling Power Value should be pulled by the customer, as and when they want it. ‘Pushing’ causes much waste. Sep 2015
False Economies Cost is in flow, not activity: The customer cares about the horizontal flow of value, from their initial need to its satisfaction. It is the organisation’s job to make the value flow…which is in direct contrast to the ‘economies of scale’ mantra. Oct 2015
The River Rouge – A divergent legacy From Henry Ford to Taiichi Ohno: So Ford worked out flow, but handling variety became the new problem. This post compares and contrasts the two routes adopted: by America (and those following their lead) and by Japan (through the likes of Taiichi Ohno). The differences are profound. Jul 2016
Correction, Clarification and Continual learning So I wrote a post called ‘The River Rouge’ and received an interesting comment alerting me to a perceived inaccuracy in my writings.


This post aims to correct, clarify and continue the learning.

Dec 2016
Toilet Humour The men’s urinal: An ‘informal’ case study about experimenting with visual controls ‘at the gemba’ instead of ’emails shouting at people’. Mar 2017
A Kerfuffle over Coffee A simple explanation of batch vs. flow, using the office coffee machines. Apr 2017
“Erm, I don’t know yet!” Bullshit masquerading as customer care’: Do you get messages from service organisations asking you to score your most recent interaction with them? May 2018