The single most important Lean Objective
Make it; Move it
Perfect flow is happening when...
the thing you are processing
(which could be a product, or small batch of liquid, or a patient, or a sales order...)
flows through your process in a very small batch
(ideally one at at time)
and never stops when handed off between steps
(which will become REALLY obvious when you map your process using a value stream map)
and you have completely eliminated every one of the 7 types of waste
Defects. Overproduction. Inventory. Over-processing. Motion. Transportation and handling. Waiting.
and your workers are able to perform their work
in a state of mental flow
What is a state of mental flow?
from the book
Bookmark = why
Benefits of Lean Flow
The biggest benefit of Flow
is to enable Pull,
so you can deliver
only what your customer wants
only when they want it
1) Flow enables Pull
Once you personally experience
being a senior team leader in a lean production environment...
you will come to appreciate that the biggest benefit that you will gain
from your lean journey to design your value streams to flow...
is that flow enables Pull
so you can deliver only what your customer wants
only when they want it
2) Flow Improves Safety
Less exertion and less heavy equipment traffic = less accidents.
3) Flow Improves Quality
When you make small batches, problems are detected (and fixed) much more quickly.
You are much less likely to have a large batch of things that all have the same defect.
4) Flow Improves Speed of Delivery
Eliminating time waiting for the rest of the batch to finish, and time waiting between processes
can enable you to confidently promise your customers a delivery time
that might be less than half of what they currently tolerate.
Your lean objective
is to eliminate
the 7 types of waste
5) Lean Flow Improves Cash Flow
Less inventory = more cash available.
Less inventory also = less scrap, which also = more cash available.
6) Flow Improves Productivity
Small batch flow reduces every one of the 7 deadly types of waste:
Less defects. Less overproduction. Less inventory. Less over-processing.
Less motion. Less transportation and handling. Less waiting.
7) Flow Improves Clarity
Small batch flow reduces confusion. Fewer things can go wrong.
Problems are more visible. (and a problem has to be seen before it can be fixed)
8) Flow Improves Morale
Flow enables your players
to crack some heads
Fire fighting isn't pleasant.
People like things to flow smoothly.
9) Flow Enables Offense
The second-biggest benefit of self-healing flow
is that your managers and senior leaders are freed up
to focus their attention on offense.
Rather than battling defensive threats,
they are pursuing offensive opportunities.
For example, they might focus their laser-like attention to answer the question:
How can we better serve our customers and crush our competitors
with all this time and money that we freed up through our continuous improvement successes?
Bookmark = barriers
Barriers to Lean Flow
Barriers to flow can be any condition or action
that inhibits the uninterrupted flow of work
Bookmark this checklist, and come back often
It is a wise idea to bookmark this page in your web browser
and come back to it whenever you or your team
are using any of the following lean tools and systems
to be on the lookout to identify (and then reduce or eliminate) common barriers to flow
- Gemba walk for value stream mapping
- Process observation time study
- Process analysis
- Standard work analysis
- Functional Flow analysis
- A3 Problem Solving (using your A3Interview.xlsx template)
- Gemba walk as part of your Lean Management System
Checklist: Common Barriers to Flow
Batching is the number 1 barrier to lean flow
This gets confusing, because batching is not always a bad thing,
and can be a helpful technique to improve flow, especially in a service or office environment.
But that's the exception to the rule.
in ANY environment, (including service or office), the rule is:
Your Standard Work template
is your most common weapon
to identify and minimize batches
Minimize batch sizes as much as you can.
Piles of any kind.
Piles of inventory are easy to spot
(once you attune your mind to look for them)
Stacks of paper or unread emails
require your lean leaders to invent creative
Visual Management Systems to make them visible.
Incorrect identification, selection, or placement of pacemaker.
Your value stream mapping template (VSM.xlsx)
has terrific systems to visually highlight shared processes,
but your goal isn't to just notice them;
your goal is to minimize or eliminate them,
or maximize throughput through them,
using your Shared Process Design template (vsmShared.docx)
Interruptions / Switching Tasks
See training for SMED Quick Changeovers
Your Swim Lane Cross Functional Flowchart
is your best tool for processes with handoffs
Use your Value Stream Map
to analyze transportation between your own processes
and your Supply Chain Map
to analyze transportation between supply chain partners
Use your Layout Diagram
Wasted human motion
The usual suspects
Any of the 7 Deadly Wastes
Any obstructions to the Lean Ideals
Any obstructions to the Toyota Four Rules In Use
Any of the Hansei questions for mental reflection
Any management policies that inadvertently encourage undesirable behaviors
Prioritization rules / practices
Non-lean accounting systems
that cause cause end-of-month or end-of-quarter demand spikes
Individual vs. team rewards that encourage unintended sub-optimal choices
Organization, management, reporting, and rewards by functional silos (rather than by value stream)
Lack of effective Lean Management Systems
It's real easy to see whether an organization has lean flow.
Just look for the Visual Management Systems.
Acid Test for Visibility of Flow
When your lean visual management systems are in place for a work area,
Invite someone unfamiliar with the work area
ideally with no further instruction, but perhaps with a brief explanation for:
1) how to read your at-a-glance visual control chart that makes heijunka flow visible for this process
2) how often it is updated — which usually coincides with your Pitch Cycle
(which is measured in hours; not days)
and then ask...
Is this process flowing as expected?
The answer should be either yes or no. (red or green... no yellow)
Acid Test for your entire Lean Transformation
This Acid Test for Visibility of Flow
Yes, it is THAT important.
Lean Flow is (by far) your single most important lean objective
Lean Flow requires passionate leadership
If (and only if)...
every one of the highest level executives and managers for your value stream
deeply understands the benefits of lean flow
well enough to passionately share those benefits in their own words
in thousands of teaching moments over the course of thousands of days...
Road map for a typical
then you are ready to begin
a shared lean journey toward lean transformation.
If not... then don't even start
You are wasting your time, and the time of everyone around you.
Rather than choosing the goal of lean transformation,
you will be much better off starting with some far less ambitious goal,
like perhaps improving the flow of one process,
or reducing one quality problem, or launching your first 5S event.
And that's okay. That's how most lean journeys start.
But it's never too early to at least start daydreaming
about how your inter-related teams might work together differently...
if every one of your top leaders... became truly passionate champions... of lean flow
To barbecue Sacred Cows
Respect your Boundaries
Often, your Team Charter will specifically discourage proposing changes to corporate policies that are unlikely to be changed within a short time period.
But that doesn't mean that you can't have a heart-to-heart with your team's Executive Change Agent, to perhaps begin the slow process of discretely encouraging some senior executives to more carefully consider possible negative impacts that might counterbalance some of the reasons that resulted in some policies that might have been shaped by some previous management conditions perhaps long ago.
Bookmark = how
How to get Lean Flow
Your lean objective
(Inventory that is sold,
The fundamentals of Lean Flow
Flow where you can; Pull where you can't
The most important rule of Lean Flow is:
- Establish islands of Continous Process Flow wherever you can.
- Pull where you can't.
- Only push with a FIFO Lane
Few control points; far downstream
One hallmark of a non-lean system
is when many (or all !!!) processes in the value stream
receive their own 'list of things to work on' for the day or shift.
A lean system
will the fewest possible information control points (ideally just the one pacesetter)
and the Pacesetter is as far downstream as possible (nearest to the customer)
Visual Management Systems
Visual Management Systems are a cornerstone of value streams that are designed for flow.
While it is not true to say...
"If you see Visual Management Systems; the value stream must be designed to flow"
(not true... because there is more to it)
It is true to say...
If you don't see Visual Management Systems, flow is unlikely
Every work center (both on the production floor and in the office)
should have some form of visual cue
that is ideally obvious and self-evident enough
so that anyone
walking briskly past that work area
should be able to easily tell you:
How 'flowy' (vs. clumpy) are things moving through that work area?
That visual cue might be anything...
It might be a flag, a light, a colored card...
It might be the plastic bin beneath the window in the doctor's office where you put your patient intake form once you have completed it
It might be incoming or outgoing inventory on shelves with clearly marked min & max levels
It might be a kanban cards, golf balls, triangles, or any kanban signals
It might be a FIFO lane (PullQ.xlsx)
It might be a visual Job Log (JobLog.xlsx)
It might be a large-print MRP schedule noting status with colored magic markers
It might be a heijunka box, or a Pitch Chart (PitchChart.xlsx)
Whatever it is...
It's not hidden inside a computer,
it's really obvious and visual,
and it is displaying real time data that gets updated at least a few times per shift.
Find ways to smooth the level of demand
Executive teams routinely pay consultants thousands of dollars per day to listen to conversations that start with:
"We can't control our customers."
"Our customer isn't Toyota. They don't give us 6 months visibility of steady demand."
Your lean objective
is to allow customer demand to pull your deliverables through your processes
"Demand leveling will never work here. We're different."
If the consultant is worth the money, the conversations end with:
"Wow... that changes everything."
"We completely eliminated short and mid-term forecasts. Wow."
"So many of these lean practices seem so much more possible now."
If the consultant isn't worth the money, the conversations end with:
"We tried Lean a while back, but it didn't work here."
"Our attempted changes stuck for a little while,
and then something was always coming up
that caused people to revert back to our proven ways of doing things."
"The Lean systems that we tried were too fragile. They just couldn't adapt to our unique environment."
and you can request an introduction
to a consultant that is familiar with your Systems2win tools.
Build to Pitch, and make Pitch Visible
It is often said that
"Takt Time is the heartbeat that sets the pace of production"
but that's only partially true
The problem is that you can't see Takt Time
and if you can't see it, you can't manage it
Pitch... or more correctly 'Pitch made visible'
enables every single person in every team to know at the turn of every Pitch Cycle...
(which is usually at least twice per shift)
Are we on schedule? or not?
Lean Flow produces (and requires) higher quality than Batch and Queue systems
Everyone wants the higher quality that Lean Flow produces,
but is your senior management sincerely committed
to creating the conditions for the higher quality that Lean Flow requires?
See our online training to learn more about Lean Flow vs. Batch and Queue
and use your Quality Management tools when you swarm quality problems
Every lean tool needs
Swarm problems with your Lean Management Systems
It's easier to identify problems than to implement countermeasures for problems.
It's easy for your systems for 'problem identification' to soon overwhelm your systems for 'problem solving'.
If it becomes commonplace for problems to get identified, but not swarmed,
"They don't care."
"This is a waste of time."
Standardize work — so that fewer and fewer problems need swarming.
It would be hard to count how many times in this training web site we have proposed that...
Standard Work is the single most important component in your lean toolkit
If people just backslide back to their old habits,
what's the point of even trying to improve?
Fire fighting is time-consuming, expensive, and not very fun
Is it your job to put out fires?
or to prevent them?
The goal of every swarming event is not just to 'solve the problem',
but (more importantly), to 'prevent that from every happening again'
At this phase of your lean journey, these tools become your best friends:
- Logic Decision Trees — to empower lower-level people to make expert decisions
- Value Stream Mapping — to improve flow between processes
- Standard Work Process Analysis — to improve flow within each process
- Standard Work templates — to prevent backsliding
- Leader Standard Work — to ensure sustained leadership focus
Learn even more about Lean Flow
Return to the Lean Training home page