Does Your Business Value Flow? It should!


Does Your Business Value Flow?  It should!

Lean operating systems unlock the value in business by working hard to flow the creation of value in every process.  Two powerful benefits arise from creating well-designed flow:  outcomes become predictable and problems have nowhere to hide.

Outcomes Become More Predictable 

It is easy to think of traffic when thinking about the concept of flow.  Consider a trip from Terre Haute, Indiana to St. Louis, Missouri.  The directions include entering Interstate 70, driving 162 miles and exiting Interstate 70.  It is very easy to predict the exact arrival time, almost to the minute (assuming you pace your bathroom breaks).

Now consider a trip from the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City to JFK Airport. The directions actually vary depending on the taxi cab you happen to take.  It is almost impossible to predict the exact arrival time, even within hours.  It is all too common to have a meeting in NYC that ends with someone saying they have to leave at 1:00 PM for a 4:00 PM flight because, “you never know.”

The problems with flow in New York City compared to Terre Haute are the same problems many businesses encounter when creating value in their products.  As the product or service a business is creating makes its way to the customer, it runs into traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, taxi cabs who assume higher priority, fender benders that block traffic, and overall congestion.  In a committed Lean world, all these wasteful conditions are eliminated.  The biggest loss to the passenger (or in your case, customer) is the inability to be predictable.  When will the product or service be delivered?

Problems Have Nowhere to Hide 

Identifying problems is the invaluable byproduct of a truly Lean environment.  Problems in a lean environment are identified when they are small, they are solved to the root cause, and most importantly, they have nowhere to hide.

Similar to the way flow helps an organization be more predictable, it also makes problems obvious.  Returning to the idea of a highway compared to a busy city, a car traveling on the highway from Terre Haute to St. Louis can quickly realize when an accident has occurred, as the entire flow path (the highway) slows down.  Resources quickly rush to the scene and if possible all traffic is detoured around the problem.

It is hard to image that a taxi driver would even point out a fender bender in the city, and would instead quickly turn down an alley or side street to seek another route.  The accepted chaos of the entire situation is built into the experience. That is why people recommend leaving hours in advance. Problems are part of process and not actually seen as problems.

It is not hard to see this unfold in our businesses.  Manufactured parts take similar routes as the NYC taxi on the shop floor.  Administrative processes bounce from desk to desk with problems seen as part of the process.  A mortgage agent recently told a prospective home buyer she liked to start the closing processes 45 days before the closing, “just in case.”

Avoid Intersections and Roundabouts

Analyze the flow of your processes on the shop floor or in the office. Analyze the way your organization manufactures a product or delivers a service.  Draw the process and look specifically for intersections. These are areas where the product or service has more than one way to go.  It can either go to this machine or that machine.  Paperwork is sent to one of five adjusters to review.  These are sure signs of intersections. In the Lean world, we call them forks.

Look close at your drawing for circumstances that cause the product or service to return to a process it has already completed.  Examples on the shop floor are products that require a second pass through a machine or need to be reworked.  In the office, it may be that the document is sent back to an engineer for review.  This is similar to a roundabout and complicates flow.  In the Lean world, we call this a loop.

Flow is critical for your business’s success. It makes your delivery more predictable and helps quickly identify problems while they are small and can be solved to the root cause.

Encourage your organization to work toward the ideal.  Business value that flows from inception to creation in a dedicated simple path without intersections (forks) or roundabouts (loops) will drive stability.

And one other thing, when you want to be on time in NYC, it pays to take the train!

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” now available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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