When visiting new clients, one of the first things I do is tour the premises and watch the flow of work through the organisation. In order to uncover efficiencies, it’s vital to understanding how things flow through the business and where the stoppages occur. By simply watching for 15 minutes or so, I can monitor the flow and often diagnose where some of the issues are.

Managers often confuse activity and being busy as a sign things are going well, however, we need to be aware of what activities are “value added” activities versus “non-value added” activities. It might surprise you to know that most businesses run at under 5% value add – do you know the value add percentage of your key processes?

Flow is a Lean technique that has been used by 1000’s of organisations to drive efficiency, eliminate waste and improve their competitive edge. Flow is a time-based competitive strategy and one that is worth exploring for all types of businesses, not just manufacturers.

What is Flow?

Flow is how work progresses through your business. The goal is to have goods moving steadily through the supply chain and predictably through your processes, with minimal stoppages. Every time work stops, delays start and waste accumulates.

Consistent Flow generates:

  • Better quality products or services
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced costs
  • Less space required for storage
  • Reduced lead time

One of the Lean creators, Taiichi Ohno describes the flow of work in progress, as a river full of rocks. With the water level symbolising inventory and the rocks signifying problems and waste. When the water level is high, then potential problems and waste can go unnoticed. The goal of Lean is to continually lower the water level (inventory levels) in order to expose and rectify issues. The more Lean maturity an organisation has, the lower the water levels become and that forces any issues to be addressed.  When a business is able to reduce the amount of inventory they keep impressive savings will be unlocked.

Improving Flow helps the organisation to reduce inventory, which in turn eliminates waste and trim costs. There are several ways to improve Flow in any process, these include:

  • Process Flow Mapping
  • Log problems as they occur
  • Planning
  • Identifying Waste
  • Continually review and improve processes (PDCA)
  • Challenge batch sizes – aim is to have one piece flow!!

When organisations focus on time and flow they will begin to see where processes can be improved and will gain competitive advantage and cost reductions. If you need help improving Flow in your organisation please click here to contact me.