Make Things Flow | Principles of Lean
“Make a continuous process flow to surface issues”
A great example of the difference between batch and flow is the difference between an elevator and an escalator. In the elevator scenario, you press the button and wait for the lift. You are then joined by others waiting for the lift and then a few more. Once the doors open, you stand to the side to let others out while trying to maintain the prime position to make sure you get in the lift. (Not in all countries!).
Once the elevator is empty, you and everyone else start nudging to get your space. You make sure their floor is selected or request that someone else hits the button for you.
Now that everyone has squeezed in, doors close after a couple of attempts, and then everyone patiently waits while it goes up. Then the process starts again.
Now think about all the other people who took the escalator. One by one, they aligned themselves in an orderly file continually moving forward towards the escalator. The people who are in a hurry go up the left side while everyone else stands still on the right. When they reach the top, they then walk off when the time is right, one by one. The batch was replaced by “flow”.
The key to creating flow is trying to move things forward in the smallest batch continually. The benefits are that as soon as there is an issue and things stop to flow, they become visible. There is now a visible sign of something going wrong. A pile of invoices not processed, an email box full and unread, a queue on the motorway.
And this is the same concept that can be used to battle procrastination and even creating a new idea, product, or service. Too often, we batch up every new idea in the hope that it will be perfect. We delay starting; we delay doing the first step until we feel like we know everything. This is the same as a batch. The flow version would tell us to start with the first action that helps us move towards where we think we want to go.
So think about how you shop, how you travel, how your team operates. What can you move to flow?