When Creating Flow, What is Normal?

Published on April 11, 2017

When Creating Flow, What is Normal?

In some operations striving to achieve Operational Excellence, it can be challenging to determine how to visualize normal versus abnormal flow, critical to ensuring employees can apply standard work to correct flow before it impacts the customer. Below are some real-world examples of how to identify flow that is becoming abnormal in operations in different industries.

Continuous Manufacturing Operations

When making things like paper, usually a spool or a vat is filled and, based on the speed of the machine and the product an operation is actually running at the time, it should be straightforward to calculate that a spool should be finished in, for example, ninety minutes. At the end of that time, the operation can take that spool off, put the next spool on, and have a forklift move that spool away. So, the forklift driver can be told to be there every ninety minutes to take the spent spool away. As a result of this schedule, the forklift driver can either move the spool or not every ninety minutes. If he or she can’t move the spool away from the machine, then they can identify that something is wrong because the spool was not ready. The key is to think in terms of more physical ways to move material so that an operation will know that it’s behind.

Financial Offices

Financial operations, like other offices, provide a service, which requires the organization to flow information and capture knowledge. By applying Operational Excellence principles, work flows from activity to activity along fixed pathways. Everyone knows where they get their work from, when, and what they need to do with their completed work. The flow also creates a guaranteed turnaround time for when the service will be delivered to the customer. Employees involved in the flow of the service to the customer can determine if the service is on time because they can see if the office is running as it was designed. If, for example, Operational Excellence was achieved in a mortgage company, the office would be able to tell customers the exact day they would have their mortgage approved. If there’s a delay in getting the approval to the customer, then the office would know that something went wrong in the delivery of the service, and the flow is abnormal.

Start-Up Companies

In start-up companies without established shipping volume, it may seem like it would be difficult to identify normal and abnormal flow in terms of getting the product out. However, by applying the principles of Operational Excellence from the beginning, the organization can design flow in everything from product development to delivery. With end-to-end flow embedded in the office to the factory floor, employees working in the flow will know what normal flow is and whether flow is on time to the customer; as a result, they will also know if it starts to become abnormal, how to apply standard work to get flow back on track. With this foundation and discipline built in, as the company grows, so, too, will the impact of Operational Excellence principles on its ability to meet customer demands.