In my work the idea of "flow" is all about ensuring the right work gets started - work that will create value for the organization. And, once it has started, that it doesn't get stuck or stopped or held up until the value is created. Ideally: customer buys the results; savings are truly achieved. Once this idea is stuck in my head, I see the implications in many areas.
I flagged this article to read and ponder back in April, but only just got around to it recently. Arne Roock wrote about his company on InfoQ, Culture is the True North - Scaling at Jimdo. Good stuff.
In essence, he talks about the situation at his company, particularly as they grow their business. They don't want to (and can't) just "throw money" at the situation, so they have to be more careful.
At Jimdo, our approach to scaling relies on three major factors: culture, communication, and kaizen. Let's discuss them in reverse order.
In this discussion of kaizen (from Lean terminology), he describes the heavy use of the Kanban Method, which I've used and written about previously. Interesting to me, though, as he highlighted the six core practices, I saw something new in them. They are (bolds intentional)
- WiP limitation (WiP = Work in Progress)
- Flow management
- Explicit policies
- Feedback loops
- Improvement through collaborative experimentation
I've been referencing the Four Concepts of Flow that Eli Goldratt came up with in looking at Ford, Ohno and others (in the article Standing on the Shoulders of Giants):
- Improving flow (or equivalently lead time) is a primary objective of operations.
- This primary objective should be translated into a practical mechanism that guides the operation when not to produce (prevents overproduction).
- Local efficiencies must be abolished.
- A focusing process to balance flow must be in place.
While the language is not the same, the underlying concepts align closely. It's all about flow - explicit in both of these lists. "Preventing overproduction" is most often connected to limiting the work in process (WIP), whether that is in a manufacturing, projects, sales, or in retail. And the policies that Kanban wants to make explicit are tied to the flow idea #3 around local efficiencies - changing away from metrics that unbalance the flow to policies that encourage more and more flow. Kanban Method makes the improvement process more explicit, where the Four Concepts of Flow put it into the focusing process (and in other aspects of Theory of Constraints).
There are other great ideas in Roock's article in the sections that he categorizes as communication and culture. I particularly like items in there on focus - the Spice Girls question, "Tell me what you want. What you really, really want!" from Stephen Bungay that has led Jimdo to talk about "Goal #1" - the one thing that will move the company towards its goal. Again, one of the primary ideas in Theory of Constraints is that there is one constraint that limits your ability to get more of what you want. Understanding that goes a long way to improving the system overall.
[Photo: "Flow" by Carlo]