How to Streamline Your Process Flow
Have you checked your employees’ Fitbit logs lately?
If they are hitting their daily step goals just by
doing their job, it could be time to take a look at your process
layouts. A Lean Process Layout is one that minimizes the
travel of product, raw material inputs and the workers in the
A great place to start, if you want to understand
your existing process workflow, is to have the person or the people
who work in the process walk you through it, as if you are the
product being made. Record travel through the process on a
Be diligent about following the process exactly as it
unfolds; don’t skip past a step because it is inconveniently located
outside of the rest of the workflow. Following the exact
workflow is the only way to get an accurate picture of the true
process – warts and all.
The workflow diagram is sometimes referred to as a
spaghetti diagram because of the way the “before” picture looks.
|While simplified, this
diagram shows an actual process before improving the
process workflow layout. Clearly there was a lot of
movement between processing and testing, packing and
|By lining up process
steps next to each other and bringing the packing step
to the end of the process along with a satellite testing
area, there is a lot less wasted movement and, as a
bonus, there is now room future expansion.
Workflow is a cornerstone of Lean Manufacturing
since unnecessary travel of a product through the process is waste.
While the workflow diagram can give a quick overview of process
flow, it likely doesn’t provide a complete picture of the
complexities of the process steps, staffing, raw materials, building
limitations, equipment utilization and customer demands. Data is
required to have the necessary comprehensive understanding of the
The goal of a Lean Process Flow is to arrange
process steps in a natural flow order linking process steps to
minimize cycle time and travel distance, eliminate crossover points,
and simulate a continuous flow process by putting internal customers
and suppliers next to each other.
In a perfect world, you would simply pick the flow
that seems most efficient for your product line. But changing a
workflow in an existing facility can be a challenge. You have to
factor in constraints with the physical site such as building entry
and exit points, building height and floor load limits and
“monuments” such as structural features of the building and pieces
of equipment that cannot or should not be moved.
Utilities, facility support and access further
influence the flow as do other important process flow
considerations. For example, will you have dedicated lines vs.
product families run on the same lines? What impact will shared
equipment and other resources have on the final layout?
Couple your understanding of the constraints of
the existing flow with process data with a solid understanding of
important layout considerations and then design a Macro Workflow.
This will give you a high-level view of the improved process layout,
Micro Workflow details can then be worked out. These details include
balancing process lines, incorporating kanbans, simplifying material
handling and organizing workstations.
Get it right and a Lean Process Layout will reduce
resources, lower costs, slash production times and even create a
safer work environment. But, be aware of the consequences. If
employees are counting on their jobs to rack up Fitbit exercise
badges, you may need to include a health club membership in their
Five Lessons to Take Back to the Shop
Here are five things we can learn from Lean
- Use a Workflow Diagram to get a quick
overview of the existing process. If it looks like a plate of
spaghetti, there is room for improvement.
- Use data to get a comprehensive understanding
of the existing operation.
- Arrange process steps in a natural flow, to
minimize cycle time and travel distance, eliminate crossover
points and simulate continuous flow.
- Put process "customers" and "suppliers" next
to each other.
- Work first to design a Macro Workflow and
then work on the Micro Workflows to fine-tune the new processes.