49
Chapter 3
Flow
All we are doing is looking at the time line, from the
moment the customer gives us an order to the point
when we collect the cash. And we are reducing the
time line by reducing the non-value adding wastes.
Taiichi Ohno
Consider some of these typical wastes in a service environment:
The time wasted in trying to get back to work after an
interruption. That’s the time you spend rereading the
previous two pages of a document to get back to where
you were … before your coworker asked you for advice.
It’s the time you spend retracing the formulas you were
debugging in a spreadsheet model … until you replied
to an e-mail. It’s the time you spend staring at the ceiling
trying to remember the paragraph you were writing …
and then you answered the phone.
The time and effort wasted in picking up “dropped balls.
Do you ever forget to do something for a coworker or a
customer (or, for that matter, a spouse)? It’s waste when
50 ◾  A Factory of One
others have to remind you of a commitment you’ve
made—a waste of waiting for you to get your job done,
a waste of effort in following up with you for the third or
fourth time. And by the way, that’s just the waste if they’re
successful in reminding you in time; there’s even more
waste from product defects, rework, preventable patient
illnesses, and so on if you don’t get the work done.
The time wasted and defects caused by multitasking.
We mistakenly believe that we’re more efficient when
we multitask—in fact, you probably pride yourself on
your ability to multitask. Yet, the research is conclusive:
Multitasking doesn’t work. Trying to do two (or more)
things at once slows us down and increases the likeli-
hood of errors.
1
Penalties and fees imposed for work that is turned in late.
The time, effort, and energy expended on rework.
The erosion of trust among colleagues and irritated
customers.
These are just a few of the common, but less-obvious,
examples of the waste created by a lack of “flow” in your
work. Most companies haven’t yet bothered to quantify this
waste because “that’s just the way people [or the system]
works.” But that way of thinking isnt good enough anymore.
The world is too competitive, and the risks of working the
same way as always are too high. We must bring the same
rigor that we bring to improving assembly-line work and busi-
ness processes to individual knowledge work.
Flow
In the classic book Lean Thinking, authors Dan Jones and Jim
Womack explained how traditional work processes are done
in “batch-and-queue” fashion. Work is sent from department to

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