In Lean, we often talk about flow and often within the context of the five steps that Womack and Jones have proposed:
- Specify value from the standpoint of the end customer by product family.
- Identify all the steps in the value stream for each product family, eliminating whenever possible those steps that do not create value.
- Make the value-creating steps occur in tight sequence so the product will flow smoothly toward the customer.
- As flow is introduced, let customers pull value from the next upstream activity.
- As value is specified, value streams are identified, wasted steps are removed, and flow and pull are introduced, begin the process again and continue it until a state of perfection is reached in which perfect value is created with no waste.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the five steps above. But, what the lean community has not articulated is:
What is Flow?
I suppose when we experience flow, we know it. But, it’s not good enough to say that “we know it when we see it.” I admit that I’m in this camp – when you experience flow, you really just know it. For example, in a distribution center, flow means that all the conveyor belts are moving, with no interruptions or congestion. Quantifying that scenario is a bit difficult.
I guess we can quantify “flow” by the opposite – How many interruptions were there? The higher that number, then the less likely there was flow.
Well, in a different but related context, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains flow from the perspective of human psychology, not necessarily from the perspective of process.
Below is a chart that he uses to explain flow from the perspective of human development:
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues the following:
- when the challenge is high and the skill is high, then one reaches a state of flow.
- conversely, when the skill is low and the challenge is low, one reaches a state of apathy.
- when the challenge is high but the skill is low, one reaches a state of anxiety.
- when the challenge is low but the skill is high, then one reaches a state of relaxation.
- when the challenge is moderate but the skill is low, then one reaches a state of worry.
- when the skill is moderate and the challenge is low, then one reaches a state of boredom.
- when the challenge is high but the skill is moderate, then one reaches a state of arousal.
- when the challenge is moderate but the skill is high, then one reaches a state of control.
It’s hard to argue with Csikszentmihalyi’s chart. In fact, thinking of my own life, I’ve experienced each of the states mentioned above.
Respect for People
In Lean we often reference the 8th waste, which is underutilized people. Related to that is the idea of Respect for People or Respect for the Human, which is a pillar in Lean Manufacturing.
Taking the concept of Respect for the Human and Csikszentmihalyi’s chart above, it actually makes sense that “Flow” is an optimal place for a human to reach. If I’m making any sense at all, then this means that Respect for the Human is, in fact, a human reaching a state of Flow.
How appropriate indeed.