Workflow Efficiency: Balancing Demand Against Throughput
Every process has a bottleneck. The Theory of Constraints states that, in order to improve any system, the weakest link must be eliminated. Once a bottleneck has been identified and resolved, the flow of work moves on to the next one to deal with. This is a continuous improvement process that optimises the efficiency of your system.
Workflow efficiency is determined by the consistency and predictability of your workflow. A stable and predictable workflow is enabled through balancing demand against throughput. This approach will create some idle time for your team. Even though managers are often obsessed with optimising any idle time in their projects, it is necessary to achieve an optimal delivery speed and build a healthy environment that fuels team growth and self-esteem.
Balancing Demand against Throughput is the Cornerstone
Balancing demand against throughput implies that teams set a rate at which they accept new work that corresponds with the rate at which they deliver work. This means that they set a fixed limit to the amount of work in progress. As work is delivered, they pull new work.
The effect of this approach is profound. According to Little’s Law, balancing the arrival and departure rates leads to more predictable and stable processes. Furthermore, based on the Theory of Constraints, the throughput of a workflow is limited by the throughput of the slowest step in that workflow. This bottleneck reveals itself right away. By balancing demand against throughput and limiting WIP, only the team members currently in the bottleneck remain fully loaded, while the rest of the team will find they have idle capacity.
How to Use the Cumulative Flow Diagram to Measure Arrival and Departure Rates
In order to balance demand against throughput in your system, you must measure and match your arrival and departure rates. Тhe Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD) is the most suitable tool for this process. In the CFD, every band corresponds to a state in your workflow. The whole set of bands represents your overall process. Every process has an arrival and departure line, and the distance between them should be the same to maintain an equal amount of work in progress. If the bands start widening too rapidly, this means that new tasks are arriving faster than your team can handle, and the balance of demand against throughput has been disrupted.
Using the Process metrics overlay, you’ll be able to track and compare the average amount of items arriving and leaving the process each day. Your process values, as well as the values for each state, are available for closer examination. The closer the numbers, the more stable the balance between demand and throughput.
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Why Idle Time Is Not Your Enemy
Allowing idle time in your workflow offers many advantages. Aside from alleviating much of the stress, your team will be able to deliver work with precision and quality. The team’s self-confidence will also increase, and they’ll be proud of their results. Idle team members will use that time for improving their skills, their tools, taking training sessions or improving interaction within the team. As time passes, and one small improvement leads to another, your team will become more efficient and self-managed.
Very often, management intuitively tries to eliminate idle time. After limiting work in progress and balancing demand against throughput, the tendency is to adjust team engagement so that everyone is fully utilised. Although it may look efficient and feel satisfying, such attempts could disrupt the growth of your team and the consistency of your workflow. Worse still, it can increase the chances of burnout. Optimising individual performance very often contradicts the optimisation of the overall workflow efficiency and is therefore undesirable.
You need idle time for your team to make small long-term improvements and achieve an efficient workflow. The most effective change management process puts people first. Teams are motivated and highly dedicated, building their relationships on trust and respect. Companies that empower self-improvement initiatives for their teams are much more successful than those who try to utilise every minute. That’s exactly the sort of mindset project leaders need to inspire their teams, lead by example and build a culture of success in which workflow efficiency is constantly improving.
Are you ready to recap the benefits Kanban analytics can bring to your project teams? Choose your platform, and get started with Nave today.
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams become more efficient through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.
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