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How to use “Flow” to make continuous analytical improvements?

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

Flow is the opposite of waste. In order to increase flow (difficult to conceptualise), you can focus on decreasing waste (more graspable). Do so in a lot of small, incremental, steps. Each iteration should be a good opportunity to increase flow.


Realise that when you optimize, you are doing it for a given quality. Increasing flow can only be possible if you know what to output. Quality is often used as a very loose, subjective, and ill-defined concept (a post coming about that). In our context of analysis, we define quality as being a set of structured information that reduces uncertainty by a certain amount (aka, gives you an edge on the future). The more edge information gives you on a prediction, the better its quality is.


Back to flow now. Flow is the concept that allows you to achieve a given quality with the best use of your energy. Japanese factories put a lot of thought into this and came up with 3 concepts that are important to understand to improve flow: waste, strain, and discrepancies.


Waste leads to Strain that leads to Discrepancies that leads to Waste. Basically, this means that not calibrating will make you work harder than you need to, which will create uneven output, which will make you use more resources than you need. Waste is like weeds. It is important to frequently go and inspect where waste grows. Tracking waste and coming up with small improvements to remove it is the surest way to increase flow. Since it’s a cycle, you can start your audit at any point. Try to focus, though, and prioritize by finding leverage: where does the smallest change produce the biggest results? (cf. this post on Find Leverage thanks Pareto and Gauss Distribution)





WASTE QUESTIONS


  • What has been overproduced? Are there any pieces of information you left untouched and that you did not use? That is a sign of overproduction. The goal is to reduce it to the minimum while keeping an acceptable level of margin of safety.


  • Is there any waste in mental motion? Where did we spend an inordinate amount of time in the process? Definition of need? Project Management and dissemination? Collection of open source information? Cross-checking information from the ground? Analysis? How many tables did you open? A good way to track waste of mental motion is to track how many times you have to change your mental space (from tab to tab, or from writing to taking a phone call. Basically, every time you switch tasks).


  • Where have there been bottlenecks and waiting time in the process?


  • Track and identify unexpected requests: is there any particular pattern in emails and phone calls? Can they be bundled?


  • Where has there been unnecessary movements of information in the process? A good indicator of that is to track any kind of copy pasting you are doing. Moving around information should be reduced.


  • In system dynamics, the opposite of a flow is a stock. While it is important to keep a small stock, bigger stocks are a sure way to waste. Can you identify places where information is stored during the production process? Is there a way you can reduce that amount? How long does the stock sit there before it is moved? Is there a way to reduce that time?


  • Production defect: is there a place in the process where the work stopped due to a lack of acceptable quality? Did the tech crash? Did someone drop the ball? All that needs to be addressed with training or fixing.


  • Lack of clarity: did the process stop at any moment because there was no clear direction of what to do next or how to do it? Clear how-tos and examples are key. Speak up if you feel the end goal is not clear.


  • In a nutshell, all of the above questions are a version of the following: Is there anything you can remove while keeping full integrity?



STRAIN QUESTIONS


  • Are there particular tasks that either you or your team particularly dread? Can those tasks be cut into smaller pieces? Rearranged? Made easier with tech or a process? Try to divide any task to subtasks of approximately 45 minute chunks so you are not afraid to go at it. If some tasks are emotionally charged (like producing a piece that will read and judged), loop over the task multiple times with a new intention each time (e.g. one pass to output something / anything, one pass to organise content, one pass to refine).


  • Do you feel members of your team are struggling more than they should on a task? Could training sessions or how-to manuals help? Make training sessions short and focus on one item at a time. Prefer on the job training, pointing people to resources while remaining available for questions. Have people you want to train teach what you want them to learn.


  • Are there tools, tech or other, that could help you to make the job done? Don’t forget to keep it easy and incremental. If you see an opportunity for a tool, start with the simplest version of it and iterate its design and version till you find a stable version.



DISCREPANCIES QUESTIONS


  • Does the quality of the output vary greatly all the time? What generates those variations?


  • Do you have a document that details every step of what to do on a project? Is this document up to date? The document can be as simple as a detailed check-list and as refined as a wiki, but have one. By writing down every step you and your team do, you will be in a better position to change the way things are done.







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