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Just Call Me One-Piece Flo

                      Image result for batch vs one-piece flow

Having touched on Lean practices at work, I now want to focus on one particular method.

Have you ever had a job to do that entailed multiple steps, like an assembly-line process? Stuffing and addressing envelopes is a classic example. You take your pile of envelopes and cards, stuff each envelope, then seal each one, address each one, stamp each one, then take the whole mess out and dump it in the mail, right?

Well, if that's how you would do it, you're doing it wrong. That's called the Batch method.

The right way is to take envelope #1, stuff it, seal it, address it, stamp it and then make a pile of finished product.

No way, you say. Really?

Really, in spite of being incredibly counter-intuitive.

I became a true believer in this method one afternoon when I stopped in at a national sandwich chain. There were about 5 people ahead on me in a line, all waiting to tell the server what bread, type of sandwich, vegetables and condiments they wanted, and then to pay and leave.

But what happened was, there was only one person there, in the whole store. Her shift colleague hadn't yet arrived. And so this one poor person was stuck having to decide whether to leave her latex gloves on and just make ALL the sandwiches, or to continually strip the pesky little things off to work the register and then put on a fresh pair to assemble the next sandwich.

She made the wrong decision.

Despite the understandable desire to avoid multiple glove-changes, serving customers by the "batch" method cost considerable time, which led to one of the notorious "7 wastes" that Lean is meant to combat: The waste of waiting. Sure enough, once the first sandwich was made and wrapped and the employee began working on the next one, the first customer in line began loudly objecting to having to wait  in line -- he foresaw that he'd have to wait while another half-dozen sandwiches were custom-made before the employee would switch over to ringing up sales. Certainly a demerit for goodwill. The employee saw no gain for herself in getting the customer annoyed, so off came the gloves, the customer left, and then it was time to help the next customer. Most fortunately, her backup arrived just then and each assumed responsibility for their two equally important functions.

That was a real-life example, and there are numerous demonstrations available online, under timed and tested conditions, showing that one-piece beats batch nearly every time.

So if you're looking for a raise at work (and don't mind lots of eye-rolls from skeptical colleagues), start walking around chanting "One-piece flow is the way to go!"

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