Think of a canal lock
- Water is queued on one side of the lock waiting to move to the other side of the lock.
- It is moved in a batch up or down to the other side of the lock.
- The water itself does not move either in the lock or on either side of the lock. It is stationary, the only time it moves is when the batch of water, together with the barge, moves from downstream to upstream.
- The barge and most of the water spend a good deal of time stationary inside the lock without moving.
A person working in a command and control environment will see work in this way. Work is cut up into discrete chunks, queued and sorted into batches. For example, Housing Benefit offices will split work into queues held on databases, staff will be assigned to a queue to process cases in that queue, perhaps sending out letters to ask for more evidence for batches of cases at a time.
- The person dealing with this queue will not see the beginning or the end of these cases.
- They will only deal with one slice across a case.
- They will only see work moving from queue to queue in blocks. Or if they see one case at a time, they will see a portion of it, some discrete event.
People who deal with work like this can only see the work in front of them, not the whole of a persons case. As a consequence their focus will be on the work in front of them, not the whole of a persons case.
Batch and queue work focuses the individual on activity. Like a horse with blinkers on, only what is immediately in front can be seen and therefore focussed on. This reinforces the idea that work is “stuff to be done” as the only thing that is visible is work in batches, queued up to be done. Trying to see the whole case is really hard, its split into slices scattered around work queues and nobody is responsible for the whole, only the part they are allocated. Call centres deal with their slice, the phone call, and so on.
And it’s slow, really slow. Think of a canal barge, rarely moving above walking pace, stationary when in or either side of a lock.
Now think of a river
The water flows.
If you’ve only ever seen a canal with locks, then you’ve only seen stationary water that only moves when in a batch, never in a continuous flow.
If you’ve only managed in a batch and queue environment, then the idea of work flowing is inconceivable.