How to be better and quicker

Here are some giddy people finding out what is a more effective method, batch and queue or 1-piece flow.

They are competing enveloping letters to find out the difference in speed and quality of work produced when using these 2 methods.

I had seen this video on the internet and wanted to do it in real life. It would demonstrate the two methods side by side, rather than a laboured theoretical description, like the one I’ve just given.

This was done as part of a larger exercise in helping a Housing Benefits service go systemsy. At this stage they had completed Check, understood what was happening in their system and why, and were ready to start experimenting with a redesign to see what worked. The redesigned system included the benefits assessor doing all the work required in one go, from beginning to end, rather than only doing small chunks of it.

The purpose of the filmed exercise was to produce 20 letters in envelopes. Each pair of women have to fold, envelope, and stamp 10 letters each.

The 2 women on the left are using a method of batching and queuing, so they fold all the letters before then putting all the letters into the envelopes. They do one task to all the letters, before proceeding to the next task that again happens to all the letters.

The 2 women on the right are using a different method, 1-piece flow. This means they take a letter and process it from beginning to end, completing the whole task for 1 letter before moving onto the next letter.

People are so used to batch and queue, it seems normal and the default choice, finishing a job that you started seems a luxury that couldn’t possibly work in the real world, it’s inefficient and silly.

But the truth is counter intuitive, as always, and it’s quicker to only handle a piece of work when you’re doing it, rather than repeatedly during hand offs, picking it up and putting it down again. It’s when you start doing work in this way that you see all the hidden benefits like spotting any errors at an early stage, not handing errors onto someone else.

Only doing what is needed is concentrating on the purpose of the system, the value steps. This applies to all sorts, not just the seemingly simple things like Benefits but health, social care, policing etc. Work that flows is work that isn’t stagnating in a workflow system. That’s a good thing anywhere, not just in offices with forms, but in doctor’s surgeries where patients are batched in queues in waiting rooms.

The results of that video at the top, and in many other real-world workplaces, show that when it comes to work methods, one piece flow is quicker and better. It’s Flow or No Go.

That’s right, it makes so much sense it rhymes.

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10 Responses to How to be better and quicker

  1. Pingback: Flow versus Batching 3 min video + comments| Th...

  2. richardprichard says:

    I saw a normal distribution of ‘oomph’, with bottom-right and top left being the fast and slow outliers. Swap the team members and repeat I reckon you’d get a different answer.

    Which isn’t to say I don’t agree with the broader point you make, but stuffing envelopes is not a good example.


  3. The batch and queue approach is slightly less taxing than the 1-piece flow approach because you don’t need switch between different modes of thinking during the task (‘fold,stuff,close’ is a less taxing pattern than ‘fold,fold,fold’), in the average human brain, easier and familiar beats effective every time.

    You can see the same phenomena when you ride in a car with someone particularly proud of their knowledge of the area, they’ll insist on going the ‘faster’ route that they know rather than the route that has been calculated to be quicker using maps and maths and satellites in space and such- familiar and therefore easier. The sneaky system 1 bit of our brain just pretends to system 2 that it’s quicker in order to save precious thinking energy.

    It’s the same instinct that stops people from bothering to user test things until it’s too late, to market-research their idea or to validate their assumptions or to change behaviour; familiar, easier, better > logically more effective.

    Luckily, humans aren’t all bad and they will actually believe you if you time them doing something, which is why statistical control is really important.


  4. knittingfog says:

    Ooh, I like this very much! But I do reckon that your best worker is the one on the near right, and agree you might have got slightly less of a time difference if the team members were swapped around.
    I tried a similar thing recently when painting some interior glazed doors, a very fiddly job I’d been putting off since about 2010. I convinced myself that it would be quicker to do it in a batchy way, by first painting into the fiddly corners, then painting all the fiddly edges, then slapping on the rest of the paint on the rest of the non-fiddly bits. I timed myself even. However to my surprise it was about 10 mins slower (over an hour-long job per door side) doing it in the batchy way compared to the flowy way. Even though at the time I was doing the painting I felt I was getting really good at each task before I moved onto the next kind of task.
    Thankfully I didn’t video the process… but it’s interesting how your brain wants to think it has found a better way to work, even when it hasn’t.


  5. knittingfog says:

    That was me, I think.


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