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Is your process is like a plate of Spaghetti ??

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

If you really want to improve it becomes imperative that you first learn how to pause and observe and observe for an extended period of time … Of course this is not natural since as a human being as we observe seeing the first opportunity we naturally want to jump to solution .. And correct the situation immediately but we may be losing improving a much larger opportunity.

Within the Continuous Improvement community there are several methodologies that assist us to pause and observe and at times even allow us to gather significant data that can then be reflected upon and create much improved future state.

A very simple tool that I often overlooked but can deliver powerful results through observation is the use and development of a “Spaghetti Diagram”. Quite simply, to create a Spaghetti Diagram you just need a piece of paper and a pencil and a bit of time to do observation. First, you sketch out a top view of the area you are going to observe, denoting benches, key pieces of machines and of course storage shelves.

Now the hard part … actually harder than you think !!! As you follow the operator’s movements you translate this onto your paper diagram using your pencil … this must include repetitive walk paths … so you may result with a very solid black line on your piece of paper. Why is this so hard … we can quickly get consumed with observation and forget to translate the movement on the paper as it happens … so many times we build the diagram from our short-term memory.

Now a couple of things to remember as you develop your diagram …

A typical Process consists of a series of movements. Often people will never challenge the location of specific items and will adjust their movements to accommodate the process requirement and the location of the items. I cannot share just how many times I have been able to improve a process by just moving a pallet closer to the off-load section of a conveyor. Remember, 2 steps of walk is around 5 feet and 5 feet of walk takes .6 seconds to transpire. It may not sound like a lot of time but done thousands of times it quickly will add up. Remember, our objective is to make our operators “Safe, Clean and Comfortable” so minimizing walk will keep our operators fresh longer … so mission accomplished.

The second paradigm to battle is how can we change “muscle memory”. Muscle Memory is created by a human doing a task repetitively for an extended period of time. Some muscle

memory can be good and is achieved by athletes defining the programming phase as “practice” … a good example of this is how a golfer will keep practicing on how to perfect their golf swing … ultimately this is muscle memory.

First responders practice and practice so how they react during a traumatic situation is based on their training or muscle memory.

So there is both good and bad muscle memory. Muscle memory impacts all of us unknowingly, for example the majority of households have a garbage container located under the kitchen sink … so without thinking most people coming into a stranger’s house will automatically open the cabinet door under the sink to throw away debris.

Another example …is that after 20+ years I had my morning routine of waking up and having my first coffee of day down to an absolute science and I in my mind optimized … until … The Resident Love Goddess decided to challenge the routine one day as we were doing a new layout of our kitchen. Not willing to admit to potential adjustments or heaven forbid a process change I was asked to create a Spaghetti Diagram of my morning routine …

After a review of the diagram we adjusted a few items and in the cabinets which resulted in reducing my walk by 80% and reduced my prep time to make that coffee by 9 minutes … all good, but the downside is that it also robbed me of those precious additional 9 minutes of sleep. But from a process perspective it was definitely an improvement.

So definitely the creation of a Spaghetti Diagram is a definite assist towards process improvement … and I would suggest the following hints during the creation of your diagram

• Find a perch … where you will be able to observe the entire process (maybe a mezzanine)

• Sketch your observation area … accuracy is not that important for distance and object size.

• Observe, draw, observe, draw, observe, draw and the observe and reflect … make sure you add all of the anomalies such as replenishing operating supplies.

• Reflect .. Go back and observe again with a vision of adjustments in place

• Adjust

• Back to the perch and observe and sketch again

• Compare and calculate

• Document into a Visual Work Instruction (a new best practice)

• Wait one or two weeks and again perch, observe and sketch ..

• Reflect again .. What reverted back and which changes stuck?

Remember that as humans we are naturally lazy and will always follow a process flow that seems like the easiest to us. Hence why it is always a challenge to convert a process from being batch oriented to single-piece-flow it is just unnatural.

Don’t be afraid to use a Spaghetti Diagram to design a new process and of course include your proposed task times, delays and moves … it will help you visualize and ultimately help you balance the process. Ultimately a strong Enterprise Value Stream Map (EVSM) will be more powerful to facilitate process changes but doing a quick Spaghetti Diagram will get you awfully close.

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