The Synergy of Flow Management Technology and Kaizen

By: Ronald Landau and Yaron Lew

October 2005

            This article will briefly explain Flow Management Technology, Kaizen events and how they work together using the analogy of a symphony orchestra as a means of explanation.


Introduction to Flow Management Technology


Flow Management Technology views organizations as flow systems.  In a manufacturing organization it views development, marketing and sales, order receipt through shipment as a series of interconnected processes with a global goal of increasing profitability. All individual processes, as well as the total system, are subject to chaotic behavior due to disruptions and the presence of Murphy as in Murphy’s Law. In order to overcome the adverse, cumulative effect of this chaotic behavior, the processes are analyzed, simplified and focused improvements initiated. These initial improvements dramatically increase resources output, reduce cost and increase asset utilization.  


            From the analysis of resources capacity and disruptions, a Flow Model is designed that depicts how things should flow after the initial improvements are implemented. The Flow Model provides the tools, the measurements and the focus for managing the overall flow. In developing the Flow Model, disruptions are incorporated in two fashions. For every day, frequent disruptions, protective capacity is reserved. Think of reserve capacity as a provision for catching up after a disruption occurs.  The amount reserved is a function of how much time shift or daily disruptions consume from each resource on a shift or daily basis. Since every resource is subject to shift/daily disruptions, every resource needs to have reserve capacity. This allows flow to be rapid without any planned excess inventory.


            The other types of disruptions are ones that happen less frequently, but when they occur, they last a long time. Because the cost of reserving capacity for these infrequent disruptions can be prohibitive, they are accounted for by adding time buffers at strategic points in the flow. These time buffers need to be sufficient so that when there are severe “Murphy’s,” on time performance is still achieved.


            Another key element in the Flow Model design is determining which few processes will be flow valves.  The valves are strategic scheduling points to synchronize the flow to meet on time demand and to gear up the system efficiency. Typically, their location is designated taking into account and understanding the parameters that influence the system’s flow such as assembly, disassembly or outside processing.


            All of the elements of the Flow Model allow the system to perform reliably in terms of on time delivery, to have no excess in process inventory, to have increased throughput capability with the shortest lead-time.


Introduction to Kaizen


Kaizen in the United States usually refers to an event of from three to five days of intense improvement activities directed at a specific area of a business. It may be called a Blitz, 5 Days and One Night, Gemba Kaizen, System Kaizen, Spot Kaizen or Breakthrough Kaizen.

Whatever the name, it embodies the elimination of waste (muda) in its many forms. The ones applicable to an event include


1.      Waste of time

2.      Waste in moving materials

3.      Too complex a process that cause it to be done several times to be correct

4.      Waste from excess motion

5.      Waste from scrap and rework        

6.      Under utilization of people


The techniques used in an event may include 5S, redesign of Physical Lay Out (Cell Design or combine operations), Visual Controls, Visual Management, Changeover/Setup improvement (SMED), Mistake Proofing (Poka-Yoke), Six Sigma, TPM, etc. Regardless of which ones are employed, a multi-disciplined team is charged with coming up with how the improvement will be made and then accomplishing it.  There is a focus on simplicity, avoiding capital expenditures,
improving worker productivity and gaining savings in time, space and labor output.


The synergy of Flow Management Technology and Kaizen


Flow Management Technology and Kaizen work together to improve an organization’s well being and profitability in the same fashion as a symphony orchestra continually works to improve audience appreciation.  In a symphony orchestra there is a conductor, a string section, the woodwinds, the horns and percussion.  Within each section there are further breakdowns i.e. the string section can have violins, violas, cellos and bass; the horns have trumpets, French horns, trombones, baritones and tuba(s). Each individual musical instrument i.e. a violin, is like a machine; all the violins like a bank of same machines; the string section like a department and the orchestra like a plant.


The conductor does a lot more than conduct the actual concert.  He is involved or directly responsible for planning the tour.  He determines the selection of which music is to be included and where it will be within the program.  Auditions are held and regular and back up musicians hired. He conducts rehearsals to practice, identify where changes are needed and to see that the changes give the desired results. Other activities include selection of dates, cities and concert halls, transportation and hotels, advertising and more.


At each concert, the conductor is the one who brings it all together to produce the desired sound.  From the rehearsals, he determines where the sounds are not just right and where changes are needed, the priority and sequence of what he wants to change and an appreciation of the benefit of each change to the overall sound of the music.  The conductor doesn’t show the musician how to make the change.  He explains what the desired result is.  The musician(s) and the musician’s teacher work on how to get the desired effect. 


The conductor has the knowledge and experience to understand what makes a great program, what the make up of the orchestra should be for each piece in the program and how to get the orchestra to produce the sound he wants.  Even though each musician has sheet music and there have been rehearsals, the conductor is on the podium for every piece of music, directing, sensing the audience and bringing the music to life.


 Flow Management Technology is like the conductor, getting the best out of the system as the conductor gets the best out of the orchestra. Flow Management Technology determines the best way to flow product to the customer, on time, with the shortest lead-time, least cost and getting the maximum utilization of people and existing equipment. After analysis of resources and disruptions, a Flow Model is designed that includes the design of the flow, statements of capacities, statements of reserved capacity, location and size of buffers of time, location of a few scheduling, control points, the scheduling methodology and the lead-time design. Just like the conductor works to get the most out of the musicians, the Flow Model looks to get the most out of the system.


Going back to the symphony orchestra, when the conductor wants more from either a musician or an area, improvement activities are requested or scheduled.  This is Kaizen, continuous improvement. The conductor determines where he wants improvement and this triggers a Gemba Kaizen event. Flow Management Technology is like the conductor and provides a focus and priority for improvement.  It does this through analyzing and ranking the causes for disruptions.  Once the area for improvement is agreed to, a Gemba Kaizen event is needed. This event might include one or more of the following: Cell Design, Setup reduction, 5 S, process change, maintenance or any other Muda (waste) reduction activity.  What is important is not the technique or group of techniques used in a Kaizen event, but whether or not it eliminated the causes of Muda. If it did, it was a successful event, part of the overall Kaizen initiative of continuous, gradual improvement and will result in an update to the Flow Model.  The elimination of a cause of disruption will reduce the provisions for reserved capacity and/or reduce some of the time in the time buffers which in turn will increase capacity, lower cost and reduce lead time.




Flow Management Technology manages the overall flow and sets the direction and priorities for continuous improvement. The Kaizen events attack and eliminate the causes of disruptions. This is what makes the combination of Flow Management Technology and Kaizen a very powerful way to insure increased profitability and long term success. The symphony orchestra may sound good, but it can continue to improve and sound better.