Visualizing the Flow of People and “Things” – the Spaghetti Diagram

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Visualizing the Flow of People and “Things” – the Spaghetti Diagram

We’re interrupting the article sequence to present a simple tool for increasing efficiency:

Roland was teaching a one-day overview of Lean/Operational Excellence for the visitor center staff at a leading sparkling wine producer, covering the usual stuff (history, approach, 5S, Seven Wastes, a few key analytical tools), and keeping it connected for them with exercises based in their world of the tasting bar, when one tool really struck a nerve!

The Spaghetti Diagram

Aptly named because the lines of movement come to resemble a pile of tangled noodles, it is a great tool for identifying wasted motion and transportation, and queues.

A great tool for people taking their very first steps at improving efficiency and lean management, and one that serves even the most seasoned lean practitioners faithfully.

What is a spaghetti diagram?

It’s a simple hand sketch that uses a continuous line to trace the path and distance traveled of a person, “thing,” or information as it moves through a process, which makes apparent inefficient layouts, frequently travelled paths, and unnecessary movements.

For example:

  • visualizing the path that guests follow on property, what they’re looking for and how many steps they take:
  • tracing the paths that servers wear in the floor day after day:
  • following the flow goods in re-stocking the shelves
  • displaying the stops that an order makes from the customer’s lips to the package on the truck
  • even the “tour” that a glass takes throughout the day:

How do you do it?

  1. Pick up a pencil, find a process to observe and a nearby writing surface and you are ready to begin. Identify the process and the movement you are going to map (e.g., taking an order; or picking and packing a shipment), then identify the steps in the process.
  2. Draw a roughly scaled sketch of the area where the work takes place.
  3. If you’re studying a person, just trace they way they are moving for a specified period of time.
  4. If you’re studying the movement of a “thing”, trace its movement for each step of the process. If possible, walk the process step-by-step while you sketch it.
  5. You may find it useful to use directional arrows for the routes that are drawn on the paper.
  6. Do not leave out any flow movement even if the paper becomes cluttered and difficult to follow. If lean is new to your organization the lines on your spaghetti diagram will probably criss-cross the page and may even turn the page black: the color of opportunity.
  7. If desired, record the amount of time for each activity, including waiting time and number of people or “things” in queues.
  8. Then question the need for every line of motion. Have a “town meeting” or Kaizen and solicit ideas from the people in the area. Look for point-of-use opportunities for equipment, supplies and paperwork (e.g., multiple storage locations for menus, or move the shipping ticket printer into shipping). Draw a second “proposed” spaghetti diagram and compare. You are making progress when your sketch looks more like manicotti.

It’s a good idea to perform a third spaghetti diagram after process streamlining, the relocation of product, equipment, or services, or redesigning the physical layout.

We hope you find this to be a simple, very informative tool for improving both the customer’s visit and the efficiency of the operation.