Spaghetti Diagrams: Mapping flows for optimal outcomes

As we’ve examined in several of our Lean articles, understanding the processes in place within your organization is foundational to implementing Lean methodologies. All processes contain flows which can be mapped in several ways. In a previous installment we explored Value Stream Mapping (VAM) and how it helps evaluate processes in place to find inefficiencies and also to create new, leaner processes.  

Due to the nature of flows, mapping is useful for showing the movement within the flow such as the various steps in a production line. In Lean flow mapping the materials and information inherent to the flow under review is documented. We’ve seen how it’s possible to add efficiencies, detect, and remove non-value steps using this approach. 

Another flow mapping technique of particular interest to manufacturers is the Spaghetti Plot. 

Also called spaghetti diagrams, models, or charts, spaghetti diagrams are a visual representation using flow lines which resemble noodles, hence the term “spaghetti.” These lines represent the path of items, materials, or activities through the process. The purpose is to enhance the understanding of a process through a visual representation as is true in many Lean methodologies.  

A typical spaghetti diagram (Courtesy of ResearchGate GmbH)

Flow charts such as spaghetti diagrams are a powerful tool for helping managers fully understand a workflow in use or increase the chances of a new workflow achieving optimal results. At its heart, Lean seeks to go beyond process improvement and engender a strong sense of teamwork across the organization. Flow charts greatly assist by making it clear to employees how their work processes contribute to productivity and fit within other flows within the organization.  

Go with the flow 

Before diving into the creation of your spaghetti diagram, it will be useful to review these steps to ensure you have the necessary information at hand: 

  • Identify the process to be mapped 
  • The location of the process 
  • List and descriptor of each step in the process 
  • Note how many levels are in the process  
  • Personnel involved in the process 
  • Map of the facility or area where the process occurs 

When drawing the diagram you will need to have relevant metrics handy, such as cycle time and takt time. Also, capture in advance and have available work times and walk times typical for this process. 

In planning the exercise, discuss with all stakeholders the specific problem you’re looking to solve. It might be the usual Lean objectives – eliminating waste, identifying non-value steps, reducing set-up time or the movement of equipment from one point to another. Perhaps the physical layout can be improved or higher production levels have outgrown the space allotted for the process. Keep in mind that your spaghetti plot seeks to outline all traffic within a facility and to hypothesize how this movement can be altered in an effort to decrease process missteps, improve safety, and of course, save money. 

When we interact with our clients, a clear understanding is present of how movement already flows within the workspace. The challenge, which we address with one or more of our Lean based solutions is to determine how to best optimize the flow in question. In virtually all cases, the flow of human or mechanical traffic is not as efficient as possible, meaning there is room for improvement. More specifically, once an Attivo solution is implemented, there is a good deal of room for continuous improvement. 

Typical inefficiencies found in modern manufacturing, distributing, and other process-centric organizations are: 

  • Unnecessary movement of materials, equipment, or people  
  • Poor placement of materials when in storage 
  • Inefficient travel time of employees to perform repetitive tasks 
  • Wasted time due to non-optimal layout of the workspace or production line   

By capturing the flow of employees necessary to complete a process, the extra steps and inefficiencies in their movement can be reviewed in black and white. Wasted movement from one area or department to another can negatively impact the amount of time it takes to complete a process. Even more troubling, it can potentially place employees in dangerous circumstances because of where materials and machinery are located. 

Using your noodle 

Following the identification of inefficiencies and shortcomings of a process, it usually follows that resistance to change melts away. Stakeholders who have been defending “leaving things alone” or continuing to “do things the way they’ve always been done” are faced with evidence that their thinking should adapt to new ideas. Once well-defined options of how a workspace can be reorganized are presented to the entire team, the next step is to apply the knowledge gained to moving forward with improvements. 

As most seasoned managers and business owners are aware, there is no end to the excuses made to avoid optimizing the workspace: 

  • Lack of space within the facility 
  • Cost of dedicating resources to the effort 
  • Time required to re-train or re-orient workers 
  • Having to re-certify the factory of production line 
  • Uncertainty of whether they can adapt  

Resistance to change is a fundamental human instinct, but it can be overcome. It’s not uncommon for managers to be completely unaware of the lag times in a process or to know how physical flow within a process is holding back productivity and ultimately impacting customer satisfaction. 

When the spaghetti diagram has come full circle and results can be measured, stakeholders find that the outcome are processes which are more timely, safer, and by removing unnecessary challenges for those directly involved, happier, more productive employees. Having a greater understanding of the physical layout in which processes can occur can immensely impact the overall effectiveness of employees and the efficiency of each process step. 

If you’d like to hear more about how to implement a spaghetti diagram in your business, or if you like to learn more about Lean management and how it can impact your business give us a call at (877) 428-8486 or reach out to us here to receive a FREE demo with one of our expert consultants.