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Quick Learn: Flow Mapping

Focus on Flow, Quality and Happiness


Value stream mapping.png

Focus on Flow and everything else tends to fall into place. That is, sustainable Flow by addressing the system of work, not unsustainable flow by working people harder, at the expense of quality or happiness.


"A bad system beats a good person every time" W. Edwards Deming


Costs tend to drop away, as impediments, inefficiencies, constraints in the system need to be resolved to achieve flow. Bureaucratic processes need to be made lean. Quality tends to rise, as repetitive tasks are automated, as quality shifts left and as the change deltas become smaller, it’s complexity that can fit in your head. To enable flow, blue-green deployments are implemented. There are more independently deployable components with bounded contexts. The blast radius is smaller.

Exercise: Flow Mapping

This exercise is focused on flow mapping* to identify impediments to delivering value to customers. Flow mapping is a practical way to understand and improve the fundamental pillars of flow, quality, and happiness in your processes. 

You can download the Flow Mapping canvas here, accompanied by two examples and instructions. 

To aid the creation of your flow map, use the canvas below. On a whiteboard or large piece of paper, draw out each step using the canvas below for guidance.

*Flow mapping is also referred to as value stream mapping in the Lean movement

Value stream mapping (1).png

Identify the process:



Choose a process that you want to accelerate. It could be a product development process or test out this exercise, keep it really simple, like buying a cup of coffee. It helps to choose a process that is repeated often.


Create a current-state flow map


Choose the start and end point for the process. Write out the activities to achieve value from start to end. Tip: don't sweat the detail


For each activity, estimate the work time required. Tip: the work time is the actual time a human is actively working, not the waiting time before they actually get to it.


Estimate the time waiting before the next activity can start. Tip: for example, time waiting for approvals to happen, or meetings to occur, or work to be prioritised due to a queue

Calculate key metrics



Add up the total work time from start to finish. Tip: use what ever unit you choose.

Add up the waiting time Tip: use the same unit as the work time.

Add work time to waiting time, this is your process Lead Time.


Divide the work time by the Lead Time. (Work time ÷ Lead Time) x 100: This is your process flow efficiency


Create an improvement backlog


Reflect on your flow efficiency and the sources of delay:

  • Assess whether you are satisfied with the current lead time and flow efficiency. If you are not, identify the reasons for dissatisfaction and discuss ways to improve it.

  • Identify any impediments or obstacles that hinder the smooth flow of work. If you wanted to accelerate this flow, where do you think are the greatest opportunities right now? Tip: The best opportunities will balance where the biggest delay is where there is something you can do about it.

  • Thus far, we have assumed every activity adds value. This might be something for you to reflect on when identifying improvements.

These can be added as notes below each step or directly on the delivery steps where the impediments are present. Tip: identify which are under your direct control (impediments) which are not under your direct control (blockers).


Congratulations. You have now mapped your flow and understood your flow efficiency. If you are running this exercise with colleagues for a real business scenario, work transparently using work space availably for everyone to see, treat it as a learning exercise and communicate the results widely, since that will help build the case for change ad embedding change

Sustainable flow enables us to streamline processes, reduce lead times, and enhance overall efficiency. This, in turn, leads to higher quality outputs, increased colleague and customer satisfaction, and ultimately, a competitive edge in the market. 


As we delve into the intricacies of Flow Mapping and optimization, let us cultivate a mindset of relentless improvement. 


Empower your teams and leaders to analyse data, visualize work, run targeted experiments, and make informed decisions that optimize the flow of value throughout our organization. Remember, our unwavering focus is not just on productivity, but on maximizing value (valuetivity, most value, in the shortest time, with the least effort) in every aspect of our business. 

Learning resources:


If you found this article useful, you might be interested in additional Sooner Safer Happier learning resources on this topic


Want to learn from practical examples how to
understand flow in your own work?

Contact us for private workshops for you and your team.
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