Why Create Flow & Pull Value?

traffic jams in the city, road, rush hour

The other morning as I was stuck in the crazy weekday morning ritual that is the elementary school drop off line, I started thinking about the Shingo Principle flow and pull value.  I am not fond of this part of my morning routine; it seems like it takes much longer than it should, and I find it frustrating to be in the middle of the pure chaos of it all. Why is morning drop off such a disaster? Simple, because there is no flow.

Flow and pull value is a principle under the continuous improvement dimension of the Shingo Model. This principle is centered around the notion that “value for customers is maximized when it is created in response to real demand and a continuous and uninterrupted flow.” 

Here are some reasons flow and pull value are important:

To Achieve Faster, More Reliable Delivery

Full and pull systems help achieve faster, more reliable delivery of a product or service, resulting in greater value to the customer.

Let’s go back to the elementary school drop off line… The ideal flow would be parent pulls up to the curb, stops, child gets out of the car, child closes the door, then parent drives away making room for the next minivan to proceed. This allows the students to get to class on time and the parents to get to work, morning yoga, or whatever they have on their busy agenda. But in reality there are parents getting out of the car to open the door and to hug their child, parents who don’t want to wait in the line (guessing they are already late for their morning conference calls) and jump in front of everyone, and even the occasional vehicle that is for some reason left unattended in the drop off line because their child forgot their lunchbox, last night’s book report, or their science project.

The stoppages in flow make it impossible for me to tell my boss whether I will be able to make that 8 AM meeting or whether my son will be in his line by the time the bell rings. If I could count on the cars flowing seamlessly through the line, then I would be able to better predict based on the time I arrive in the line what time I will be at work.

To Understand Capacity

Creating flow helps with understanding capacity because it identifies bottlenecks, or flow stoppers, which dictate how much can go through the system in the current process.

For example, the curb in the drop off line at my son’s elementary school has enough room for about ten cars to drop off at one time, which takes about a minute. Given that there is a fifteen-minute timeframe that children can be dropped off at school, that would mean that the capacity of the drop off line is 150 students (not even close to the number of students enrolled at the school). Because the capacity can not meet the demand they need alternate forms of drop off like busses, or before school care, children who walk or ride their bikes to school, and the second drop off lane created on the other side of the building.

To Easily Identify Problems

When flow and pull systems are established it is easy to identify problems as they arise because they often interrupt the flow.

During this particular morning in the drop off line I observed (for the third day in a row I might add) a tan minivan parked in the drop off line, no parent or driver in sight. This is definitely a problem that is impeding flow. So much so that the principle who was out making his morning rounds to ensure that the morning at his school was running smoothly took notice and waited to talk with the driver about the drop off process that is meant to ensure safe and timely delivery of children to school.

To Reduce Waste

Creating flow and pull reduce waste in the system. Take a look at the types of waste: defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion, extra-processing. Many of these are directly impacted by flow and pull.

Waiting is one waste that is created by the lack of flow in the elementary school drop off line. If the system worked as it should, with true flow and pull, the first ten cars would drop off and once the spaces were open the next cars would move up the vehicles wait time should diminish as the cars are pulled through the line by the vacant spot on the curb and they would flow in first in first out fashion.

Creating flow and pull systems help delivery higher value to the customers. The benefits include: achieving faster, more reliable delivery, understanding capacity, identifying problems, and reducing waste.

What is a great example of flow and pull that you have observed?


Nicole Christensen, Event Manager


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2 Responses to Why Create Flow & Pull Value?

Allan Katz says: 11/06/2019 at 9:10 am

To optimize flow, you may want to consider consider visiting a high-volume drive through Tim Horton’s or Dunkin coffee franchise.


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