Some thoughts on Flow

I just recently read the thoughts on this topic from fellow coach Markus Hammarberg titled flow and dependencies which, as always, is an interesting read. So I urge you to jump over there and read that one first as I will share my own experience from the Swedish police passport department, which he uses as his second example.

I have been spending the past 6 months working in Germany and realized that my passport was about to expire just before Christmas. So I planned on renewing it when I was back in Sweden visiting family. Now I had two options, either I renew it in Stockholm where I would spend a few short days, or I would do it in Gothenburg where I’s spend most of my time off over the holidays. I opted for Gothenburg. Which in retrospect was a bad choice.

The difference between Stockholm and Gothenburg in this matter is that, as Markus mentions, in Stockholm you book a 20 min time slot of your preferred time when you will come and experience the efficiency of the Swedish government. In Gothenburg you don’t, neither book a time slot nor experience any efficiency.

When I arrived at the passport department in Gothenburg my heart dropped by the sheer amount of people in the waiting room. Picking up my queue number I realized that I had ~60-70 numbers until it would be my turn. With no indication on the efficiency of the system I was just about to enter I made some guesstimates that it would probably be 30 min until it was my turn. Part of my assumption here was that they had plenty of workers serving the queue.

In the end it took me a total of 1h 45min to get my request to renew my passport done. Of which 4 min was spent at the actual desk talking to a person to do the necessary steps. The 4 min here are consistent with Markus’ experience as well and they do prepare you for what’s about to happen when you get to that point as he also mentions:

  • Get an identity card ready
  • Get your old passport out to be nullified
  • Make sure your looks is as you want it (or accept your current look)
  • You will be asked to leave fingerprints – get ready
  • Etc

The only difference from my experience to Markus’ was that he had a 20 min time slot booked and I didn’t. That is the ONLY difference. You might be thinking, that is kind of a small thing isn’t it?

It might seem that way, but from a systems perspective it is HUGE. If we look at how the two systems has been designed we see one major difference. In Stockholm the system is designed with you as the customer in focus, i.e. you as a person are the value that needs to flow. Your time is of the essence. In Gothenburg the system is designed around the workers serving the queue, they need to be running at all times and the value in this system is its requests to manufacture passports. If you look at the two systems from a cost perspective you will probably not see a big difference. But if you look at it from a values perspective the impact on society as a whole is quite different.

Let’s use an easy number as an example, let’s say that each person is worth €100/h. This is the cost of delay for each individual waiting to get the passport renewed. Some more assumptions here:

  • Let’s say Markus spent a total of 15 min (0.25 h) as part of the system, 11 min waiting and 4 min active
  • Let’s assume I spent 90 min (1.5 h) as part of the system, 86 min waiting and 4 min active

This means that on average it costs the society 1.25 h = €125 more per produced passport if I renew it in Gothenburg than if I do it in Stockholm. Now you might say that no one would pay you for that time spent anyway. True, but value is not only measured in money. This is time you could be doing something else entirely, something that would bring value to you, and ultimately to society.

When designing your system and focusing on flow, think long and hard on WHAT it is that needs to flow.

You can also take a look at Niklas Modig’s talk on the subject, author of This is Lean.

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