My bar for reviewing and recommending any book is brutally high.  I judge non-fiction books based on whether I can apply the ideas and concepts in real-life situations I face in my practice.  While I read a large number of books, very few make it to the blog or podcast (I do have a list though). Tame Your Work Flow hurdles the bar I have set up.  The book is very useful. What do I mean by useful? In this case, just this week I have used ideas from my notes I took while reading the book to help craft experiments to improve the flow of work for a client.  Two of the multiple powerful takeaways I have absorbed from Tame You Work Flow are:

  1. Multitasking is a capacity thief. While I have railed against multitasking in the past, the authors show how and why multitasking impacts process capacity both in the text and in the illustrations. Any human process that relies on multitasking (context switching) can be improved even if the physical work is not changed — a cheap, low-risk process improvement. One simple approach to reducing the perceived need to multitask is to control entering the system so the amount of work in process (WIP) is reduced (don’t say yes to everything or at least delay saying yes until you have capacity). Reducing WIP improves flow by reducing work queuing at the constraint. 
  2. All processes have a constraint, but you can make improvements while you are learning where the constraint is in the system. Constraints in knowledge work are notoriously difficult to identify. This often leads change agents down two paths. The first is that constraints are merely an artifact from manufacturing and if the team works smarter and harder more value can be delivered. which leads many people involved in process improvement to focus on the reduction of wait time. The second focus is to jump on wait time within a process (tacitly ignoring the constraint). Wait time is the time a work product sits around between being worked on (every context switch generates wait time, every time you have to organize a meeting to make a decision generates wait time, and queuing work to handoff generates wait time — the list is endless). This is not a horrid choice but Steve and Dan prove that while a good start, improving wait time alone is not sufficient if delivering more output is your goal. Improving wait time may well get a piece of work down in less calendar or clock time but it may not translate into more output.  Our friendly constraint again rears its ugly head, changes that don’t “exploit” (exploit is used to mean improve effectiveness, utilization or increase the capacity) the constraint will not translate into increased output even though work gets done in less time.

Ideas like these and explanations of the impact of changes to wait and touch time, nuances for interpreting Little’s Law, and how to simple improvements such as controlling work entry can have an impact on flow and the delivery of value without major changes to how you do business are immensely important. The book is tailored for knowledge work rather than thinly translated examples from manufacturing. 

The two examples are the tip of the iceberg, concepts such as the relationship between financial throughput, operational efficiency and investment (yields return on investment) require deeper thought but I suggest that is the brilliance of this book. Anyone that thinks and works on improving the delivery can get value from this book whether they are building or maintaining software or improving the flow of work required to publish a case study.

“Tame your Work Flow” is a serious book. If you are expecting, purely conceptual a high-level text I would start elsewhere. This book is not fluffy. While you do not have to have read its predecessor Hyper-Productive Knowledge Work Performance: The TameFlow Approach and Its Application to Scrum and Kanban by Steve Tendon and Wolfram Muller (Steve and Daniel shorten the title to the Hyper Book when referring to it in the new book), I believe it provides an excellent initial understanding of the concepts of TameFlow which are built on in the current book. Also will not strictly necessary, I suggest also that readers have at least a conversant understanding of accounting, economics, algebra and have read Goldratt’s The Goal which introduces the Theory of Constraints. Daniel and Steve do provide an overview of TameFlow and the Theory of Constraints if this is your first exposure but if so, spend the time to absorb those topics in the first few chapters before jumping into the more complex topics. The more you know, the more you will be able to extract from the text.

The book is pricey, however, I think the value eclipses the price though I suspect the price tag (at the time of this review) will scare some readers off.  That said, I think the book is very useful and that is not faint praise in my world.

Transparency Note — I have read this book more than once before it was published and provided feedback to the authors. Also, in September 2019 I talked with Steve Tendon and Daniel Doiron about Tame Your Work Flow (SPaMCAST 563 and 564).  Steve and Daniel shared deep insights into applying Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints in the real world.