Book cover: Tame your Work Flow

Tame your Work Flow

Today we begin in our re-read of Tame your Work Flow by Steve Tendon and Daniel Doiron in earnest with the Prologue.  The prologue introduces concepts and provides a bridge for readers to this book from the Goal by Eli Goldratt and Steve Tendon, and Wolfram Müller’s book Hyper-Productive Knowledge Work Performance, The TameFlow Approach and Its Application to Scrum and Kanban


The Prologue relates the story of Herbie. Goldratt originally used the story of Herbie to illustrate the Theory of Constraints (ToC) can be used to describe the flow of work. Steve and Daniel use this chapter to ground the reader in ToC, and then add concepts that are at the heart of TameFlow.  he first is the idea of throughput.  Throughput in the book is defined as “the amount of work or value delivered per unit of time while speed is how fast work moves through a process (a lengthier explanation and an example). Throughput is an important agile and lean metric because it is easily tracked, has a low gamability factory and it is linked to a focus on outcomes.  

One of the interesting takeaways from this chapter is the reminder that flow of work is a series of actions and handoffs.  The slowest step defines the throughput of the process. While this feels very like an assembly line, it is applicable to agile and lean software development. Unless each person on a team is working on items that are independent and unrelated (why would this be a team?) and each person can handle the full lifecycle of work, there will be a flow of work and hand-offs. If we accept that work progresses through a series of steps, understanding how to use the ToC is important. Steve and Daniel remind the readers of Goldratt’s Five Focusing Steps – 5FS (see our re-read of The Goal)  The 5FS are:

  1. Find the bottleneck in the flow of work.
  2. Decide how to “exploit” the bottleneck (make sure you maximize the flow through the bottleneck).
  3. Subordinate every other step to the bottleneck (only do the work the bottleneck can accommodate).
  4. Elevate the bottleneck (increase the capacity of the bottleneck).
  5. If the bottleneck has been broken repeat the process (a bottleneck is broken when the step has excess capacity).

Two other concepts that will be critical in future chapters are:

  1. Unity of purpose and a community of trust are prerequisites for high performance.  Without a common goal there is very little social pressure to cooperate. For example, on an agile team, if the whole team was not committed to the sprint or iteration goal but rather their individual goals why would anyone swarm to a problem? The authors use the story of Herbie to illustrate this idea very crisply.
  2. Teams need an inspired leader. The authors make a large point that an inspired leader continuously searches and evaluates changes that would improve the situation of his team. The leader needs to continually test their mental models so they can reach the goal. The focus on the goal also reinforces the need for unity of purpose.

Consider the best teams or organizations you have been a part of and I believe you will see that as the unity of purpose and trust waxes and wanes so does the ability to reach high levels of value delivery.

Next week we start Chapter 1 (the real chapter 1, not just the Prologue), so buy a copy of Tame your Work Flow to support the authors and blog!  

Week 1: Logistics and Front Matter