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Although multi-tasking, or even batching tasks, can seem efficient and time-saving the actual opposite is true. Taking the time to focus on one piece of work at a time can speed up operations, particularly manufacturing, by 96%.

The way this is done is simple. By limiting the focus to one work in progress at a time. Toyota – a huge lover of time saving and lean processes – used this concept to help affected families after Hurricane Sandy. The boxes were completed faster, less space was needed for storage and more families were helped in half the time.

The concept of One Piece Flow seems simple enough but there are a few things to be aware of, which we will look at further down. Firstly, let’s look at what exactly One Piece Flow is.

How Does One Piece Flow Work?

One Piece Flow’s main focus is to reduce the amount of work in progress items. Leaving everything in some step of the process, and not held up in storage, or creating bottleneck effects. Everything is continuously moving and progressing to the next step of the process.

Let’s continue with the example of Toyota’s relief efforts.

Products ready to be shipped are held distributed out to the various workstations. With one workstation for every product – i.e. toothbrush and toothpaste at table 1, clean water at table 2, etc.

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An empty box is then passed down the ‘assembly line’ and each work will input the specified product at their workstation and pass it on to the next station. Imagine there are 5 workstations, this means that at any given time there are 5 boxes being worked on at once (1 box at each workstation). Rather than having 5 workstations all trying to fill 5 boxes with products.

If every workstation takes 1 minute to complete their task, doing 5 boxes per station would take 25 minutes to complete all 5 boxes. Using One Piece Flow it will take around 7 minutes from start to finish to complete 5 boxes.

The Pros and Cons

As mentioned above the main advantages of One Piece Flow is the speed in which work is completed, as the savings made thanks to time saved, and reduction in space needed. However, there is two other major advantage that needs to be considered: The level of Quality and Flexibility to need.

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If one individual is completing 5 boxes at once and incorrectly enters the wrong product into a box, the chances are he will have done it for all 5 boxes. Wasting more time going through all 5 boxes and correct that mistake. Whereas one by one, you are less likely to make the mistake and it is quicker to replace 1 item when noticed at the next station, than replace 5 products in 5 boxes.

Also, because it takes less time to complete the project, you can delay the project starting in case a supplier or the end customer makes last minutes changes, yet still deliver on time. The time savings made is excellent for businesses that want to be able to scale their business, and do so reliably, for example, seasonal retailers.

The main disadvantage to One Piece Flow is more down to how it is implemented and the strength of the business process management. The concept is not suitable for everyone, and in businesses where the product lines are numerous, it can get confusing as well as time-consuming to change the ‘assembly line’ for each product.

Implementing the concept is very easy to get wrong, a lot of consideration needs to go into how many workstations and workers the project needs to be broken down into. Workers and supervisor may not necessarily agree on how it is broken down, thus leading to lack of motivation within the workers. It can be boring doing the same tasks day in, day out and can reduce the attention to detail in the process. Although this can be resolved by automating some of the steps, that would incur additional costs and resources a business may not have.

One Piece Flow is an additional tool to help lean the processes within a business, if you are interested in learning more and how to implement One Piece Flow then keep an eye out for future articles. McDonald Consulting Group runs a variety of courses throughout the year covering topics such as One Piece Flow, get in touch to learn how one of our courses can help you.