Smooth is Fast

When you are at the gemba, you are watching the work. We like to say you are “looking for waste” and list seven, or eight, or ten different categories of waste that you are supposed to look for.

I think it is simpler than that.

An ideal workflow is smooth.

The product moves smoothly, without starts and stops, without sudden changes in momentum.

The people move smoothly. Each of their motions engages the product and advances the work in some way.

Machines do not interfere with the smooth movement of product or people.

Information flows the same way. There is nothing in how it is stored, retrieved, or presented that causes people to break their smooth rhythm.

When you watch the work, try to visualize what smooth would look like. Smooth has no wasted motions, no excessive activities.

Anything that doesn’t look smooth is likely the result of an accommodation, an awkward operation, poor information presentation, poor computer screen layout and workflow.

Just another way of looking at it.

8 Replies to “Smooth is Fast”

  1. Mark,

    I think you’ll find that smooth is fast in many things. Take automobile racing for instance. The fastest drivers actually make it look easy. They rarely flail at the wheel trying to force the car to do something it doesn’t want to do. Instead they’ll learn to dance with it – coaxing the maximum amount of performance that both the car and driver are capable of. At least that’s what one of my best driving instructors explained to me as he casually (and totally) obliterated my best lap time. There certainly wasn’t as much waste in his lap!


  2. Sports analogies are great. The idea of smooth makes me think about the way the best pitchers operate. Greg Maddux is a prime example; little motion, all pitches look the same (repeatable), and after each pitch he was in the perfect position to play defense (18 gold gloves prove this).

    A great example in the Lean world is the Boeing moving assembly line. By moving only a few inches an hour the production smoothly transitions through each phase of assembly. (Check Boeing’s Youtube channel for a video of the 777s moving line).

    I do have to note that there is a serious amount of workplace organization and visual management needed in any facility if they hope to be as smooth as Boeing, or Greg Maddux.

    1. I’ve got a post on the Boeing 737 moving line here:

      Of course, without workplace organization, the work is not smooth, so the 5S becomes a countermeasure. It is always easier to get into place when there are specific reasons to do it rather than a “5S campaign”

      Visual management is the same way – by asking “What SHOULD we have seen, and when COULD we have seen it?” visual management goes in as a countermeasure. If course it helps to start with some too.

    1. I wouldn’t try to measure it directly.
      I would, however, look for whether or not disruptions to smooth work were being addressed in the right way; and ultimately for a reduction in cycle time variation.

  3. Here’s another sports analogy for you. Many years ago in high school, I worked with a guy in a Ski Shop that definitley brought my skiing skills up a few notches. (And I’d been skiing since age 4.)

    One of the things he taught me was that “A technically perfect skier should be able to use double sided tape for bindings.” Said another way, they would put so little lateral force on their skis – through their boots – that a ski would stay on with just double sided tape. He then instructed me to think about that every time I turned. Man, did that make a difference in my skiing! It’s all about smooth.

    1. So… if the objective is to make you a better skier, then we want to target a maximum amount of lateral force you can apply to your boots, and trigger a beep if you exceed it.

      That maximum amount should be just below what you are exerting today.

      Thus, you have a new level to strive for, you can make it sometimes, but sometimes you don’t.
      When you don’t you are notified and have an opportunity to correct and try again.

      If you get stuck, then a coach helps you see what you might be doing, helps you tweak your technique, and gives you something to practice until you can routinely ski at the new level of expertise.

      Then we lower the alarm threshold a bit.

      This, folks, is how kaizen works if it is done correctly.
      This is the purpose of the andon, and the escalation / problem process it should trigger.
      This is the purpose of visual controls.
      This is the purpose of takt time.
      This is the purpose of standard work.

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