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flow killers
The forces that slow down
businesses, clog processes
and inhibit growth

Noise Drag
Flow is
what makes
it all work
You know the feeling.

When a team is firing on

all cylinders.

When process and people and

technology seem to slip into
place and make everything
feel effortless.

When things at work just work.

We call it flow and were starting

to think its what separates the
very best performers in any market
from the also-rans.
Three flow killers 3

The flow

Flow isnt just a great But, surprisingly, very few The benefits of flow reach
companies think much about flow. into every corner of the
feeling; its also one of Thats a big missed opportunity, organization, touching sales,
the most important because: marketing, customer service,
manufacturing, finance, retail,
contributors to the Teams that achieve flow HR, IT and operations
success of any project, dramatically out-perform of every kind.
any team and any teams that dont.
In short, flow is how things
company.  rocesses that flow are
P are supposed to work.
faster, more elegant and
more efficient.

 rojects with flow seem

to self-actuate.

Three flow killers 4

Flow is

When a process is And when a process is designed

on a whiteboard in a back office
designed around the by people who have never met
people who will use it a user (or a customer or a patient
or a citizen), achieving flow is as
or be affected by it likely as winning the lottery.
its infinitely more likely
to achieve flow. Thats the first rule of flow.

Three flow killers 5

When flow

Unfortunately, flow is Without it, everything The weird thing is that no single
slows down. person is responsible for destroying
a hard thing to achieve flow. And nobody knows where
and a fragile one when Deadlines slip past it went or why. So nobody really
and budgets bloat. has the perspective needed to
it arrives. get it back.
People get irritable and
the blaming starts. We think thats worth fixing.

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The three
flow killers

At Xerox, weve been Weve seen flow blossom in Friction Every organization large or small,
a hugely diverse range of Inefficiency caused by poor public sector or private suffers to
a part of thousands organizations and markets process design or communication varying degrees from all three of
of intensive process from massive healthcare systems dynamics. these flow killers.
to city parking departments and
improvement projects, from customer care centers to Noise And every organization can benefit
outsourcing programs commercial printers. Information overload and from exposing them, identifying
and systems re- the resulting data blindness. their impact on critical processes,
Weve also seen the forces that and working to minimize them.
engineering journeys. act against flow. That drag teams Drag
down and glue up processes. Getting held back from doing Lets look at them one at a time.
the things youre best at.
Three of these forces the big
three flow killers are especially
destructive and all too common:

Three flow killers 8


All processes include a certain

amount of friction. But when the
friction levels get too high, efficiency,
productivity,performance and job
satisfaction suffers. The symptoms
of excessive friction include:
What friction looks like

Too many steps in a process

Too much manual intervention or too much paper
Chronic bottlenecks and delays
Recurring errors
End-user frustration
Customer or stakeholder complaints

Three flow killers 9


What causes friction Why friction kills flow Data becomes useful knowledge
of something that matters when
Poor process design processes Lead times and lag times soar it builds a bridge between a
that arent user-centric or goal- Projects and departments go question and an answer. This
driven; out-dated processes; over budget connection is the signal.
processes that dont scale well... Morale sinks and finger-
pointing starts CIO Magazine
November 2014, citing AtTask Survey
Ineffective communication Things fall between the
structures ad hoc workflows; process cracks
de-centralized knowledge stores; Users develop clunky
excessive email workarounds
Processes are un-documented
The wrong technology for the and not measureable
job the wrong applications; mis-
configuration; poorly integrated

Three flow killers 10

The trouble with jams

At the extreme end of the friction spectrum is the jam.

The paper jam in a printer.
The traffic jam on a highway.
The logjam at the customer service desk.
Jams are when all flow stops.
All work grinds to a halt.
And everything thats supposed to happen doesnt.
Weve spent hundreds of person-years analyzing jams.
So we could find better ways to eliminate them.
Because nothing kills enthusiasm like a jam.

Three flow killers 11

What you can

do about friction

Reducing friction Isolate and analyze critical Ask your users Benchmark your processes
processes in detail mapping they know the most about work with partners who share
is a major challenge where they touch other processes, processes and their weaknesses. your outlook and experience.
for every leader. technologies and people. Consult them early and often.
Consider a framework
Fortunately, once Relentlessly remove steps Measure what matters formal systems like Six Sigma,
its recognized, there a shorter process is almost develop process metrics that TQM and Lean are powerful
are many process always a better one (with reflect actual goals; track them ways to spot and solve friction in
exceptions). and share the insight. complex processes.
lubricants available,
including these: Automate what you can Design best-fit collaboration Run through this checklist for any
human touches are expensive tools different processes of your processes. There is real,
and error-prone; use them only demand different workflows and measurable improvement hiding
when they add value. communication platforms (hint: in these simple steps.
email is rarely the best choice).

Think lean

One of the most effective friction-

fighters known to business is the
Lean manufacturing methodology.

Lean is all about identifying the

things that contribute to value
(defined as anything the customer
will pay for) and eliminating
everything else.

Designed specifically for

manufacturing, lean ideas
have started to help create cultures
of improvement across a wide
range of industries and disciplines.

For more on Lean, visit lean.org.

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In the era of big data and next-

generation analytics, noise is an
occupational hazard. Some call it
data smog; others call it information
overload but everyone experiences it.
What noise looks like

Slow decision-making or insight that arrives too late

Inaccurate decisions based on bad data
Complex reports that people stop using
Excessive meetings
Data silos and conflicting applications or reports
Lack of visibility into critical functions
Inability to connect the dots to get a holistic view

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What causes noise Why noise kills flow

Both signal and noise are Data sources are incompatible Insight doesnt make it to the
generated anywhere data is and no one does the hard work of point of use
generated which is pretty much integrating them properly. Management cant measure or
everywhere, these days. But signal manage what matters
turns to noise when: Too many applications are in use Mistakes are repeated rather
instead of consolidating around than lessons learned
Data is collected for its own sake a small core of key apps. Customer-facing people cant
instead of for a good reason. personalize interactions
Applications are poorly Decisions about optimizing
People take data quality for integrated with hand-coded operations are blind
granted raw data is almost links instead of robust interfaces. People spend more time
never ready for use; it needs to wrangling data than analyzing it
be cleaned and validated. People fall in love with eye Teams dont know if theyre
candy not seeing that the pretty going in the right direction
dashboards mask irrelevant or
untrustworthy data beneath.

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What you can

do about noise

Theres a certain Agree on a small set of key Rationalize your application Think about need to know
metrics decide as a team what portfolio reduce the number use roles-based access to reports
amount of noise you really need to track and why. of apps and retire the unused. and data to keep the noise down.
in every system.
Limit your data sources Align your data scientists Apply these ideas to any of your
But when the noise just because its available with your business users processes, teams or departments
drowns out the signal, doesnt mean its necessary. get the data geeks to sit down and you will reduce the noise and
you need to take with the process owners; bring out the signal.
Apply a little data governance supply the pizza; do it often.
action: make sure theres a process for
cleaning and integrating your Capture and market your best
data so its valid and compatible. insights let everyone know what
the data is telling you and why it
matters; celebrate the signal

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Drag is the dead weight that keeps

organizations from soaring. Whenever
an expert, team or department is pulled
away from the things theyre best at,
drag is at work.
If your resource allocation is balanced, youve got just the right
amount of drag. If its out of balance, it can slow you down.

What drag looks like

Managers spend too little time on critical tasks

Costs spiral in administrative areas
Performance suffers in important but non-core areas
Bottlenecked processes slow down dependent ones
Real experts waste time on housekeeping
Process improvement slows down

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What causes drag Why drag kills flow

Drag comes from doing things Fiefdoms power centers It diverts resources with high It turns real experts into
the way youve always done them. grow up around departments overheads in the wrong areas and housekeepers knowledge
Its roots lie in: and disciplines and they defend lean budgets where you ought to workers are too important
their turf. be spending. (and expensive) to waste
Failing to identify core on drudgework.
competencies no clear direction Fear of change the perceived It wastes management time on
from above about what business risk of moving keeps leaders stuck non-core activities diverting It causes under-performance
youre really in. to the status quo. them from areas where they can and over-spend in the areas
really add value. that would be better managed
Missing outsourcing Failure to benchmark not elsewhere.
opportunities whole processes knowing what good looks like. It saps morale with your best
that would be better performed people saying, I wasnt hired Low-value processes slow
by a supplier. for this. down the high-value ones
acting as a drag on productivity
and efficiency.

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What you can

do about drag

Reducing drag is Decide whats core and whats Ask your stakeholders discover Invite potential partners in to
not make it clear to everyone which processes frustrate them discuss the way you do things and
a major challenge exactly what business youre in, the most and which they need to how they might change that.
for every leader. what your strengths are and what keep close.
you will always do in-house. Do a business case show your
Fortunately, once Identify outsourcing management team the value of
its recognized, there Benchmark your most expensive opportunities list all the outsourcing and minimizing drag.
are many process processes find out whether processes or sub-processes that
youre really as good at them as look like good candidates for
lubricants available, you think. moving out of house.
including these:
Prioritize the low-hanging fruit
decide which processes will
generate the quickest and greatest
returns with the least risk.

Getting your
flow back

Flow is far too important

to leave to chance.

And the three flow killers discussed

here are far too common to leave

Discussing friction, noise and drag

in the abstract, as weve done here,
may make them feel less urgent
than they really are. But when you
apply the thinking to a specific
process or department or project,
you start what needs fixing.

Well be publishing more ideas

about flow and its inhibitors
on xerox.com.

Do share your experiences with us.

Were Xerox.
Three flow killers 22

trademarks of Xerox Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.

2015 Xerox Corporation. All rights reserved. Xerox and Xerox and Design are
We believe that improving the flow of work
is core to enabling enterprise transformation
and global progress.

We help people transform their companies,

governments, cities and healthcare organizations
by replacing inefficiency with flow.

Talk to us.