Flow Efficiency

By | June 1, 2015

What percentage of your team’s time is actually spent working on the items that are ‘in progress’? 70%? 75%? 80%? Some suggest that it is as low as 2% and that 40% is the most that’s been observed. This is the world of flow efficiency.

Originating from the manufacturing industry, flow efficiency measures the percentage of time spent actively working on items that are ‘in the system’ and dividing it by the hours in a working day (Pawel Brodzinski recommends assuming an 8-hour day):

Flow efficiency   =   work time   /   ( work time  +  wait time )

For example, if a work item took 10 days to complete, but you only spent a total of 16 hours actually working on it, then you would have a flow efficiency of 20% [calculation: we are saying a working day is 8 hours, so 16 hours is 2 days. Therefore, the equation is 2 days / (2 days + 8 days) = 20%]. Most teams’ have a flow efficiency of between 5% to 15%. The lowest recorded was around 2%; the maximum, after much effort, was about 40%.

Why is it so low? Creating experts in the team and encouraging specialisms, having dependencies on other teams, being restricted to specific architectural solutions, having restricted processes, keeping everyone on the team busy 100% of the time, taking on unknown work, having too much work in progress, context switching … the list goes on.

So should you measure your flow? Some highlight that this is more relevant to manufacturing and that it isn’t appropriate for knowledge work; there are benefits in taking your time to complete work. But if it helps you inspect your processes and look for ways to improve your workflow, then I say go for it. Make sure you come back and tell us how it goes though.


Image: Peter Mazurek

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