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Blog, Productivity

Rules of the Circle: Visualizing Flow

Posted: October 20, 2016 at 11:40 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

G U E S T  A R T I C L E

ometimes I say “wax on” as I gesture. It has become a joke about the way I am constantly moving my hand in a circle as I describe the flow of people, equipment, processes and PDCA. It looks like I am channeling the sensei from Karate Kid, but the importance of the circle versus the line is no joke.

Operators walk down the line, pass the part to the next process or operator, and walk back to their start point empty-handed. Material handlers pick up pallets from the dock, put them into the warehouse, and return to get the next pallet with empty forks. Full trucks drop off their cargo and head home with an empty trailer or no trailer at all.

Empty hands, empty forks, and empty trailers are all waste. Traveling further than needed with 50% utilization is not the concept of flow, or of lean, or a formula for business success.

The characteristics of a circle help to conceptualize and remember important aspects of flow. And it is fun.

  1. Start and end are close together.
  2. Do not cross the stream.
  3. Make it smaller
  4. Circular, but not circles.


Start and end are close together.


Do not cross the stream.


Make it smaller.

About the author:

Robert H. Simonis is the senior operations consultant at KCE Consulting LLC. Robert has over 20 years of leadership experience including 10 years in manufacturing management and 10 years of global responsibilities in automotive, electronics, machining, logistics, and complex assembly operations, and is recognized as a lean enterprise expert. Email or