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How to Find and Remove Bottlenecks in Your Process Flow

Once you start visualizing your work on Favro flow boards, you and your team will be able to see exactly how work moves from start to finish.

Once you start visualizing your work on Favro flow boards, you and your team will be able to see exactly how work moves from start to finish. Possibly for the first time, bottlenecks in your process will become apparent. You probably knew they existed or at least had a sense of them, but now you can see them. The first ones will be the worst offenders and should be easy to spot. For example, you might notice an overabundance of cards stacking up in a review column. No longer do you have to say, “I think reviews are taking too long.” Now you know for sure and have undeniable visual proof. Seeing is believing.

As the early and easy to spot bottlenecks are found and resolved with card limits, new smaller bottlenecks will appear in your flow. However, as you continue to refine and improve the flow board and your process, these bottlenecks will be more difficult to identify and remove.

Finding bottlenecks with cumulative flow diagrams

A cumulative flow diagram (CFD) is built into every Favro board. A CFD provides many useful ways to visualize flow, including total work in progress on any day, current lead times and identifying bottlenecks. The number of cards in each column of your flow board are represented cumulatively over time with a unique color. As time progresses, if a color has an increasing vertical thickness, you either have a bottleneck at that stage or possibly the subsequent stage. Either way, it’s an excellent and easy to read indicator of potential bottlenecks in your process flow. To use this capability, on the board menu select “Charts -> Cumulative flow charts”.

cumulative flow chart in favro
Model and Texture looks like a bottleneck

Finding bottlenecks with time in column

Also built into every Favro board is the ability to see exactly how long any card has been in a specific column. To display this clock directly on the cards go to the board menu and select “Show -> Time in column”. Time in column, also known as cycle time, can be an obvious indicator that a card or multiple cards have been at a particular stage for too long. To take it a step further, a quick calculation will show you were your current bottleneck exists. Just divide each column’s card limit (WIP limit) by each column’s average time in column (average cycle time) to get the throughput for that column. The column with the lowest throughput is your bottleneck.

In the below 3D art asset creation example, you can see that the Model and Texture stage has the lowest daily throughput of 2.33 cards per day. 7 (card limit) / 3 (average time in column) = 2.33 (throughput). The card limit is set for each column by the board owner and is typically the number of people you have working on each stage. The average time in column (lead time) can be found by looking at the board’s control chart, which is accessed on the board menu’s “Charts -> Control chart”, and selecting each column individually.

Favro board showinguUnbalanced flow with bottleneck
Unbalanced flow with bottleneck

Removing bottlenecks and balancing flow

Continuing with this example, the Model and Texture bottleneck is the result of an unbalanced flow. The Concept stage has a throughput of 5 assets per day, which is overwhelming Model and Texture with its throughput of only 2.33 assets per day, which in turn is starving Rigging and it’s throughput of 3 assets per day. To remove the bottleneck and balance the flow establish a throughput of 3 assets per day at each stage by decreasing the card limit of the highest throughput column — Concept — by 2 and increasing the card limit of the lowest throughput column — Model and Texture — by that same 2. This action could represent removing two concept artists from a team and adding two 3D model and texture artists to the team. As you can see below, the flow is now balanced with a throughput of 3 assets per day at each stage.

Board in favro showing more balanced flow with bottleneck removed
Balanced Flow with no Bottlenecks

How long will it take?

So now you have a balanced flow, and things are moving smoothly through your entire process, in this case, an art asset pipeline. But, have you improved the overall throughput? Will you be able to deliver more assets faster? You can wait to see how throughput and speed of delivery changes over time, or you can answer these questions immediately with another calculation. How long it will take to produce a batch of assets (or cards) is determined by this formula:

time consumption formula
Time taken equation

If we plug in the numbers from our unbalanced flow for a batch of 50 assets we get:

time formula in action, unbalanced flow
Time taken equation

If we plug in the numbers from our balanced flow for those 50 assets we get:

time formula in action, balanced flow
Time taken equation

By balancing the flow and removing the bottleneck at the Model and Texture stage the team is now able to deliver the same batch of 50 assets 4 days earlier!

For more information on card limits and how to further optimize your flow feel free to read this story.

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