The abstract concepts of batch and flow are typically not introduced in undergraduate courses outside of supply chain management, despite their wide application to nearly every aspect of our work lives. In this article, I will present a simplistic introduction to these concepts and how you may de-batch your life to achieve higher productivity and lower error rates.
Batching: a definition and a common example
Batching has been an intrinsic part of the human experience for likely all of human history. From Google:
Images of hunter-gatherers collecting batches of firewood or berries come to mind immediately for me. The same tends to be true in any business process. The person who introduced me to process optimization told me:
My experience has shown this to be true without anecdotal exception. Let me present my working definition for batching:The division of labor into loops over working material sets.
An incredibly simple and useful example of a batched process is the ugly process that follows the statement:
This is interesting because it is an example of both batching and its negative consequences that pretty much all of us have experienced. I used to be incredibly guilty of this counter-productive form of procrastination. Why am I demonizing email batching so?
What usually happens when we save up 10 or 20 emails to respond to? I usually won't get to them until the end of the work day, or even right before I go to bed. The emails are the working material, response writing is the looping process, and the sent emails are the product.
I began to notice that I often made typos, ignored technically unnecessary emails I knew I could use for networking windows, and occasionally made significant errors in the emails (lack of attachment when necessary, wrong names even!). These are all examples of errors and defects.
Why does this happen? In this example, the cause is process fatigue. My tools (my body, brain, etc) are being forced to repeatedly perform a task that is important, tiring, and sensitive to errors. The larger the batch, the higher the error RATE. Not only do I get more errors total, I also get more errors per finished product.
Conclusion, part 1
In this case, we are batching due to procrastination. One of the leading causes of batching, however, is the incorrect assumption that it "saves time". You may be surprised to learn otherwise. We will look more into this idea, along with several examples in the second part of this series.
Read the second part of the series here.