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We all are designed to think in batches. We tend to think that it is efficient to work in batches than as a continuous flow.

For example, if we have to process claims in an accounts department, we would like to take them up in heaps of ‘type A’ first & then of ‘type B’ and so on. Similarly, in a paint shop, we will take up the painting of all greens together, then another color like yellow, and so on. At our home also, while washing of dishes, we would first apply detergent on all of them and then we shall wash them all together, etc. The lean thinking, on the other hand, suggests that it is much more efficient if we work as a continuous flow of one piece at a time.Working in batches means long wait for most parts when we work on one of the parts.

One of the authors on lean gives the following example to show how our mind is tuned to think in batches.

The author did a very simple experiment with his daughter aged seven. It goes like this:

When we were launching our consulting business we sent out a fair amount of mail. I asked Eleanor, my seven year old, if she would help with the stuffing, stamping, and labeling. She was thrilled.

“How do you think we should do it, sweetheart?”

“I think we should stuff all the letters first, then label them all, then seal them all, then stamp them all, Daddy.”

“How about we do an experiment? You do in batches, and I’ll do them one at a time.”

“Okay, Dad”

Eleanor & I learned directly that one-at-a-time production is quicker and easier, even if it is counter intuitive.

In fact, the one-at-a-time method will avoid the wasteful effort of picking up & putting down every envelope four times.

Lets start thinking in terms of one-piece continuous flow rather than in batches and become more efficient!

Avinit Singh


  1. Ashwani K Notey on Monday 21, 2011

    Dear Sir,

    Thanks for your e mail which has given me a refresher in Lean Manufacturing/Toyota Production Systems.

    In actual manufacturing scenario, SKU(Stock Keeping Unit) is sometimes a particular batch quantity . For example, in electroplating bath, it is not advisable to dip one piece. In fact, the example which you have quoted resembles an assembly process. However in actual practice, same may not be an efficient way to carry out manufacturing processes.

    Let us analyze the manufacturing of the envelope which is being used in the example quoted. I hope you will agree that it is not feasible to manufacture paper for only one envelope. Batching still is an applicable method for lean. However, batch quantities have to be decided to ensure efficient and agile production line.

    I have just expressed my views and understanding.

    Ashwani K Notey

  2. admin on Monday 21, 2011

    Dear Ashwani,

    Nice to hear from you after a long time.

    I agree with you that for some processes, it may not be possible to use single piece flow, e.g. in processes like plating, heat treatment, etc. where common facilities are to be used for the entire range of products manufactured by a manufacturing unit. This is one of the limitations of the continuous flow manufacturing. But wherever possible one-piece flow should be introduced.

    Further, the batching cannot be completely eliminated from the processes, but in lean processes we need to find out the optimum batch or lot sizes that we need to maintain between stages. This helps in reducing the inventory between the stages to a great extent.

    My example was to show that we are more comfortable thinking in terms of batches and not as a continuous flow which does not help making the processes efficient.

    Thanks & best regards
    Avinit Singh

  3. cardaddy on Monday 21, 2011

    Hi mate! I completely agree with your thoughts. I’ve just shared it on Facebook.

  4. Jenn on Monday 21, 2011

    Big help, big help. And superlative news of crouse.

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