A Few Words about Process Flow

by | Sep 4, 2019

Our Experience

In the famous movie The Sixth Sense, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) tells Bruce Willis ‘I see dead people’.  Don’t worry, we don’t claim to do that.

We do claim however, to ‘see’ process flows, especially ones that aren’t functioning properly.  It’s like the musician who ‘sees’ musical notes in colour.

I can’t for the life of me assemble Ikea furniture, gas barbeques or anything than comes in pieces in a box.  My wife the puzzle expert thinks it’s hilarious that I can’t even put together two pieces that she has already joined and then taken apart.  ‘How can someone so smart be so dumb?’.  It’s because the parts and pieces are static – not moving.  Give me moving parts and the dynamic flow we ‘see’ changes black and white to a kaleidoscope of colour.

The best example (to us) of a chaordic (order in chaos) process is a Starbucks outlet in Manhattan.  You walk in and the place is a scary, overcrowded madhouse with people running every which way.  However, once you figure out where the end of the line is:

  • You join it.
  • An advance rep approaches you mid-line and asks for your order and your name.
  • As you approach the counter you select your muffin (calories notwithstanding).
  • At the counter you order your muffin and give your name to the barista/cashier.
  • S/he rings in your order.
  • You pay them.
  • They hand you your muffin.
  • You shuffle over to the service counter and wait till your name is called.
  • Eureka, your coffee is handed to you and you find your way to the exit.


A unique blend of order in chaos.  We are continually amazed.  A simple procedure in Ottawa with six people in line, not so simple when there are over 75 people in the coffee shop. Another great example:

  • Air traffic control at LGA. They manage not only their own airspace but control all incoming flights.  Hence the concept of a ‘ground stop’, where my flight to New York is not even allowed to leave the ground in Ottawa until the full 1.5-hour path to LGA is (or will be) clear.


Not so great examples:

  • Airport check in counters – where some airlines have the process of checking in passengers down to a fine art. But where other airports and airlines can’t seem to grasp the concept that segregating passengers by (i) those who have checked in online but don’t have boarding pass vs. (ii) those who have checked in and have a boarding pass but need to check luggage, and have signs so indicating – yet have the agents at the counter serve both lines equally – doesn’t actually make sense.
  • Airport gates – where some airlines advise passengers the flight is full and offer free checking of carry-on luggage, ask these people (usually Zone 3 and 4 coach passengers) to the counter via an announcement, then proceed to call the flight, with Zone 1 passengers first, when the ‘carry-on’ folks above are blocking the single aisle at the counter. And they do this every day.
  • Airport Customs and Immigration halls – where, in the Caribbean, there are 8 counters for tourist visitors and a separate special counter for returning residents (which makes perfect sense). However, when the much smaller number of residents have cleared, who then proceed to open that line to the visitors who have just arrived – thereby allowing them to jump the queue ahead of the visitors in the other 8 lines who have been waiting 30 plus minutes.


On the work side, our firm (driven by our resident OD expert and process flow wizard, Kathy Bedard) has:

  • Re-designed the entire organization structure of Canada’s national science library around the process flow followed by their users.
  • Mapped out the process flow of electricity from the generators to consumers’ houses for two electrical utilities – and then re-built their departmental structures around this flow.
  • Greatly improved the cost efficiency of customer service for a global manufacturer of medical equipment by mapping out the process flows and identifying and removing redundancies.