Monday, May 23, 2011

Lean Tool: The Spaghetti Diagram. . .or How to Switch to a Lean Low Carb Diet.

When I eat spaghetti my tools of choice are a fork and spoon, but the spaghetti itself can also be an excellent tool in its own right, a Lean Tool.

Spaghetti Diagram is a good way to visualize the flow in your process. The "plate" for your spaghetti is a top view of your process, whether a layout of the shop floor or your office. The "spaghetti" in a spaghetti diagram is the route taken by the part or operator through the process. Perhaps it's a product being made in a manufacturing cell or the flow of a document through the accounting department.

The resulting flow forms a tangled mess of lines, that resembles a plate of spaghetti.

Any comprehensive lean tool box should include a spaghetti diagram. It's not hard to make your own. Just follow someone around and trace their path on a map of the process. In fact, it's generally preferable to use pencil and paper when drawing your lines. People don't walk in straight lines, so your spaghetti should look cooked, not raw. And don't lift the pencil!

Obviously, the more messy the spaghetti, the more messy and inefficient your process is. After drawing out the path, it's often surprising to discover how the flow deviates from what the team thought. What makes sense theoretically can fall apart in the real world.

The key is to reduce those carbohydrates!

Introduce your process to Dr. Atkins and get rid of that spaghetti. Once you see the mess, look at how you can improve it. By moving stations closer together, restructuring the workflow, balancing the work elements and reducing movement, you'll be left with only the proteins. No fatty waste, just the value-added steps, the Lean meat.

Occasionally you might want a cleaner look for a presentation or digital document. At that document's been prepped for you. The image above is from a pre-made Powerpoint form that can help you transfer your work environment to the electronic page. You just have to move around the boxes to match your process. All the formatting's been completed for you.

I think physically dragging your pencil around a layout of the process is the best way to really understand the flow through the system. But for presentations, the above Powerpoint technique is a good way to present your improvements to top brass, who may be less than impressed with a pencil sketch.

There's a good summary of how to fill out or perform a spaghetti diagram here:

Next time we'll talk about adding some fish to your diet!

The Powerpoint file can be found at under the heading "Spaghetti Map/Value Analysis."

I've added this post to my Helpful Lean Tools and Downloads page.


  1. I've explored your blog a little bit and I think its great. I really like the practical orientation.
    --Alan Calvo

  2. This is the best lean resource site I have seen in a long time. I have used a lot of lean games, the most successful of which for me has been the "plug Game" fron it encompases all aspects of lean games and can be used effectivly in all industries. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks for the interesting link to the game LEAN.

    2. Hello, Just wanted to let everyone know that is actually Visionary Products, Inc. They do sell very informative Lean simulations though. Some of the simulations are for manufacturing, cellular design, pull systems, one piece flow, increased through-put. They also have an Office simulation that demonstrates what changes lean can have in an office environment. They have also just created a new simulation that dives into complex sub-assemblies, synchronized scheduling, plant layout, and discusses problems with Inventory and WIP. They've been around for quite some time and have had great feedback from trainers and consultants worldwide.

  3. Thanks! Nice "plug" for the plug game. I've seen it before and it looks pretty cool. Too bad it costs so much, but I guess you pay for the materials.
    I wonder if you could make your own with pieces from Home Depot?

  4. Martin, thanks for featuring one of our tools on your site. And thanks for what you're doing to make Lean tools more accessible to those who need them. We'll definitely point visitors your way for more great ideas. ~ Mark H. Davis, Workflow Diagnostics,

  5. Hi,

    Does anyone know of an automated spaghetti diagram builder that maybe uses GPS or some other tracking tool?


  6. Hi Jason,
    A tool that would build a spaghetti diagram based on a tracking device would be an awesome idea. I don't know of anything like that, but I was looking for a "lone worker" solution a year or so ago and discovered some of the limitations.

    GPS isn't really accurate or dependable enough inside a building. Usually you need line of sight to the satellite to get good readings or cell phone tower triangulation. On a large scale it would work and I expect there's something out there for transportation companies for tracking trucks etc.

    For inside, you would need a system similar to what AGV's use. Automated guided vehicles use lasers to locate preset reflectors or markers placed on the wall, so they know where they are. This is very accurate, but now you're looking at a software/hardware setup that runs into the thousands of dollars.

    So, I don't think there's a simple solution. There are expensive options and I'd love to hear any other comments.

  7. Do anyone has some training material for Dynamic spaghetti diagram?
    If yes, can you please share?