Document Processes With Spaghetti Diagrams

Advanced Materials Manufacturer (201501090014HQ) by NASA HQ PHOTO is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

A spaghetti diagram is a tool that is used to map out all the pathways and steps taken when completing a particular task. Image 1 below is a fictional example of a manufacturing process. Putting together a spaghetti diagram begins with drawing out the work stations and floor plan involved in a process (the squares with numbers in them represent the work stations). Once the work stations are mapped, follow a product around for an entire process cycle, drawing lines between stations as the product stops along the way. The name of the diagram stems from the fact that after finishing the drawing, the page often looks like a plate of spaghetti noodles, tossed about randomly. Great tool, goofy name!

As an example, imagine ACME makes guitars by sending wood through the series of processes outlined in image 1. Beginning at the start box, and tracing the path all the way through to the end box, we can see that the wood entered work stations B and C more than once. Additionally, the work stations are spaced apart and not in any coherent arrangement. The process looks like a mess. Readers can try this at home by drawing a floor plan of your kitchen, and mapping out all the steps it takes to make an omelette (or any other meal).

Image 1: A spaghetti diagram. Each block represents a separate workstation, and the arrows represent a fictional path through the workstations.

Having a current picture of how a product flows through different work stations will surface ideas on how to improve the operation. The visual representation becomes the foundation for redesigning the layout of the stations. Image 2 below shows an example of how ACME’s fictional guitar manufacturing process could be streamlined. By removing the repeated trips, the operation can run more smoothly (no backtracking) and the stations can also be rearranged so they fit together nicely in a smaller footprint. (Maybe that means more machines can be added, and production increased.)

Image 2: A future state flow of a guitar through ACME’s guitar building work stations.

Of course, the rest of the business needs to be considered before making any big changes. If station B is used for producing more than just guitars, moving it might not be a great idea. If multiple products are made in the same machines, doing multiple diagrams for each product and then comparing them to each other will be a necessary step to ensure more issues don’t arise after taking on any kind of change.

For office based roles where someone might not be repeating the same process multiple times each day, the spaghetti diagram can be used to trace out the entire day’s trips around the office (or home office). Chances are high there will be patterns spotted when looking at how many times one moves between printers, water stations, the kitchen, or other specific office spaces. Once armed with a visual representation of frequent paths and processes, we can easily see where there are opportunities to make improvements. 

More here: @Quinn_Hanson22

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