November 21, 2015 karynross

Making work flow: Touch each piece of information once only

NationalTaxiLimo (NTL) is a new startup personal transportation company with a unique business model somewhere between one of the many popular driver matching services (Uber, Lyft) and a regular taxi dispatch service. As well as being passionate about creating processes that will deliver service excellence for their customers, NTL is also deeply committed to helping the driver partners in their network of small, independent taxi companies succeed and grow.

Of course, just like any new start-up venture, there are numerous tasks and projects that must be accomplished before NationalTaxiLimo can dispatch their first ride: dispatch software, driver and customer apps need to be developed and tested, the phone service needs to be integrated, payment processes created, driver partners onboarded and potential markets and customers identified. The list seems endless…

I’d been working with Joe, one of NTL’s owners, for a little while, when he told me about a revelation he had: what Joe realized was that previous to our work together, projects didn’t stay on track as he never finished one thing before moving on to another. For example, Joe would open an email, read it, determine what needed to be done, and then add the required task to his “to do list”. Then he’d move on to the next email. After a while, Joe had a long “to do list” but none of the tasks that was necessary to move closer to being able to dispatch was actually being completed.

Once Joe and I started working together, however, he began following a different process: every time he opened an email, he completed the task as quickly as possible: if the email simply required a response, he replied right then; if the email required that he complete a task such as sending information to the bank, he did that immediately; if the email required action that was part of a larger project such as customer app development, he added it, with a completion due date, to the simple action item list we created for each project. And once Joe followed this strategy, instead of having a long “to do” list, he had many tasks completed and projects that were back on track.

In lean, we call the concept of working on one thing at a time “single piece flow”: instead of putting things off for later, or saving up “batches” of things to do, complete each task in its entirety as soon as possible after you identify it needs to be done. And once you begin working on it, complete it. Although it’s tempting, don’t get distracted by the next ‘shiny object’ that suddenly appears in your inbox and start working on that instead. Once things stagnate, the number of items that need to get done begins to grow and the likelihood that they will get done in time to meet deadlines shrinks.

How can your service organization take advantage of what Joe learned? In my experience, a good way to work towards ‘single piece flow’ is to set a goal of “touching each piece of information one time only”: open each email once only; open each purchase order once only; find a way to process all service requests as soon as they are created. Once you set that goal, and you and your team find ways to keep the work flowing you’ll find, just like Joe from NTL did, that tasks and projects are completed on time and that you, your employees and customers are happier.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

And if you’d like a copy my simple action item list template, contact me at

Karyn Ross Consulting

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