TameFlow Prioritization

* this article is 0 % AI and 100 % content written by myself *

Recommendation – the book is showing how to avoid significant suboptimal work prioritization.

TameFlow was published in 2022 on leanpub.com.

This is part I on TameFlow. I can’t possibly cover all important parts here – there is a reason why the book has a good 250 pages. So there may be more articles in the future. Plus: Steve Tendon builds up his reasoning very well. Where this blog article is a “text desert”, his book contains a lot of graphics and diagrams.

The subtitle states that TameFlow is an application of the Theory of Constraints (TOC). And it sure is! If you don’t know TOC yet, don’t miss it. It has extremely positive and real practical consequences on financial performance, delivery time, competetive position across the whole value chain. Plus it can help solve conflicts anywhere, but this is not the focus here.

Steve Tendon builds on the logic of Constraints management (TOC), Mental Models, Patterns and Systems thinking. It improves on “usual” Kanban for IT or knowledge-work. Through the book, I could clearly understand the shortcomings and why, for example

  • Column WIP limits are better than “nothing”, but inhibit optimal flow
  • Why the same goes for time-boxed approaches (Scrum etc.)
  • How to prioritize all kinds of work for maximum productivity and financial throughput

… and a lot more.

It has already made a noticeable impression to improve my own understanding of better prioritization methods and “better agile”, but I will need to continue thinking about the aspects of TameFlow.

So: definitely a valuable recommendation, if you want to improve the way you understand and prioritize work for generating more revenue and reduce overload and missed deadlines. I made extensive notes for myself. If you want to, contact me, e. g. find me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/tspeil/.

If you want to get into more details on the approach, read on!

Read more: TameFlow Prioritization

In my view, I find it very positive that Steve Tendon is in intensive and constructive exchange with other agile thought leaders like Daniel Vacanti and Eli Schragenheim (who wrote the forewords to the book), Al Shalloway, Wolfram Müller and others. Steve Tendon has a background from Borland, among other companies, before becoming a consultant.

I want to thank them and many other leading thinkers personally for generally being so open and approachable for questions to anyone who wants  to learn and contribute, like myself. 

Steve Tendon gives the following definition of what any organization must be able to do:

Organizational performance is determined by the organization’s ability to make (the right) decisions (fast – and the abilities on how fast it can be executed). On all levels. That is only possible if everyone has the necessary, non-contraditorial information and Unity of Purpose.

It essentially boils down to 5 decisions:

  1. When do we start work?
  2. How do we prioritize and sequence work?
  3. How do we select work?
  4. Where do we focus attention, effort, and resources?
  5. What is the impact on Financial Throughput?

An organization that works ten times faster than the competition can afford to develop and fail nine times before the others are ready to try their first solution. The opportunities to explore, pivot and adapt are afforded only to those who can perform better than their competitors.

The book is the updated version and further methodic development of the 2015 book  Hyper-Productive Knowledge Work Performance: The TameFlow Approach … which the author still recommends to read in addition to this book, to get the full context of TameFlow.   The 2015 book contains several more detailed explanations and examples.

Probably the biggest real-life application of TameFlow in industry cited in the book is an 8,000 people business unit with 120 teams of an international automotive supplier. There were ca. 70,000 change requests per month and lots of dependencies.  

I’ll use TF for TameFlow most of the time in the rest of the article.

Steve Tendon‘s TameFlow Approach obviously is flow-based. And it is about making work and value flow more predictable and stable – thus „tame“. It‘s aim is business agility, or hyper-productivity of the whole organization – not just team agility (which is not sufficient at all).

The TameFlow approach does not use reference processes or practices, roles, artifacts and ceremonies, principles or values, no framework and no maturity levels!

Important elements of TameFlow are Mental Models* (Paradigms) and Management Signals (situations that need attention/decisions – leading indicators serve for efficient Management by Exception, MbE).

*) Mental Model: See P. Senge‘s book on company learning, „The 5th discipline“.

These “real-time” and leading Management Signals over the whole work portfolio allow for reaching the two most important Mental Models:

  • Create Unity of Purpose
  • Nurture a Community of Trust

The Management Signals allow better decisions and focussed, clear actions on all levels – so promises and expectations usually can be kept! And so trust is very much based on actual ability to deliver.

This requires a stable system. A stable system keeps the amount of work released and active in the system adequate to the rate of delivery of finished work. The Management Signals presented show every part of the organization where to focus attention (problems) and when to release new work into the system.

Every other work that would overload the system and make it unstable is kept waiting before the committed state. Tendon calls this a Disneyland waiting queue.

TameFlow allows data-driven decisions based on 4 key flow metrics. It is empirical. (Lean and Agile people knowing Kanban will be very familiar here.)

Steve Tendon refers strongly to Dan Vacanti’s book “Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability” for flow metrics.

the same kind of “Fever Chart” works for showing risk (buffer consumption) of any initiative or work item as a Portfolio view for management

It is clear to anyone which work items need the most attention.

Some Highlights and Concepts:

  • Jeep, Jungle and Journey metaphor – The Journey is work execution, steering the Jeep (Teams/people and their work processes) through the company’s competitive environment (Jungle, unexpected)
  • PEST environments – Multiple Projects/Products, unexpected Events, many Stakeholders and many Teams

– Steve Tendon makes the case that “usual” Kanban and Agile only take rather linear workflows into account – not PEST environments, and that they only focus on operational throughput, not having measures for financial throughput.

  • “TameFlow Coin Simulation Game” – the book contains a simulation of prioritizing 10 projects with work items of different value each (coins) and five teams. The difference of prioritizing using ROI or COD/CD3 (Cost of Delay) versus taking the availability (limit) of the Constraint into account is made clear.

Effort is very often not proportional to duration! It depends on the availability of the needed resources. And the limit is: the Constraint! So prioritization needs to take the usage of the Constraint into account, to get the realistically best operational and financial throughput!

  • Financial Throughput (TH) is proportional to Operational Throughput (TP)
  • CD3/Cost of Delay for example works as CD3 = Value / Effort (total)
  • TameFlows Prioritization makes the very relevant improvement:
    Throughput Rate TR = Value / Effort (Constraint)

– For “Value”, often relative numbers are taken (just comparing the different options/projects etc.) both in CD3/COD as well as in TR

  • Improved Kanban boards – Cycle time and lead time are often pretty “fuzzy” – what times are included, when do we start measuring? This dilutes measurements and signals.

– So TameFlow makes a precise definition of lead time named FlowTime (FT), that begins when work items are committed to be delivered

– For Flow Efficiency (FE), only those times count when an item is actually being worked on: Touch Time (TT) (Work in Process, not just “in Progress”) – and everything else is Waiting Time (WT).

FE = Sum TT / Sum (TT + WT)

– So on Kanban boards, each column is split and measured in 2 semi-columns: “Waiting for” and “In Process” to get accurate WT and TT

– FE (Flow Efficiency) in reality is often only 3 – 7 % of FlowTime!

  • These “split”/more detailes boards are called Flow Efficiency Boards and used by all teams – except the one Team that currently has the process step with the one longest queue time: the current Constraint of the whole organization

– The Constraint limits productivity (operational and financial throughput) of the whole system. So this is the only point where to improve and maximize utilization. This team sets the pace for release of new work into all other teams that are connected with the Constraint team!

– For this pace-setting or pull/replenishment, TF uses Drum-Buffer-Rope (DBR) from the TOC. The Constraint team uses a modified board with buffer places and signals – a Drum-Buffer-Rope (DBR) Board

– This mechanism shows that Flow is more than just “Pull”

DBR-Board, with the team’s average Flow Times (FT) below (3 being the team’s Work Process Constraint. Since in this example, this is also the team with the overall longest FT of all teams, it has the Work Flow Constraint for the whole system and uses a Board with Buffer Zones/Signals. All other teams use the Flow Efficiency Boards – same, but just without the Buffer/Signals
  • Work can be organized in MOVEsMinimal Outcome-Value Efforts
  • For Drum-Buffer-Rope, the boy-scout trip example with “Herbie“, the slowest boy-scout (Constraint), from E. Goldratt’s TOC book “The Goal” is explained
  • I liked this acronym of the 5 focussing steps for managing the Constraint: “FOCUS”

   (1) Find the Constraint

   (2) Optimize the Constraint

   (3) Collaborate around the Constraint

   (4) Uplift the Constraint

   (5) Start again!

Steve Tendon defines the two additional steps:

  • Step (0) is: agreeing on what the Goal is
  • Step (6) is: intentionally redesigning the processes and placing the Constraint knowingly at a certain position. This makes the constraint-management of the system much easier. It allows for the stability of the system
  • Full-Kitting – is an ongoing management work-execution activity. Since every task-switching/multi-tasking is “busywork”, but not productive, it is Waiting Time. So productivity hangs on making sure that work, when started, has everything necessary to be delivered
  • Management Signals during Work Execution – the book explains how to use signals from TOC’s Critical Chain Management (CCPM) to know which work items have the highest risk of delivering late. For this, a buffer is placed at the Constraint. The buffer burn rate (how much is used) triggers “traffic lights” (green, yellow, red and black = overdue) being used)
  • Work Process in the book means the work of one team
  • Work Flow means the stream of work through all teams
  • Management by Exception (MbE) – TF strives to minimize the amount of signals and communication necessary to those that are needed for knowing where to focus attention
  • Difference of Common-Cause-Variation (CCV) and Special-Cause Variation (SCV) – this is not found in IT/Service Kanban or Agile

  • One of several reasons is, that Column WIP limits in teams‘ Kanban boards mask or distort the signals on the current Work Load situation, because they are fairly fixed!
  • Another reason (of several more) is that all teams except for one are not the Constraint – so limits there have no effect on throughput of the whole system

And why are time-boxed approaches not optimal for Flow?

  • One of the reasons being that they don’t, well, flow – they break the flow after each iteration/sprint, resetting the state of the management signals through new planning.

I hope you liked this post, and it made you interested in learning more. Please rate and like it! Leave a comment, share the article or follow my blog.

* All our efforts should be constructive. Build a life around you that is as good for everyone else as it is for yourself. Go into exchange and try to learn why people think the way they do. Accept all differences, except for intolerance and violence. Never that. *

Giving Wings to Her Team

Developing constant improvement with the Toyota Kata

* this article is 0 % AI and 100 % content written by myself *

Business novels are a very nice way to approach a subject.

Toyota Kata is relevant to you, no matter if you do not work in Automotive or any manufacturing function. If you would like to improve your function, read on

Until now, there was no novel about the very useful approach of Toyota Kata.

Since Mike Rother developed the Toyota Kata approach, a very active community has developed around it world-wide. Based on practitioner posts and experiences e. g. on LinkedIn, it seems to work very well in improving companies of many industries and sizes.

In the novel, the approach is applied, yes, to manufacturing, but also to Sales and Services. In short: the approach works anywhere. Any part of a company, any industry, IT, production, finance, … you get the picture.

If you are already familiar with Toyota Kata, skip the next paragraphs and → go to the review of the novel 🙂.

Continue reading Giving Wings to Her Team

Collection – Concepts for good organization, work and leadership

This article has been updated and expanded on May 15, 2024

Over the course of the last two years I started to assemble groupings of methods, concepts and approaches that I feel anybody who has a role to organize and develop work should be aware of.

Yes, of course this especially means managers and leaders of companies.

Concepts that you don’t know limit your possibilities to choose the best options for your organization.

I hope this will be helpful and interesting to you. If you download the PDF file, you can click on most of these concepts and get to an explanatory resource.


I love 💪 organization! Because with great organization, the same people (!) can reach twice, four times, eight times the results than with bad organization. Or reach them at all and not fail. Or reduce their delivery time 60fold. Or [many more benefits] …

Read more: Collection – Concepts for good organization, work and leadership

And feel more fulfillment and personal development without working “harder” or longer.

It is a huge lever! The biggest anyone can hope for. And it is totally possible and has been done plenty of times. It does take a consequent approach, lots of learning, failures included, and discipline.

I was inspired by a small collection of Lean and Agile practices in the Agile Practice Guide by Agile Alliance on which I built.

But what good does it do if, for example, a manager knows Lean and Agile methods, but doesn’t know about the limitations and workings of the human brain, about biases and importance of safety/security for performance?

The result will be, as is often, that they overload themselves and the whole organization.

That is why I added the 2nd group of methods to the left of Lean and Agile.

And a 3rd widespread way of working is in projects (sometimes that is a good choice, sometimes not). So I gathered project management methods, reaching from “classical” to hybrid or agile (like AgilePM/DSDM).

Of course, there are specialized bodys of knowledge for anything and everything that are not on here – for programs, portfolios, requirements, risk etc. pp. I see them as deepening knowledge of the methods shown.

I have a lot more resources on these concepts and methods, but you can only link to one specific information. If you’d like to exchange in more detail on one or more of these concepts, feel free to contact me.

I try to stay as neutral as possible, so many of the links go to the English Wikipedia article on the subject – which might not be the best explanation, but “neutral”. For the same reason, I link to book information on Google books, not some … often-used, very large online retailer … 😉. Who, by the way, uses many of the mentioned organizational concepts like TOC, Scrum, DevOps/SRE and many more very consequently, and was a source of further developing several of them. Which is a main reason why they are so successful.

This grouping is subjective and certainly not “complete”.

For example the few concrete books named in the collection. I will write in more detail about Team Topologies, for example, which I find highly relevant!

And “How Big Things Get Done” for anyone working in projects.

Or the current “Wiring the Winning Organization

… This and others could and will develop with my personal horizon.

I think there are people who really have a grasp of any serious organizational concept that has been developed, but they are rather few. I certainly am not one of them.

Who are the best Consultants world-wide with proven references on increased Productivity, and what approaches do they advocate?

Of course I don’t know everybody – but from my perspective, read this very short post by Al Shalloway and the shortlist of essential books. He is a leading Consultant and thinker and developer of the Amplio approach.

He states “… if you’re not attending to Flow, Lean, and the Theory of Constraints then you can be sure you’re not among the leaders.”

He recommends following Steve Tendon, Wolfram Müller, Donald Reinertsen, Peter Merel, Tom Gilb, among others. I would add Nigel Thurlow and Daniel Vacanti.

I would highly recommend reading the book on TameFlow, the approach by Steve Tendon. But though it explains the concepts very well, it may be too demanding as a starting point. To get an impression of the difficulty level of concepts, you could read my review of TameFlow.

If you like to add comments and further aspects that you find relevant, please do so in the comments.

My best regards,

Thorsten Speil

We can all live in peace together, if we really try. And we should try very hard. It is so important.

If you liked this post, rate and like it! Leave a comment or follow my blog.

How Big Things Get Done – Book review

The book was a strong recommendation from a colleague and is rated as “probably the most important management book of the decade”.

  All in all, when thinking about and writing this review, the book contained more interesting and relevant points to me than I had thought after the “first go”.

Continue reading How Big Things Get Done – Book review

How Sant’Anna factory (Lisbon) thrives since 1741 (and others didn’t survive)

Bom dia! I recently got the chance to have a tour and take part in a little workshop at the Sant’Anna ceramics factory – or manufactury – at Lisbon, which was highly interesting.

The unusual thing about Santa Anna is, that it is working exactly the same as 250 years ago. And still profitable where others are not.

In LEAN terms, I saw a lot of Monozukuri, craftmanship at Sant’Anna as part of their unique success.

If you want to know about their most important business rule for success, management style (and just a little story), read on!

Continue reading How Sant’Anna factory (Lisbon) thrives since 1741 (and others didn’t survive)

6T (+3R) Supporting Approaches to Learning

This is just a short post on some approaches that help me learn new things. And I squeezed them into a “6T” (+3R) acronym.

Practical application and experimentation are very important, of course – but first you have to “get” the new information. And often that is by reading or watching a presentation or video etc.

So what methods can help you understand this information better and connect it to other information in your head? I found the following helpful (not meant to be comprehensive). If you can think of more “T’s” or “R’s” or anything, write a comment, and we’ll add to the article together!

6T (+3R)

  1. Learning by Teachingtraining others
  2. Learning by Talking network, exchange
  3. Learning by Texting writing about the subject … like here! 😊
  4. Learning by Theory if you have a well-validated, consistent theory, method or toolset, that is a very effective lever! Like the Theory of Constraints (ToC), “Lean” approaches etc. Or build and Test your own theories and hypotheses!
Continue reading 6T (+3R) Supporting Approaches to Learning

The FAST Agile Scaling Framework – very lightweight. Can it work?

In this article: A very good real-life application report of FAST // A graphic overview // Download to the FAST guide // Short description of FAST // FAST – differences to other frameworks like SAFe, LeSS etc. // Other agile enterprise frameworks you may not know yet

I came upon the FAST Agile Framework by Ron Quartel in the very good keynote on “Agile bureaucracy” by Jurriaan Kamer from TheReady recently.

It promises a very lightweight approach to self-organize up to 150 – 200 people in a Collective (not so different than a Spotify-“Tribe”). Need it bigger? Several Collectives can work as a FAST Portfolio.

So the appeal is: Is it a way to escape the rigid structures prescribed in other Agile Scaling frameworks? No matter if it is SAFe, LeSS, S@S, …

Is there a freer, better way with less overhead?

When I looked closer into FAST, I found an excellent real-life report on using FAST by James Shore (author of The Art of Agile Development): here it is

Hands-on Agile 45: FAST Scaling — James Shore

Continue reading The FAST Agile Scaling Framework – very lightweight. Can it work?

Ebook und Hörbuch Abos & Anbieter

Hättest du nicht gerne oft auch das Hörbuch, wenn du ein Ebook gekauft hast? Oder umgekehrt? Oder eine Alternative zu Amazon mit großer Auswahl als Epub oder in einem anderen Format, das offener und portabler ist, als das proprietäre Kindle-Format, das nur auf Kindle-Readern oder Apps funktioniert? 😒 Das Selbe gilt für eine gute Alternative zu Audible für Hörbücher. Vielleicht etwas günstiger im Monat 💲💲 oder flexibler…

Unten findest du die Angebote die ich gefunden habe, mit Preisen, weiterführenden links und ein wenig Vergleichen.

Continue reading Ebook und Hörbuch Abos & Anbieter

Statt Twitter: Mastodon, Discord, Reddit?

Wer nicht auf Twitter bleiben möchte, z. B., weil man das Verhalten von Elon Musk nicht unterstützen möchte – die Übernahme, die fragwürdigen Sperrungen oder Reaktivierungen, politischen Äußerungen, den Umgang mit Mitarbeitern und Kritik – welche alternativen Dienste gibt es?

Ich benutze Twitter so gut wie nie, aber hier ist eine kleine Sammlung von Artikeln v. a. über Mastodon (und Alternativen), dann müsst ihr selbst nicht suchen. Natürlich gibt es diese Dienste auch alle als Apps für Android, iOS …

Continue reading Statt Twitter: Mastodon, Discord, Reddit?

on work & productivity