About “The Book of TameFlow”

This book describes advanced applications of the TameFlow Approach - a pragmatic and human-centered systems-thinking approach for creating breakthrough performance-innovation in knowledge-intensive digital-businesses.

You will learn how to apply the Theory of Constraints to knowledge-work, and in particular to handle coordination, synchronization and prioritization in “PEST” environments, where you have multiple Projects or Products; multiple Events or deadlines; multiple Stakeholders; and multiple Teams.

Focus is on producing business outcomes and customer value with tangible bottom line results. The TameFlow Approach provides business agility to change direction at speed and at scale by dramatically improving organizational performance beyond that of mainstream Agile or “agile-like” methods and frameworks (Kanban, Scrum, SAFe, LeSS, Nexus, Scrum@Scale, Enterprise Scrum, etc.), and providing new means to tame the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) of modern knowledge-work.

Is “The Book of TameFlow” for you?

Since the TameFlow Approach and the Theory of Constraints are Systems Thinking approaches, they can bear significance for many different roles in our complex and modern organizations.

Thus, this book will appeal to different categories of readers. Here are some perspectives that you will find represented in the book and which can resonate with your viewpoint:

  • Business Management: You are a business owner, managing director or chief executive and care about increasing the bottom line of your business, and you are in charge of “how we make money here.” And you have to run the business today. And improve the business. And build new business for tomorrow.

  • Middle Management: You are a business unit director, department head, line manager or team leader and need to coordinate and synchronize your unit’s efforts with other units; and in particular you repeatedly find yourself in a “fighting for resources” situation against your peers in other units.

  • Portfolio/Project/Product Management: You are a PMO manager, programme/portfolio manager, project manager, product manager, product owner who typically needs to “get more stuff done faster with less resources.”

  • Agile/Scrum/Process/Method/Methodology Management: You are a process/methodology engineer, a Scrum Master, an Agile Coach, a Consultant in charge of “how we get stuff done here.”

  • Knowledge-Work: You are a product developer, designer, architect, engineer, software developer, etc. who “actually gets the stuff done here.”

This book will allow you to discover new areas of competencies related to: explicit risk management, capacity, detection of special and common cause variation, management by exception and new scheduling, prioritization and sequencing techniques.

Whether you know about the Theory of Constraints and Throughput Accounting - or not - and would like to see how to apply them to the Kanban Method, this book will give you the right guidance. The concepts addressed throughout this book will help you develop business agility, which is understood as “the ability to change direction at high speed.” And if you are into Agile, you will discover how the ideas of this book will make you even more agile, because its data-driven focus squarely lies on better execution of work all the while fostering humane, collaborative and creative working conditions.

If you are well versed in the Kanban Method, you might be surprised to discover many of its shortcomings and how they can be addressed through the techniques presented in this book.

Summary of “Tame your Work Flow”

Here’s a short summary of the topics covered.

Igniting High-Performance

Flow and effortlessness go together but it does not come naturally. It is a second nature that needs to be harnessed. Yet you need to start, somehow!

This part of the book is about simple (proto-)patterns that will get you going on the right path in guiding your first steps to actually applying the TameFlow Approach.

They are so easy to appy that you can start immediately, without knowing the theory that underpins them. You need zero knowledge to get started, and you can do so before delving in all the theory.

If you are the practical, down-to-earth, hands-on type of person, you could just put these patterns into practice, and be done! You would reap a great deal of the benefits that the TameFlow Approach affords, immediately.

But if you also want to know why these patterns work, then the rest of the book will give you all the theory and all explanations. It is through the mastery of the Mental Models on which the TameFlow Approach is founded, taht we will gain the full potential of the TameFlow Approach.

Getting More for Nothing with Flow Efficiency

How can your brain deal with this riddle everyday? “The demand for our services is overwhelming and we must keep it outside the system and work at the best of our capabilities in order to be more productive and deliver faster.

The first four chapters of this book will show you how to overcome obstacles to Flow Efficiency and challenge one of the most erroneous Mental Model - “the sooner we start, the sooner we finish” - we need to overcome on our way to achieve better Flow Efficiency for immediate impact on the bottom line.

This is where trust is being “built in.” A reliable and stable system has a better chance of delivering what is promised and of being around next year.

Flow Efficiency improvements come at no financial costs and are simply related to decision making as to whether you want to work harder or deliver sooner by simply being very deliberate about how you decide to start and finish work!

This part of the book has an interesting twist. We connect Little’s Law with Flow Efficiency but looking at it from a TOC perspective, while also exposing how it impacts the bottom line.

Acting on the Archimedean Lever that Boosts Performance: the Constraint

The Story of Herbie and Constraints Management is evocative of this poem: if you want to improve and succeed, helping the weakest link in the chain is key.

And it has a nicer side effect: it will make you more profitable while moving closer to your Goal, whatever definition you give it!

The Big Picture

Here we cover the “big picture” of the TameFlow Approach. We discover the Four Flows: Operational Flow, Finaancial Flow, Informational Flow and Psychological Flow and how they work in concert to generate high performance in organizations.

Maximizing Business Value in Knowledge-Work

Agile and Kanban have very little to offer and fall short in dealing with today’s complex environments.

First, they are totally oblivious to the true Constraint of the system. Constraints Management is the focus of this section, in particular in what we call PEST environments: where we have to confront multiple Projects or Products, Events (i.e. deadlines), Stakeholders and Teams.

A Constraint can appear anywhere in your Work Flow, Work Process or Work Execution. Distinguishing between them has enormous economic benefits; as is being able to establish if the Constraint is impacted by Common Cause Variation or by Special Cause Variation.

Detecting and managing Common Cause Variation is probably the single most important oversight in both modern management and Agile practices today. It is where we get a grip on systems to enable double loop learning, having a 360 degree view of the landscape at work. It is here that we can find out how to execute better, become more reliable, keep our promises and establish trust.

In this section, we will need to let go of another Mental Model: the pervasive use of Column WIP Limits! Paradoxically they are one of the biggest impediments to high performing flow and hinder the potency of the most effective WIP limiting mechanism discovered to date: Drum-Buffer-Rope scheduling.

At the end we will discover the best way to prioritize and sequence work to deliver the maximum business value for our company.

Preparing for High Performance Execution and Governance

Part five is pure Tameflow Kanban. Flow Efficiency and Throughput are cornerstones of the approach. How to visually instrument and operationally manage four different Kanban boards is covered: Flow Efficiency boards, Drum-Buffer-Rope boards, Throughput management Kanban boards and finally, Portfolio boards.

These boards impact culture via a reconception of common corporate social norms and values, the most prominent of which is the acclamation of idleness. It is not poetic license, but the deep insight that in high performing organizations, only the Constraint cannot afford to remain idle; while everyone else should be idle at times.

Of course, the key question is to know when non-Constraints should work and when they should not work; and also what else they should be doing during such periods of idleness.

Scope and minimalism. How do we wade through the internal and external forces that business imperatives and limited resources bestow upon us and despite all this, bring something to the table? For this specific purpose, the use of the MOVE - the Minimal Outcome-Value Effort - is of strategic value and favors a communion between upstream and downstream participants of the system. It is here that the arbitrage between units of stakeholder value, units of Throughput, units of costing and reporting and units of work and delivery are consolidated to create common motion and focus of effort.

Every project goes through its critical path during execution. It is here that Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt’s execution management techniques (first introduced in his Critical Chain Project Management) based on Buffer Signals as leading indicators of risk materialisation become an extremely potent tool in handling what VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity), Mr Murphy and Chaos throw at us every day. And it comes for free while it is at the root of the high performance Management by Exception practices promoted by the TameFlow Approach.

Another major practice introduced is Full-Kitting. Significantly, we examine how Full-Kitting needs to be considered in light of possible misconceptions originating from Agile thinking. With Full-Kitting we are setting up our work so that we can effectively realize the ideal conditions of “One-Piece-Flow,” meaning that any piece of work will flow through the system with no interruption and with maximal Flow Efficiency.

Achieving High Performance Execution and Governance

Executives have a role to play as they act as the trigger of the chain reaction that will hit the system. How do we prioritize MOVEs? How do we rank them? How and when do we start work? How and when do we initiate Flow?

This is the operational aspect of Full-Kitting where executive management actively participates in a targeted and structured way in preparing for the execution of work entering the system, in particular by acting as tie-breakers when there are prioritization conflicts between different stakeholders.

What is so special about execution?

Well, it becomes a new dimension to manage. It gets very sophisticated and follows the lineage used throughout this book. The use of Management Signals helps us come to grips with the unfolding of all our projects so that we know how to make optimal operational decisions just in time when they are needed.

To conclude this part of the book, Executive Governance promotes a minimalist yet powerful management style which can cater for all issues and participants in full fairness. Management by Exception - based on leading Management Signals centered around the Constraint in the Work Flow, Work Process and Work Execution - is a unique and one of the most riveting innovations in knowledge work management uncovered in this book by applying the lessons of Dr. Goldratt and his Theory of Constraints to this domain.

It is a coherent and captivating ending to the book - with the Constraint as the central pivot of all our thinking and decision making.


Steve Tendon

Steve Tendon

Steve Tendon is the Managing Director of TameFlow Consulting Limited, where he helps clients create high-performance organizations and teams by applying the theories and practices described in his books. The focus of his research and work is on creating breakthrough organizational performance-innovation.

A sought-after adviser, coach, mentor, speaker and consultant. He holds a MSc. in Software Project Management from the University of Aberdeen; a Fintech Innovation/Future Commerce Certificate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Blockchain Strategy Programme Certificate from the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.