New Project: Spaghetti Diagram Art


Here's a peek into a fun project I started on a whim. As I work with hospital staff members and teach them to observe processes and identify waste (as part of a space and process redesign process), we do a lot of “spaghetti diagrams.” In this approach, healthcare professionals shadow their colleagues to help identify opportunities for improvement. They trace their walking pattern, as it happens, on a layout diagram.

Many of these diagrams, with all of their lines showing the walking and the “hunting and gathering” that takes place, are pretty dramatic visualizations of wasted motion and delays in patient care. When you zoom in on them or tweak them a bit, the lines often end up looking like abstract art (or maybe I don't have much of an eye for art). Hence, “Lean Spaghetti Art” – a new blog I've been playing around with. Which are spaghetti diagrams and which are Jackson Pollock pieces?

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

  1. Michael Kahn says

    This is a cool project. I’ve participated in more than a few spaghetti diagrams recently, as part of my training. I may take one of them, scan it in high-resolution, put it into Photoshop, and start messing around with blurs and hues and make it into something I’d frame. I love art that’s based on images meant for another use.

    Or if you did that and sold them, you’d likely have at least one customer …

  2. Andrew Bishop says

    We’ve got to think beyond the current state! The important question is improvement, right?
    So, with that in mind, what does the future state of the Jackson Pollock look like? Maybe Mark Rothko? or Piet Mondrian?

    Other suggestions?

    Thanks for letting a fun one out on Friday!

  3. Patrick Adams says

    Mark…what a great idea! I have been part of some pretty extensive and complicated spaghetti diagrams and they would fit perfectly with your “Lean Spaghetti Art”! Here is is funny one though…take a look at the end of my article titled “Spaghetti Diagrams.” Needless to say, my wife was not very happy!

  4. Dr. Les Muda says

    I prefer to sometimes call them “Pad Thai Diagrams.” I’m not always in the mood for Italian. Any sort of noodle works, actually.

  5. Jill P says

    Hi, I’m looking for help in teaching how to do a spaghetti diagram using the attendees at a workshop. My thoughts are to assign areas of a conference room and have the attendees follow along, like a scavenger hunt, to plot their course. Upon review, I would have them create a new state and then have them walk their new course. Has anyone done something like this that they can share?

    1. Mark Graban says

      Hi Jill –

      I have used the “Toast Kaizen” video as a fun way to practice spaghetti diagramming.

      It’s easy enough to create a “layout diagram” of the kitchen, and then trace Bruce Hamilton’s walking pattern through the kitchen.


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