Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD) Explained in Two Minutes

What is a cumulative flow diagram? How does it work? What is the main purpose of a cumulative flow diagram and what should you look for when interpreting these diagrams? Learn the answers to these questions in just 2 minutes.

The Cumulative Flow Diagram is one of the most advanced analytics in the Lean world. Get an in-depth look at all the possibilities that the chart provides in our dedicated in-depth article:

This video explains the power of Kanban Cumulative Flow Diagrams. Learn how CFD visualizes your process stability over time, work in progress allocation, and approximate average cycle time. Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD) is a graphic way to track and analyze progress of your work through different stages of a workflow.

Every stage of work, or a column of your Kanban board, is visualized on the CFD with a uniquely-colored band. These bands reflect the total number of tasks that your team was processing on any given day. The top line of each band represents the arrival rate of tasks while the bottom line shows their departures.

On a properly built cumulative flow diagram, you see a line going down but only upwards and to the right. The vertical distance between the top and lines of a column visualizes the cumulative number of cards that were at this stage of your workflow on any day of interest. The horizontal distance between the arrival line of your first stage and the departures line of your last stage shows the approximate average cycle time of your assignments.

In this case, it took approximately 3 days for our cards to go from “Ready to start” to “Final Sign-off”. To determine whether the process is stable, you just need to monitor how the bands of the cumulative flow diagram are progressing in time. If the distance between the lines grows in parallel then most likely you’ve got nothing to worry about. However, if a band starts to expand rapidly, that means tasks are arriving faster than they can be processed and you need to take action.

Beware that a cumulative flow diagram should only be used for analyzing past performance. If your goal is to predict future outcomes, then maybe you should look into data analysis models like the Monte Carlo simulations.
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