Be Water and Tame the Flow - The TameFlow Approach!

Be Water and Tame the Flow -The TameFlow Approach!

How Can You Begin Your Transformational Journey?

[Note: The following article contains excerpts from the original article of the same author which was published in Cutter Business Technology Journal, Vol 31, No. 3 2018)

Challenges in Adopting Any Outside Practices: Lean, Agile, … or Whatever

“You must understand theory. It is the only thing that allows you to ask the right questions.”

— W. Edwards Deming

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”

— Yogi Berra

CEO John Krafcik first coined the term “Lean” in his 1988 article “Triumph of the Lean Production System.”1 Lean pioneer James Womack and his team2 used the term in the late 1980s to describe the business practices of Toyota. According to Womack’s Lean Enterprise Institute, “The core idea [of Lean] is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste.”3 That is the meaning of Lean that is prevalent in our management thought process today.

The pioneering work of sharing the business practices of Toyota with the outside world helped bring about a paradigm shift in management thought processes
in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st century. But fully understanding the concept of Lean is not yet complete. The belief that Lean is nothing but eliminating waste in a process or in an organization is erroneous. One reason for this misconception and for the challenges in adopting Lean in all organizations is not thinking at a deeper level. We must make use of the thinking patterns that underlie the concept and practices of Lean; that is, the “why” — the philosophy behind the Lean practices.

When we attempt to copy the success of a person, team, or organization, we most likely fail to grasp the complete journey that had been undertaken to achieve
that success, including the thinking process and the enormous challenges involved. We tend to repeat only the visible practices, yet any attempt to derive the same practices from the visible outcomes of a successful path in a certain environment without understanding the underlying thinking might not be applicable to our situation. As a result, emulating any visible practices from others will only put us on a journey that is unnatural to our own context, abilities, goals, and aspirations. Moreover, we will be undertaking a route with no strong core foundations; that is, missing the “why” for every step of the journey. At the same time, we are rejecting our own core values and potentially ourselves when we emulate some other person or some other entity. Consequently, we are rejecting our innate thinking abilities.

Emulating any visible practices from others will only put us on a journey that is unnatural to our own context, abilities, goals, and aspirations.

An optimal outcome requires that we begin our organization’s journey by evolving and adjusting the core thinking process needed for the successful manifestation of ideas and concepts within the ecosystem of our organization.

Thinking Patterns for a Lean/Agile Organization

To develop an exponentially growing Lean/Agile organization that will have the capabilities to meet uncertainty/unpredictability and show adaptability/ maneuverability on demand, we must develop the potential of its people with a primary emphasis on designing and developing the whole organizational system(s).

The real “lean” in the Lean world (or the “agile” in the Agile world) will manifest only when an organization’s focus is on the development of the whole organizational system (i.e., developing the capabilities of all elements). This focus must be on the continuous development of the capabilities of throughput processes, organizational processes, functional domain expertise, the people, the thinking patterns, and the technology. All systems within the larger organizational system must be explicitly designed in a manner similar to the thinking behind designing a product, but the focus must be on the dynamic interactions and the thinking patterns of the human elements that help meet the primary goals of cost, quality, time to market, safety, morale, and predictability at all levels.

The real “lean” in the Lean world (or the “agile” in the Agile world) will manifest only when an organization’s focus is on the development of the whole organizational system.

But there are challenges. Mainstream Lean thinking of “the core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste” is itself a big problem. That definition can be an outcome of a successful Lean organization, but such a “Lean organization” will lose all capabilities needed to adapt in an uncertain, unpredictable environment. When we dig deeper into the thinking process behind the manufacturing innovation of the Toyota Production System (TPS), we realize that the output of any manufacturing or production process could sink due to uncertain market forces where unpredictability is very high due to socioeconomic and political factors. Future demand for the products or services may vary from 0%-100%; likewise, consumer tastes for product variety may require high variability in product configuration at the manufacturing stage for products such as cars.

How can your whole organizational system meet this unpredictability on demand and face the challenges of keeping the costs of the overall system at a competitive level? Effectiveness and efficiency of a certain production process is just a local optimization; the entire organizational system resides in an uncertain and unpredictable environment. How can we handle such unpredictability? When we look at an entire organizational system through a prism of all potential market forces, we realize that any manufacturing innovation (e.g., TPS) is also working strenuously to maintain its stability in a highly unpredictable and uncertain environment.

Foundational Thinking

First, know the boundaries of your social organization’s systems, which can be a business unit, a program team, or an entire organization, while recognizing that boundaries are fuzzy and may change over time. Each of your social organization’s systems may have multiple social systems at any given time, and all these social systems can be concentric and overlapping. A project or program team may be one of several social systems, for example. So the focus must be on identifying those social systems and then developing each one.

Second, be aware that every element/level in the organization is a frontline;4 there is no dichotomy of centralization versus decentralization, and every thought process and element must be balanced and optimized in accordance with the whole context.

Third, be aware that the way you develop capabilities will be through a process of analysis and synthesis and an integration of all ideas and theories from all disciplines (e.g., management models, science, nature, psychology, neuroscience, mathematics, organizational behavior, technical practices of the domain area).

How Can You Begin Your Journey? Be Water and Tame the Flow - The TameFlow Approach.

The message is clear if you look at the definition and layout of the foundation of your Lean/Agile practice from a philosophical perspective. When we attempt to exert our will, we always meet resistance that impedes the effort being expended. If, on the other hand, we can learn, like Bruce Lee, to “be like water,”11 we experience the following:

Only when the inner waters off your mind are completely calm, can you be truly natural. In sync with nature. Your own self. That is the true union of the self with the divine.

Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible, nothing can surpass it.
The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

—Tao philosophy of water

Know the context, know where you are heading(true north, ideally), know the problem-solving tools, be like water within the context, and, once there, maintain true north.

The TameFlow approach is grounded in patterns: a solution to a problem in CONTEXT. The more the organization becomes aware of the many interrelated(pattern language!) contexts that makes up its reality, the more it will “know itself.” To be like water, you must first know yourself to transform your shape and form within your changing contexts and layout your path forward stet-by-step and design emerging whole systems by using the metaphors and concepts of The Jeep, The Jungle, and The Journey, these are the corresponding respective terms for the Work Process, the Work Flow and the Work Execution.

In addition, the metaphor of “Herbie’ makes you aware of your weaknesses. The story of the ‘patient in the hospital’ makes you focus on your purpose.


I would like to express my deep and sincere gratitude and thanks to Mr. Steve Tendon, The Creator of TameFlow and Managing Director of TameFlow Consulting Limited, for reviewing the article and giving feedback and suggestions to the section “Be Water and Tame the Flow - The TameFlow Approach.

I would like to express my deep and sincere gratitude and thanks to Mr. Daniel Doiron, Author of ‘Tame your flow’- Ultimate Agile/Kanban Book on Financial Throughput for Immediate Exponential Returns and VP of TameFlow Consulting Limited, for reviewing this article from the initial draft stages to this final shape.


Sri Garapati is the founder and Principal of The Agility Mind Inc and an independent freelance consultant and researcher in organizational design, social systems, and its underlying challenges. He has more than 18 years’ experience in IT, healthcare, and the technology industry at various levels, from executive to program/project management. Mr. Garapati’s work has focused on strategic planning, business unit development, IT applications, software product development, and organizational design. His unique skills allow him to take raw ideas/concepts through to product development and fully functioning business units; he has developed four different business units in startup mode. Mr. Garapati also brings to his work various concepts and models from Agile, Lean, TOC, and systems thinking, as well as from the sciences of complexity, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, human nature, and several others, to help in designing organizations agnostic to models/ frameworks and tailoring these ideas to the organization’s environment. His strengths foster the designing of a learning organization that will evolve through shared understanding, values, principles, and problem-solving tools. Mr. Garapati holds a patent for a software product through Xerox Corporation. He can be reached at and and


1Krafcik, John F. “Triumph of the Lean Production System.” Sloan Management Review , Vol. 30, No. 1, Fall 1988 (https://

2“James P. Womack” ( James_P._Womack).

3“What Is Lean?” (

4Weick, Karl E., andKathleen M. Sutcliffe. Managing the Unexpected: Sustained Performance in a Complex World. 3rd edition. Jossey-Bass, September 2015.

5Ghrajedaghi, Jamshid. Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity. 3rd edition. Morgan Kaufmann, 2011.

11Popova, Maria. “Be Like Water: The Philosophy and Origin of Bruce Lee’s Famous Metaphor for Resilience.” Brain Pickings , 29 May 2013 ( water-bruce-lee-artist-of-life/).

Know more about The TameFlow approach and get the book at discount here

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Nice work Sri – I really enjoyed this read! ‘Be like water’ is central. We get into certain trouble otherwise.

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