Spaghetti diagrams

What do you call an incorrectly labeled spaghetti diagram? An impasta! Bad joke aside, spaghetti diagrams may be the answer to your space-planning woes. Simple to make and containing powerful insights, spaghetti diagrams help increase the efficiency of your office and manufacturing spaces with little more than pen and paper.

Is your space in hot water?

Are you always having to walk across the room to access files you use ten times a day? What about having to travel across a warehouse to look for paper for each new job? The way in which a space is laid out greatly affects how work gets done in that space. Well-thought-out office or manufacturing space should create a smooth flow of work, materials and information. Well designed spaces should integrate the needs of people who use them, materials in the space (raw materials, work in progress, and finished products), as well as equipment, into a single functioning system. If you’ve ever worked in a space that’s haphazard, ill-planned or chaotic, you know first-hand how frustrating and counterproductive it can be.

A common area for improvement in spatial layout relates to material handling. Business consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan estimates that 30% to 75% of labour costs are associated with material handling. This makes sense when you think about how often material is touched, from the time it enters a facility to the time it leaves as a saleable product. Poor space management is a leading contributor to the overhandling of material. The least expensive and fastest way to increase the efficiency of a space (and therefore increase the productivity of people and equipment in the space), is to re-think the layout.

Making spaghetti

A spaghetti diagram looks just like…..well, spaghetti! It aims to visually illustrate the way in which processes or products flow through a space. First, start with a sketch of the space you’re looking to improve. Next, get a pen and paper and track the movement of a worker in the space using a continuous line for a length of time, to end up with a path that looks like spaghetti. Remember that the goal of these diagrams is to produce real data that can be analyzed to help eliminate redundancies and expedite process flow. It’s all about removing subjectivity in favour of objectivity for more informed decision making.

Cooking up good data

Here are a few things to consider when collecting data using spaghetti diagrams:

  1. Be as transparent as possible with your staff to let them know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Showing up in someone’s workspace with a clipboard is not only a recipe for creating resentment and fear, but it’s also a recipe for bad data. Chances are your staff will change the way they work (resulting in inaccurate data), whether deliberately or subconsciously.
  2. Label your diagram with the date, time and team member you’re following to keep your information as detailed and as accurate as possible for analysis later on.
  3. Make a spaghetti diagram for different locations around your facility. Depending on how ambitious you’re feeling, it might make sense to start with a space that needs minor adjustments, versus major adjustments. By focusing on a few “practice spaces” and accomplishing small wins, you’ll gain the confidence and skills to tackle more daunting spaces.
  4. Make a spaghetti diagram for each member on a team (using a different coloured pen for each), as well as each different team who works in that particular space. Perhaps the space is being used more effectively by some teams than others – which could be a training issue rather than a space issue.

Spaghetti diagrams help management teams make fact-based decisions about space planning, versus moving equipment and materials arbitrarily, or based on what ‘looks good’ in the space. A space may be set up for logical flow of movement, maximizing material handling, safety, and/or ease of future expansion. But ultimately it’s important that a space works for the people who use it most.



Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.