Keep it simple – we don’t have time for all this Lean stuff!
By far the biggest obstacle to the deployment of visual management systems is trust.
During a recent VMS workshop, I talked participants through a methodology to design a visual management system for a value stream.
There are two main components: visual process adherence and visual process performance.
I was amazed to find that several of the delegates struggled with the process adherence part of the system. They found it very easy to identify the process performance components. After all, these are the things we’re most familiar with – attractive looking charts updated regularly to show performance over time.
Which do you think is more useful?
- A graph displaying data of what has happened.
- A visual indication of current conditions that you can use to make decisions and take action continuously throughout the day.
“VMS should be used to manage rather than for management. It’s an active not a passive system.” – Drew Locher
Visual control can trigger action
People often say to me ‘we don’t have time for this lean stuff’. I tell them that visual control is actually easier to maintain over time. There’s no need to collect and input data, then create, print and post charts.
A classic example comes from a VSM workshop where a group wanted to monitor lead times through an area. They planned to create a data collection system that would allow them to calculate the average lead time in the area. The results would be displayed in the relevant area of the plant.
I challenged them: surely understanding why an order didn’t get processed in a timely manner and how to correct it is more valuable than knowing the ‘average’ lead time. Their plan had very limited value in managing the flow through the area.
By following the ‘keep it simple’ rule the group came up with a visual colour coding system to immediately identify orders that were in the area longer than they should have been on any day of the week.
Electronic versus manual
Simple and visual is better than complex and elegant. But it’s about more than aesthetics. When people manually maintain charts or some other visual indicator of performance this comes with a sense of ownership. They believe in the figures because they put them there. Discussion can move directly to how we can change those numbers in a positive way.
I would encourage you to take a look at your own Visual Management Systems and answer these two questions:
- Are they just reporting on what has already happened, or are they used to facilitate continuous improvement on a daily basis?
- Have they become ‘wallpaper’ that people walk past and occasionally glance at, or are they an active part of your visual management system?
Your answers might lead you towards a more comprehensive system that has more tangible and timely benefits to your organisation.
About Drew Locher
Drew Locher is a Lean Specialist & Kata Instructor. He first became involved in the development and delivery of innovative business improvement programs while working for General Electric in the 1980s. Since 2001, he has been a faculty member of the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) the not-for-profit organization of Jim Womack, the co-author of Lean Thinking. Drew is currently an instructor in ISD’s Improvement Kata & Coaching Kata course and developer of the new Lean Leadership program at the University of Michigan.
Drew regularly facilitates learning experiences on behalf of True North Excellence and we are delighted to welcome him again to our Kata Coaching and Improvement workshop in Coventry on 12-13th November 2018.