We had a great turn-out and received very positive feedback at our last Lunch & Lead Series on the topic of "Leading Problem Solving", however, we also received some comments that it was difficult for those in non-manufacturing spaces to relate to how they can lead problem solving in their area.  Over the next few posts, we'll cover off the topics from the Lunch and Lead Series but with a non-manufacturing focus.

 

If you missed the Lunch & Lead Series, it is available free at our on-line content site here as a “course” but don’t let the terminology fool you, it is just the video recording of the event, divided up into smaller duration “lectures” that correspond to each of the agenda items. Go check it out…

 

The first topic was the establishment of standards that within a very short period of time, as in a few seconds, anyone can determine if something is normal or abnormal.  As in manufacturing,  visualization of some standards in non-manufacturing areas are relatively easy.  These are the things that when out of standard negatively impact the team’s ability to do their work. 

 

Examples could include a common reference library of regulations, policies, or other documented information. Being able to quickly find what you’re looking for or identifying any that may have been misplaced can prove very helpful, save time, and reduce frustrations. In the virtual world, similar standards are useful for organizing digital storage by establishing standard file structures and nomenclature.

 

Other examples could be as simple of establishing standards around team supplies, tooling, or equipment.

 

 

In non-manufacturing areas the challenge often is that the “work” and “work flow” is not overly visible. For example, an engineering project is comprised of various tasks that engineers need to complete. The challenge here is that often with development type work, the engineers are dealing with a lot of unknowns or because it maybe the first time creating “something” there are no standards for it. In these cases, you want to establish standards around the work flow, provide a framework of generally accepted principles or benchmarks, and provide clear escalation mechanisms when things are not going as expected or planned. An effective way to visualize these is through a visual control board.

 

In the first example we will use a technical team that is responsible for completing some type of project type work. This could be product design, tooling or test equipment design, or construction/fabrication.

 

 

The layout of the board would be done in such a manner as to indicate the tasks that need to be completed by whom within a “standard” period of time. These standards could be industry standards, standard times as determined by the organization, benchmarks, or in the case of creative/innovative never been done before work, best guess estimations or established service level agreements (SLAs). It can also be with reference to the project milestones. Often, there is a strong reluctance to do this because of the “unknowness” of how long it should take to complete these tasks, however, referencing to the milestones allows for faster visibility of potential project delays or impacts. This should not be used to place blame or put undue pressure on those involved, but rather, provide the opportunity for escalation that can lead to additional resources, rescheduling of downstream tasks, and/or important communication of the status of the project to critical stakeholders.

 

Typically this would be visualized by day for a 1 to 2 week window for each person assigned to the project within a specific team. The board can be either physical or virtual board as long as the task assignments by day by week can be displayed. Each day the board is reviewed by those working on the tasks and their next level up leader. At the daily review, abnormalities to the standards would be very visible indicating a task is behind or that there has been some kind of difficulty or risk associated with it identified.

 

 

A pareto of issues can be created and built each day to help the team focus on the biggest issues that impact their work. Often in these types of situations, unplanned work plays a key role and has a significant impact on the teams ability to complete their project(s). Using a different colour sticky in this case to indicate unplanned work is very visual and can easily be tracked in the pareto as an issue. The leader can then assist the team in quickly resolving the issue through problem solving. The problem solving should not occur at the meeting, but rather a commitment made between the appropriate stakeholders as to what the next steps are and by when.

 

In the second example we’ll review a procurement situation. Typically a procurement team’s work flow is within a computer system. However, critical information is also usually available within those same systems. Again using a visual board and placing critical reports on them with visualization of abnormalities to standards is a good approach. For example, perhaps there are SLAs as to how long it should take for a purchase order (PO) to be placed. An aging report or having each buyer indicate which of their purchase requisitions (PR) are out of that standard helps to visualize purchasing abnormalities. Unfortunately, too often, we can experience payment problems to our vendors and then get ourselves into trouble when they refuse to continue to ship. Then talk about abnormal work to clear that up! Perhaps a metric that shows outstanding payment aging would be beneficial to avoid such situations. Again the abnormalities can be tracked in a form of a pareto for deeper analysis and problem solving. The point is to identify the aspects of the teams workflow that can or is having the biggest impact on their ability to effectively do their job or on the organization.

 

A third example is for a sales and marketing team.  They can visualize their work flow on a visual board and meet daily to review.  They could visualize main proposal work content and status.  Discuss new risks that arise that may pose a threat to winning the project, as well as visualizing the probability of a win and the financial status of the sales plan vs actual.  They can also capture lessons learned to improve their quoting and proposal process to drive continuous improvement, as well as to quickly identify abnormalities or issues that could impact a proposal so that problem solving is quickly initiated and/or escalated.

Although non-manufacturing work tasks are less naturally physically visible, the same principles apply.

 

You need to establish the standards the team is to follow, make them visible in some manner usually through a visual board, and then there needs to be some form of controls in place to manage and problem solve through the abnormalities.

Controls could include variance to SLAs, escalation mechanisms, layered process audits to confirm standards and identify areas needing focus, for example.

 

 

 

In the next post, we’ll discuss how TIM WOODS can apply to non-manufacturing areas.

 

 

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Visual control boards may not look overly complex, but establishing an effective board and establishing a robust review cadence can be more challenging than initially anticipated.  The benefits, however, can be phenomenal!  We learned first hand what some of these benefits are during a recent visual control benchmarking gemba.

 

On 12 and 13 February, High Performance Leaders Inc. (HPL) facilitated a visual control board workshop for the Technology Team lead by Travis Vokey, VP and Head of Technology at Dream Unlimited.  The first day was a workshop focused on the key attributes of visual control boards, and a working session to begin defining the team's value proposition and key performance metrics.  On the second day, there was a benchmarking gemba to Crystal Fountains, Baylis Medical, and Bell Mobility to see and learn first hand from their experiences and existing visual control boards.

 

Our focus during the benchmarking gemba was to see non-manufacturing areas.  Since there can be a stigma that visual control boards are only for manufacturing, we wanted to see how different businesses, industries, and non-manufacturing teams set-up their boards and use them.  We saw boards used by Sales & Marketing, Product Design, Process Engineering, Equipment Engineering, Project Management, and yes one from Manufacturing.  We reviewed boards at the tier 1, 2, 3, and 4 levels, with tier 1 being at the working staff level and level 4 the organizational level.  Each host company had a representative appropriate for each level of board explain how their boards work and how they are used.

 

The Dream team was able to participate in a regular daily huddle in action while at Crystal Fountains.  It was fantastic to see and hear the enthusiasm and see the high level of engagement from each of the host company staff members.  They were all believers in visual boards.  However, that was not always the case.  When we asked an engineering team who was the biggest skeptic when they first introduced the boards, an engineer stepped forward and boldly said "Oh, that would have been me!"  He went on to explain that he first thought it would just be more work and a waste of time.  However, now he admits, the board and the daily huddle has improved communication and work distribution.  He's now a believer!

 

It was motivational to listen to each of the host company staff members talk about what they like about the boards and how they have made their jobs easier, improved team work, and driven solid improvements.  Here's some of benefits and results they shared with the Dream team:

 

  • The boards and huddle have improved our cross-functional communications
  • We have much better visibility to unplanned work
  • Saves so much time and there's less stress
  • Made us care about each others work, and we want to help each other
  • I know what's going on now
  • It's not about not being successful (when a target is missed), but rather what do you need to be successful
  • People feel empowered to get things done

 

When properly established, visual control boards add value to both the teams and the leaders.  Laura Conquergood, VP of Operations at Baylis Medical said, "when I want an update on a project, we just go to the board.  We don't schedule a meeting."  Jongmu Lee, Director Creative Operations at Crystal Fountains said, "whether I'm in the building or not, I know the team is coming together and discussing important topics."  Many of the team members and leaders at all 3 host companies similarly stated, that communications had improved and wasteful meetings had been dramatically reduced.

 

At Bell Mobility, the Regional Operations team is involved in over 2,000 projects across the country.  Approximately 8 years ago they started tracking key aspects of their projects using typical white board style visual control boards.  Then about 3 years ago they implemented digital boards (D-boards) to track and coordinate these massive projects between all stakeholders across the company.

 

According to Nitin Gautam, Network Access Manager and Robert Dillenbeck, Senior Manager, Territory Operations at Bell Mobility, the D-boards provided certain advantages over the traditional visual control boards including:

 

  • Reduced cycle times to update the boards and get information
  • Staff working remotely can keep informed through the D-boards and have better engagement and participation in meetings
  • Quicker access to graphs and all data
  • Easier to roll up information and data from tier 1 to tier 4 levels
  • Executives can retrieve updates and information without requiring meetings to obtain project status

 

In my opinion, D-boards should be implemented with extreme caution.  As discussed in a previous article Should Smart Screens Replace Pen & Paper on the Shop Floor?, D-boards can be problematic with potentially lowering visibility if they are not frequently and routinely interacted with becoming nothing more than a information board that over time can become virtually invisible.  The most concerning problem though, is that changes to what is tracked and displayed can be slow and costly to revise and continuously improve.  So, if D-boards are going to be implemented, be sure to anticipate these problems had have a solid plan to address and overcome them.  No doubt they can be powerful and do offer some great benefits, but do watch out for the pitfalls.

 

The Dream team learned a lot and received some good advice from the 3 host companies.  A few of the key points they were advised on included:

 

  • Just start, don't wait for perfection
  • Encourage rapid cycles of improvement to the boards as you go
  • Make the boards easy to change quickly and easily
  • Use habit changing challenges to motivate and create new disciplines around the board cadence and routines
  • The staff or team members own the tier 1 boards meaning they update them and report out on status, not the managers

 

The two day workshop concluded with a Dream debrief where each of the Dream leaders identified the biggest thing that they had learned, and each making a commitment as to what they were going to do when they returned to their office.  With the mystery of visual control boards revealed, they are excited to embark on this exciting journey.

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