Blog Archives

Guest Post: NBA and Jon Spoelstra

This week is Lean series week at Beyond Lean.  The blog posts will center around strategy deployment (or Hoshin Kanri).  Justin Tomac, Chad Walters, Karen Wilhelm and Tony Ferraro will be guest blogging.  This will give you different perspectives from on strategy deployment all right here at Beyond Lean.

Chad_WaltersToday’s post is from Chad Walters.  Chad is a Lean consultant and owner of Lean Blitz Consulting in Augusta, Georgia, a firm focused on continuous improvement for small businesses and sports organizations. He has run projects for the Atlanta Braves, the Salvation Army, Automatic Data Processing (ADP), Eaton Corporation, The Dannon Company, and the South Bend Silver Hawks among other companies. He has been practicing Lean and continuous improvement for over eight years, is a Six Sigma Black Belt certified by the American Society for Quality, and received his MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, where he was a member of the Kelley MBA Sports & Entertainment Academy.  You can follow Chad on Twitter @LeanBlitz.

One of the great features of genuine hoshin thinking is focusing on the future and big picture goals while moving away from some of the negative focus on resource constraints. With hoshin kanri, we set a destination, and based on our current location determine the proper path to follow to achieve our destination. Worrying about what we’re not allowed to do is what keeps us from reaching for what is genuinely possible to achieve.

While I have been labeled a “devotee of lean management” in a recent article by a baseball writer (and I most definitely am) I absolutely love creative marketing. One of my favorite and most influential books I’ve read is Marketing Outrageously by Jon Spoelstra. He is the former President of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets and General Manager of the Portland Trail Blazers among other influential positions, but he is a marketing savant when it comes to driving revenue growth through creative marketing.

The following is a passage from Marketing Outrageously that has stuck with me ever since I first read the pages. Spoelstra shows that a top-down hoshin-like “What’s it gonna take to do this?” approach can have an energizing effect on a team.


In the late 1980s I was general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers. Even though I didn’t have the authority to draft or trade players I could call meetings with those who did. I assembled the coaches and plaer personnel managers and asked the question, “What’s it gonna take to win the championship this year?”

Logically, it was a foolish question. This was the era when Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were leading the Los Angeles Lakers to regular championships. When the Lakers didn’t win, Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics did. Lining up to cut in on the Lakers and Celtics were Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. So how stupid was my question, “What’s it going to take to win the NBA championship this year?

On paper we didn’t have a chance; in our minds, less than no chance. We were, however, a pretty good team. We had won fifty-three games the year before. Considering all this, I wanted us to think beyond what we had.

The player personnel people took the question as an insult. I could hear them thinking, “Who does this marketing guy think he is?” They fumed and grumbled for a while.

I asked the question again. “What’s it going to take to win a championship this year?”

Silence. Finally, John Wetzel, an assistant coach, said, “One thing we need to do is really improve our outside shooting. We need some guy that can come off the bench and really fill it up.”

Two shooters,” said Rick Adelman, another assistant. “When we get to the playoffs, we can’t run our fast break as much, and the middle gets clogged up. We need two reliable shooters coming off the bench.”

We talked for two hours. Head coach Mike Shuler was enthusiastic, salivating over the thought of somehow acquiring two bona fide outside shooters. We made a list of players who might be available. We came away from the meeting with assignments for each of us to start making inquiries with other teams.

Later, Rick Adelman told me, “I’ve been in a lot of player personnel meetings over the years, and this was the best. We actually talked about winning a championship and what that would take.”

Did I think we had a chance to win the championship this year? Not really. But I knew we had no chance to improve unless we set the target higher than what was comfortable.


Sports teams that are a mish-mash of talented players that aren’t cohesive or working together generally don’t win championships. Companies don’t consistently “luck into success” – it takes an overarching end goal and a strategic plan to get there.

So why did this meeting change the mindset of the franchise? The leader set a high goal to achieve – win a championship – and instead of saying “now go do it” to his subordinates he asked what does the team need in order to achieve it? He didn’t talk about constraints or resources, he just wanted to know what was needed in order to create a championship team.

Now that the team’s genuine needs for winning a championship were identified, the load fell on everyone’s shoulders to procure those resources, whether it was outside shooters or additional money or anything else. However, the organization was aligned to this one goal and clearly it drove motivation because all were now pulling in the same direction. If they needed to eliminate resource constraints by finding more money, they would hire more ticket sellers.

By using a hoshin kanri approach the focus for the Portland Trail Blazers changed from “here’s why we can’t” to “What is it going to take?”

Guest Post: Moneyball – Hoshin Kanri

This week is Lean series week at Beyond Lean.  The blog posts will center around strategy deployment (or Hoshin Kanri).  Justin Tomac, Chad Walters, Karen Wilhelm and Tony Ferraro will be guest blogging.  This will give you different perspectives from on strategy deployment all right here at Beyond Lean.

Chad_WaltersToday’s post is from Chad Walters.  Chad is a Lean consultant and owner of Lean Blitz Consulting in Augusta, Georgia, a firm focused on continuous improvement for small businesses and sports organizations. He has run projects for the Atlanta Braves, the Salvation Army, Automatic Data Processing (ADP), Eaton Corporation, The Dannon Company, and the South Bend Silver Hawks among other companies. He has been practicing Lean and continuous improvement for over eight years, is a Six Sigma Black Belt certified by the American Society for Quality, and received his MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, where he was a member of the Kelley MBA Sports & Entertainment Academy.  You can follow Chad on Twitter @LeanBlitz.

The book Moneyball by Michael Lewis not only lays out the top-to-bottom game strategy employed by the front office of the Oakland Athletics under team general manager Billy Beane in 2001/2002, but it also serves as a demonstration of how major philosophical and operational changes require a leader willing to stay the course during trying times and full alignment of resources to accomplishing the overarching goal.

For those who are unfamiliar, Moneyball was a paradigm-shifting revelation to the way baseball front offices evaluated and valued players – greater focus on specific statistics (on-base percentage) and valuing the concept of “not making outs,” among other things. Not only did it change the way front offices operated, but it also brought the essentially-foreign concept of efficiency to a boys’ game. The Oakland Athletics, in an effort to compete with the big spenders while on a shoestring budget themselves, employed statistical analysis with baseball players to take advantages of inefficiencies in the game. In 2011 Moneyball was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane and Jonah Hill as assistant general manager Peter Brand (the name chosen by the writers when the real assistant general manager at the time Paul DePodesta wouldn’t permit his name to be used in the movie). The movie was great, but really only if you read the book first.

Lean practitioners who were also sports fans loved the entire concept of the story – it wasn’t just about doing things differently, but doing things smarter and better and bringing a cerebral approach to the game they loved. It was about change management in the face of adversity, only it happened to be in the industry of baseball.

The Athletics didn’t coin the term “Moneyball” but their overarching goal of maximizing the ratio of team victories to payroll through the use of statistics measuring team efficiency is a great example of hoshin kanri – the entire organization was aligned to the unique operational strategy to achieve this end goal of maximizing team on-field production.

In an industry where “the way it’s always been done” runs rampant moreso than any other due to the very public nature of the business, achieving organizational alignment was tough and the team’s leaders took steps to forcefully (rightly or wrongly) assure its implementation.

How did the Oakland Athletics demonstrate hoshin kanri?

  • Change management started at the top. “How baseball players are evaluated” was the change that occurred with the Athletics. They (like all other major league teams) had almost solely leaned upon scouts to evaluate players based simply on watching the players firsthand, because “that’s the way they had always been doing it.” Billy Beanewanted to change the approach to include statistical analysis, and because he oversaw the team’s scouting departmentand on-field operations it was his call. Contrast that with Peter Brand, who before being hired by Billy was a low-level advisor to then-Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro. Peter had no pull in the office, despite possessing superior education and mathematical analysis skills, so he would not have been able to influence such a monumental philosophical change.
  • “Adapt or die.” While this is quite the fatalistic view on change management, it was the philosophy Billy and the Athletics had to adopt. They had a payroll that was less than 1/3 that of the New York Yankees, so the Athletics had to go “bargain hunting” for undervalued players who featured the undervalued talents like high on-base percentages. In order for them to have a chance to compete with teams like the Yankees they had to be smarter with their dollars.
  • “Trust the process.” Billy and Peter believed in this new philosophy, and their faith was certainly tested when the team started the season poorly. They were aware that the successes would take time to arrive, and multiple tweaks to
    the process (and the process users) would occur. For example…
  • The organization’s activities had to be aligned with the overarching goals. The Athletics scouting department (including lead scout Grady Fuson) were fundamentally opposed to the idea of focusing on statistics instead of what they saw from players with their own eyes. The tension between the two philosophies became so heated that (according to the movie) Billy and Grady had an altercation that led to Grady getting fired. (Adapt or die, indeed.) While scary, it is important for all process users to buy into the change.
  • “So what’s our problem?” One of the favorite Lean tools is the “Five Whys.” When we encounter a problem, we should follow up our analysis of the cause by asking “why” five times. Billy did the same thing, continually asking “So what’s our problem?” to get down to the root of the issues.
    “We aren’t winning.”
    “So what’s our problem?”
    “We aren’t scoring enough runs.”
    “So what’s our problem?”
    “We aren’t getting enough guys on base.”
    “So what’s our problem?”
    “We are making too many outs?”
  • The ultimate poka-yoke. Billy and Peter had specifically signed former catcher Scott Hatteberg to play first base (because of his high rate of reaching base as a hitter), yet manager Art Howe refused to play him, instead opting for young first baseman Carlos Pena. Art Howe had not bought into the new philosophy. How could Billy make absolutely sure that Art would start Hatteberg going forward? Just get rid of all other first basemen on the roster! Billy traded Pena to the Detroit Tigers, Hatteberg became the new first baseman, and…
    Belief in the process and persevering can bring great rewards. …the Athletics set a record by winning 20 straight games on their way to winning the American League West division.
  • “The first guy through the wall gets bloody.” Billy was indeed the first guy to break down the wall, but the paradigm shift in all of baseball was on. In fact, the on-field success of the Athletics despite the miniscule payroll was so revolutionary that Billy Beane was offered the role of general manager of the Boston Red Sox (one of those teams with a huge payroll but inability to win the World Series). He turned the job down to stay with the Athletics, but the Red Sox won the World Series two years later with general manager Theo Epstein at the helm, using the same philosophies introduced by Billy and the Athletics.

Moneyball is the ultimate triumphant change management story, and we all aspire to such a heroic chain of events. It required a philosophy, leaders who not only believed in it but stuck with it through difficult times, process users and followers who were in alignment, and a lot of courage to try something new – unlike most traditional companies, the success of the Oakland Athletics is in plain sight for everyone in the world to see.

Guest Post: Tracing the evolution of strategy deployment

This week is Lean series week at Beyond Lean.  The blog posts will center around strategy deployment (or Hoshin Kanri).  Justin Tomac, Chad Walters, Karen Wilhelm and Tony Ferraro will be guest blogging.  This will give you different perspectives from on strategy deployment all right here at Beyond Lean.

kw-prof-dec2011-3qtr-tanToday’s post is from Karen Wilhelm.  Karen has inspired me to connect and learn more through blogging.  It has been great communicating with Karen over the last few years.  Her insights are always enlightening.  This is part one of a two part series.  The second part will post on Karen’s blog.

Part One: Japanese manufacturing leaders listen to Dr. Juran

As hoshin kanri — also called policy or strategy deployment — becomes better understood through Matt’s blog series, I thought I’d trace some of its roots, as described in some key publications. As with all things lean, hoshin kanri can mean many things to many people.  Three key figures who brought hoshin kanri to light saw it from different perspectives too.

In 1951, for example, Dr. Joseph Juran gave a talk at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF, 1951) — formerly the Army War College — to engineers involved in procurement of high-precision parts for armaments. Titled “Quality Control and Inspection,” the lecture focused on product quality characteristics and the use of statistical quality control (SQC). He talked about how assuring quality in product design and manufacturing processes instead of inspecting and rejecting parts that did not meet specs. In this particular talk, Juran only fleetingly touched upon cross-functional communication, continuous improvement, and other critical concepts included in hoshin kanri.

As many of you know, around the same time, Dr. Juran (as well as W. Edwards Deming) was speaking to groups of Japanese manufacturers who were more interested in his quality message than those in the U.S. or Europe, Toyota began sending key managers to quality seminars as early as 1949. Along with other seminars, Dr. Juran was asked to hold a special one for the industrial leadership of Japan: 70 presidents of Japanese companies.

Dr_Juran_smallJuran never used the words hoshin kanri, but from the 1950s on, he described an integrated plan for integrating quality into the company’s management system (Juran, 1988). A company taking this path would be developing a quality strategy understood and carried out at every level of the company. Communication and coordination across functional departments would be effective. Upper management would understand and
perform the tasks needed to make the quality strategy take root.

Juran called the highest level of guiding and planning the strategy Total Quality Management (TQM) or sometimes Strategic Quality Management (SQM). Far beyond the control and inspection of product or service quality, these approaches encompass customer demand, competition, and feedback loops. They advocate creating processes to produce high quality products at a reasonable cost. Juran talked about quality deployment as part of the overall strategic plan, mostly with regard to products and their physical characteristics. Although he was sticking to quality deployment, not the deployment of a company’s entire business system, these concepts are hallmarks of hoshin kanri.

Part Two of Tracing the evolution of strategy deployment will be published in Karen
Wilhelm’s Lean Reflections blog.

Joseph Juran, Quality Control and Inspection, Publication L51-94, Industrial
College of the Armed Forces. 1951.

Joseph Juran, Juran on Leadership for Quality: An Executive Handbook, The Free
Press, division of Macmillan. 1998.

Takahiro Fujimoto, The Evolution of a Manufacturing System at Toyota, Oxford
University Press. 1999.

Guest Post: Hoshin Planning: Clear Business Objectives Help Guide Success

This week is Lean series week at Beyond Lean.  The blog posts will center around strategy deployment (or Hoshin Kanri).  Justin Tomac, Chad Walters, Karen Wilhelm and Tony Ferraro will be guest blogging.  This will give you different perspectives from on strategy deployment all right here at Beyond Lean.

blogphotoToday’s post is from Tony Ferraro, on behalf of Creative Safety Supply based in Portland, OR ( Tony strives to provide helpful information to create safer and more efficient industrial work environments. His knowledge base focuses primarily on practices such as 5S, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and the Lean mindset. Tony believes in being proactive and that for positive change to happen, we must be willing to be transparent and actively seek out areas in need of improvement. An organized, safe, and well-planned work space leads to increased productivity, quality products and happier employees.

There are many businesses out there proposing new and creative ideas but somehow lack the guidance and direction to make a good product idea a successful reality. What is it that curbs these business ventures? Is it funding? Is it technology? Or is it a true sense of guidance and leadership? In most cases, the unfortunate truth is that a great product idea or truly unique business plot will flounder and fail without a strategic direction and strong force of leadership helping to guide business objectives. One of the ways to meet this need is to implement the principles of Hoshin Kanri or simply Hoshin Planning. Hoshin Planning is a Japanese term that basically means “strategic planning.” This type of planning strives to really involve all employees in the objectives and improvements within the organization. Top levels of management make it a priority to assure that that all employees feel involved and that they are working as one big team towards a common goal. With this mindset there are no winners or losers within the company, it is purely a team effort and everyone participates and is accountable to help in meeting the identified objectives. The need for continuous improvement is also a highly valued component in this type of planning.

Possible Hoshin Objectives

One of the first and most important steps within Hoshin Planning is to identify the areas in need of improvement, and since Hoshin Planning is about setting clear business objectives it is important identify which objectives are most valuable to the livelihood of the business. Some common continuous improvement objectives include: increasing production, improving current market share along with new market sales, reducing raw material costs and also reducing direct and indirect labor costs. The reason this step is so vital is because everything can’t be tackled at once, think of the analogy that the “big rocks” must be taken care of first in order to start focusing on the “little rocks.”

Organizing Objectives for Clear Measurement

Unfortunately, objectives are merely a list of far-fetched desires if they are not organized properly for action. Sure, a group of leaders can set aside some time to devise a list of company objectives and write them neatly upon a fancy sheet of paper. However, without a concrete plan to guide the objectives the objective planning session would be deemed useless, and the paper may even end up getting lost in someone’s briefcase only to stumble upon it again weeks later. Instead, once objectives are identified they need to be taken seriously and should be categorized and organized for efficiency. For example, once a group of leaders has clearly identified the objectives they would like to implement into the business, they could categorize them into four different types such as improvement projects, specific action projects, 3-5 goals, and annual objectives. By doing this, top company leaders as well as employees will be able to visualize the different objectives and goals and really understand the time frames behind them as well. Essentially this sets the stage for developing the approaches needed to help pursue the stated objectives and goals when moving on to the strategy development phase of Hoshin Planning.

Hoshin Planning is really a dynamic and multifaceted form of strategic planning which involves all areas of a business. However, in order to reach optimum effectiveness all staff should be on board and involved. With that said, and in conjunction with the right objectives, Hoshin Planning can be a huge asset to any business looking to improve overall company performance.

Guest Post: A Few Thoughts on Policy Deployment

This week is Lean series week at Beyond Lean.  The blog posts will center around strategy deployment (or Hoshin Kanri).  Justin Tomac, Chad Walters, Karen Wilhelm and Tony Ferraro will be guest blogging.  This will give you different perspectives from on strategy deployment all right here at Beyond Lean.

Today’s post is from Justin Tomac.  Justin and I have worked together for the last five years.  My knowledge of strategy deployment has really grown since I have worked with him.  Justin Tomac has been a Lean practitioner a year or two shy of two decades.  His Lean background consists of various deployments with hands-on office, engineering and shop floor transformations with mentoring and training being provided by TBM and Shingijutsu consultants.  A GE certified Six Sigma Black Belt, he has an Industrial Engineering degree from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and an Engineering Management masters from Wichita State University.  If you would like to contact Justin he may be reached at

A lot of articles and books have been written about Policy Deployment, with the focus primarily on the high level concept with exhaustive studies on implementation.  Most of us understand conceptually what Policy Deployment is, where it appears to break down is during the implementation and sustainment.  As you may know, sustainment is a key indicator of how well a concept is understood and implemented by an organization.

Below are a few key characteristics of what a Sustained Policy Deployment look like:

1)      Organic and Living.  Policy Deployment should not be a one and done planning and execution exercise.  Monthly reviews with Quarterly or Semi-Annual Adjustments highlight an active Policy Deployment. The health of these Reviews or Adjustments can be determined by How meaningful the actions and results are.

2)      Influences the Behavior and the Culture.  A robust Policy Deployment process exists to solve the various issues related to horizontal and vertical alignment of objectives, goals and priorities for a Company, Division or Department.  What the boss measures and deems important only lasts as long as the Culture allows.  Organizations that struggle with accountability, communicating (vertically and/or horizontally) strategies or tactics, simplification, etc., have Cultural issues.  I heard a saying, “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast”, why not flip this and make Culture the main dish for the morning meal?

3)      A flexible, structured Process (not a fill-in the blank exercise).  I find it interesting that when Policy Deployment is brought up, out fly the different templates, forms, etc.  In the end, does the form or template set the Strategies or drive the priorities?  Policy Deployment should be a process that examines the business top down and sideways, irregardless of what form or template is used.  In the long run, it is what your Culture will allow or likes that will dictate what your Policy Deployment looks like.

Based upon your experiences would you agree and/or add to these?  What say you?

An Overview of Strategy Deployment

This week is Lean series week at Beyond Lean.  The blog posts will center around strategy deployment (or Hoshin Kanri).  Justin Tomac, Chad Walters, Karen Wilhelm and Tony Ferraro will be guest blogging.  This will give you different perspectives from on strategy deployment all right here at Beyond Lean.  I am really excited for this week’s series.  All the posts are great.  Enjoy!

Almost every company will say they have a strategy.  While they may have a great strategy, most companies miss out on deploying that strategy throughout their organization.

Strategy deployment is a key concept that most companies don’t execute well.  Typically, a communication goes out stating  the strategy of the company or it may even be communicated at a large town hall.  This is great, but it is only a single step in the strategy deployment process.

A great strategy deployment process starts at the top with clearly articulated goals for the company.  The executives involve senior management in the process.  They discuss what the goals should be across all parts of the organization and how their areas can help achieve those goals.

Once that has been agreed upon, then the senior management involves the middle management.  They discuss more detailed tactics on how to the middle manager’s area can help achieve the senior manager’s goals and objectives.  It is a two-way discussion with input and clarity from both levels.

This catchball or laddering conversation should happen level by level all the way down to the floor and then all the way back up to the executives.  This should happen a few times.  Not just once.

Here is a good graphic to try and depict the process:


When done well, the benefits of this are enormous.  Everyone starts to understand the strategy and how their work is helping to achieve the vision of that strategy.

The discussion that happens during the catchball phase isn’t just between a team and their manager but also between managers that are peers.  This helps to develop alignment not only up and down the organization but also across the organization.  This alignment helps determine how to use the finite pool of people and cash to best achieve the company’s goals and objectives.

In my experience, company’s that have a great strategy deployment process end up with much better results year-to-year and can sustain those results because of the clear communication and everyone understanding the importance of their work.

Does your company use strategy deployment?  How does it work?

Topic for Lean Series Week

Last year, Beyond Lean hosted two lean series weeks.  The week focused on a specific topic.  Posts were from not only Joe and me but also guests.  Giving the reader a different perspective on one topic for the week all in one place.

Please take the time to answer the poll letting us know what you would like to see as the next topic for the Lean Series week.

The first lean series was on standardized work.

The second series was on visual management.



Poll Results – Thanks for the Feedback

I want to thank everyone who participated in the polls about a month ago.  The information helped me learn more about who is reading the blog and what topics are preferred in order to drive to a higher satisfaction rate of the readers.

Who is reading Beyond Lean?

  1. Mid-Level Managers = 40%
  2. Senior Level Managers = 20%
  3. Consultants = 20%

I suspected this may be the case.  Part of the reason, I am a mid-level manager so my natural perspective is that of a mid-level manager.  It is great to see so many senior level managers reading the blog also.  What encouraged me the most was seeing the fourth largest group to read the blog was direct line employees (17%).  I try to write so it relates to all levels and positions.  Seeing the wide spectrum of positions reading Beyond Lean signals that we are relating to a variety of people well.

What features/topics are favorites?

  1. Posts on Principles/Concepts/Tools = 28%
  2. Posts by Matt and Joe = 25%
  3. Lean Series Week = 14%

Seeing the lean series week get a good response is encouraging because it was something we added this year.  It seems it has been a success.

Do people enjoy the posts on principles/concepts/tools because the posts help the reader address something they are working on and how to apply it?  I hope that is at least part of the reason.  We strive to make the posts applicable and easy to relate to.

The feedback does not mean we will stop posting topics and features that rated low.  The feedback allows us to focus our content.

If you have any other feedback on how to improve the content, please leave a comment.


Visual Management is Critical to Lean

Visual management is a concept that is a part of lean.  In my opinion, it is one of the top 2 or 3 concepts of lean.  Visual management is a concept that allows the lean principles to come to life more easily.  So, what is visual management?

Visual management is a workplace that is a self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating and self-improving environment where what is suppose to happen does, on time, every time because of visual solutions.

From Gwendolyn Galsworth’s book Visual Workplace, Visual Thining.

Lets dive deeper into the definition.

Self-ordering means the environment or system continues to be in good order or orderly.  It is organized in such a way as to enable rapid absorption of information.

Self-explaining refers to the ability to answer questions such as “What is my next job?” or “How much work do we have?” or “What Waste do I see?”

Self-improving occurs when an out of standard situation is immediately obvious through use of visual indicators and people are able to correct it quickly. We all have a responsibility to keep improving.

How does visual management help bring the lean principles to life?

One of the first principles of lean is to directly observe the work as activities, connections and flows.  When the work is visual and clear it becomes much easier for someone to directly observe the work and know what is going on.  They should be able to understand if there is too much inventory in an area or if the work is being done under normal or abnormal conditions.  When visual management is done well, it becomes easy to see and understand the flow of work and how it is progressing.

Two other principles of lean are the systematic elimination of waste and systematic problem solving.  During the direction observation in a visual workplace a person will be able to see extra inventory or rework that is occurring or work stopping because of some problem.  When the waste or problem can be seen quickly and easily it can be fixed before it causes too big of a problem.

A fourth principle of lean is to establish high agreement on both the what and how (or standardization).  You can’t have a good visual management system without using this principle.  Our road systems are a great example.  All directional signs (in the U.S.) are on green signs while visitor site information is on brown signs and speed information is on a white sign outlined in black.  Everyone understands these visual standards which makes getting the information needed easier.

The final lean principle is create a learning organization.  If you can’t see something, you can’t learn about it.  Whether it is a process, data or anything else the best way to learn about it is to make it visual and to see it come to life.

Visual management can be used in many different ways for many different things like understanding the capacity of a project team, knowing the progress of a  major project, what is the status of a machine, do I have too much inventory and the list can go on and on.  When people can understand what is going on without having to dig and ask questions, they get engaged.  The employees gain an understanding and therefore can engage in the problem solving easier.

Understanding visual management and applying it can go a long way to kick starting or restarting your lean efforts.

Saving time: How Visual Management Benefits Knowledge Work

Today’s guest post was written by David M. Kasprzak.  David has worked with all levels of management in large commercial organizations and government agencies on budget development, project planning & performance measurement. Over the course of his career, he has realized that it is the qualitative elements of work that determine success or failure.  Based on this realization, he began to explore the principles of Operational Excellence and Lean process improvement, and apply those concepts to other areas of both work and life.  In 2010, David created the My Flexible Pencil blog to share his ideas on these topics.

Time, as we’re all well aware, is our most precious resource.  When it is gone – it is gone for good.  It doesn’t change form or turn into some other less complicated element – it is simply gone.  When it is used well, we can say that our time was turned into some useful activity or tangible product.  When it is wasted, the shame is greatest, since the time is gone for good and nothing of value was created to take its place.  Yet, for some reason, wasting time seems to be, by-and-large, perfectly okay.

Think of this: What if you hired a group of people to plan, coordinate, and execute taking thousands of dollars from people.  The group you hired became so adept at it that they were able to take that money from people who were so duped they gave it willingly.  What’s more, those who took the money then lit it on fire.

Doing such a thing is, of course, both bizarre and criminal.  However, when we set hapless managers into an organization where they have little ability or willingness to work on the business and not just work in the business, time is taken from people at every turn without so much as an afterthought.  Boring, useless, meaningless drudgery that simply wastes time is so frequently the norm that it is not just tolerated, but expected.

How can this tremendous waste of time be prevented?  Take a look at the typical office environment and you’ll see an immediate answer.  Or, rather, you won’t see it – because you can’t see much of anything.  Most of the workers and, therefore, the work are both hidden behind rows and rows of neutral-colored cubicles.  While some of those workers are, indeed, wasting time by delving into any number of distractions while hunkered down in their fabric-covered boxes, this is not the norm in most places.  The greater shame is that the way they are going about their genuine work is entirely out of the line-of-sight of anyone who is trying to see the work progress through the organizations.

While the completely open office environment isn’t the answer, either (it’s much too distracting and too noisy for people to concentrate), there is a need to invoke some visual controls in the office environment too.  How is that new software development project progressing?  Is there a clear, visual roadmap that lays out the steps the project must go through and status boards to communicate progress?  How do you know who is working on what – and not just as a general assignment, but in terms of who is working on what for how long right now?  How do you know when that person is stuck, waiting on some input?  What’s the status of that input?

In most places the answer requires sending emails, calling meetings, or – heaven forbid – getting up and going over to talk to someone.  All of which leads to information standing still or, at best, travelling much too slowly.  If, however, more visual cues were invoked so that information was shared more openly, more quickly, and with greater appreciation of the need for immediate, intuitive understanding of how work is progressing (or not) – information would transfer faster.  Instead, things are typically thrown into a powerpoint presentation that is shared in a meeting once a week – which is the equivalent of a factory floor batch-and-queue process that builds up a bunch of widgets only to release them to the cell once a week – whether the cell is ready for the batch or not.

Committing to visual controls information moves faster.  The greater the velocity of information exchange, the greater the awareness of potential problems and ability to take action before those problems materialize.  By adopting better visual controls, knowledge work environments can greatly increase both the amount and velocity of information moving through the organization.  While this seems obvious, it is a bit daunting that the habits and practices that have been developed outside of the shop floor, such as hiding people and work behind tall cubicle walls, do more to hinder the flow of information than to facilitate it.