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Follow-up Q & A to the Webinar "Integrating Leader Standard Work with Visual Management Tools”

Murli, Joe
1/12/2011

Follow-up Q & A to "Integrating Leader Standard Work with Visual Management Tools" Webinar

This webinar was one of our most popular and highly rated. From among the hundreds of audience questions that we couldn't geet to during the webinar, we selected those representing the most popular topics for a follow-up Q & A with presenter Joe Murli. This Q and A is in two parts, a video followed by a written response to additional questions.

The topic of how to integrate visual management tools and leader standard work is explained in-depth in a two-day workshop.

 

 

 

Q. Failing a direct match between the two, what side would you tend towards on measurements: linkage to high level business metrics or enabling easy operator/associate understanding?

A. Remember the reason for the visual process performance (VPP) metrics is to enable your people to continually reflect where the waste is in a process and then use their problem-solving capabilities to eliminate the waste. Keeping irrelevant or non-actionable metrics out in front of your people is a very disabling environment. It tends to foster an "us and them" mentality. Better to clearly understand what adds value in a process and find simple actionable metrics that communicate how well those processes are meeting business objectives. An example of this is showing gross margin data on the manufacturing floor. There are many components of this measure that shop-floor personnel have no control over. Better to have metrics that reflect labor, material, and overhead content trends for products as these are all things that people can improve.

Q. What is the best way to implement a visual management tool to a sales force that primarily works independently and sees its manager once/quarter and talks to its manager once/week?

A. The answer to this question lays in the development of standard work and elimination of end-of-period activity spikes. End-of-period activity is often characterized as sales personnel taking on an operations oversight/expedite role. Additionally the way in which each associate carries out his or her work varies significantly from person to person. A lean approach would be to develop standard work from what proves to work best and level loading work throughout the period, eliminating end-of-period spikes and redundant activities. If the nature of the business is such that sales calls are made daily, there should be consistent number of calls made each day (takt time) throughout the month. Due to the dispersed nature of the organization, technology would be helpful in communicating the information to the team. A simple electronic visual updated by each sales person and aggregated for all to see in real time should not be too difficult to achieve.

But more importantly, a key characteristic of lean organizations is that small groups of people reflect daily on how to improve their processes. If not daily, reflection should happen weekly at most. However a team that only meets once a month or quarterly cannot be said to be a lean thinking organization. The reflection time is just too important to the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) process.

So to summarize:

  • Create standard work for your sales force.
  • Develop simple visuals that easily show how the process is being carried out and how it's performing.
  • Use IT if necessary to aid team communication (across is more important than upward).
  • Reserve daily reflection time to foster kaizen.

Q. When you refer to management/leadership, are you referring to frontline managers, i.e. clinic managers or senior leadership, i.e. COO?

A. I'm referring to everyone that has a leadership role in the organization. Management is the process by which leaders do their work. It should be standardized and constantly improved just like any other process by which we run the business.

Q. How often should the gemba walk take place ... weekly, daily, other?

A. The answer depends on where you are in the organization. Frontline leaders should be doing it hourly, next level up -- daily, next level up -- weekly, etc. The key is not the frequency, but the regularity and reliability with which the walk is carried out.

Q. Isn't the really critical dimension that makes (management by walking around) MBWA work the predictability of the walk? Thus, the questions and visuals are only some of the means to accomplish this, right?

A. The key difference between MBWA and MBP (management by process, or lean) is that the visual environment combined with appropriate management standard work is the key to developing the problem-solving capabilities of the organization. The focus of MBWA as originally popularized is to enable managers to get the best information to make decisions. The premise is that those doing the work know most about the process. Lean practitioners also believe this but add to it the need to see a scoreboard when playing a game. The players are much more focused when keeping score. And after the game the coach can have a much more constructive discussion because of the visual tools on the field and the scoreboard. The focus of MBP is to develop the capabilities of the workforce to see waste and solve problems more effectively each day. Not having the visual system in place reduces the management gemba walk to a much less disciplined process that often turns into a social event. What we call "shaking hands and kissing babies."

Q. Joe, you frequently said that the point of management standard work using gemba walks is to catch abnormal situations. That may happen, but isn't it really to look for evidence where abnormalities have been identified and corrected at the lower levels of the organization? When an abnormality is evident and hasn't been addressed by the associates it would seem there is a coaching opportunity.

A. Absolutly! The visual system is for everyone, it's decidedly not a management reporting tool. It's a visual environment where abnormalities stand out. Those around the work should be the first to identify the waste and find ways to permanently eliminate it. Ideally management should be the last to see the abnormality but this won't always be the case in every situation. Leadership is in the business of developing this organizational capability at the frontline levels. Maybe where the confusion lays is that every gemba walk is an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the process waste. You will never reach a point where every form of waste has been addressed at a local level. We need to see this as an exciting opportunity to grow professionally, not get caught doing something wrong. When this exercise stops, the organization will start to decay in its ability to find and eliminate waste.

Q. Great webinar ... quick question: you spoke about calling out your true north. How do you suggest best defining true north?

A. This is an important point and one of the two key responsibilities of leadership. The identification and elimination of waste is the responsibility of those carrying out the process. Leadership has to dedicate itself to enabling the workforce to carry this out and spend time cultivating this on a continuing basis. The second key leadership responsibility is to be looking outward and identify key breakthrough objectives for the organization through strategy deployment. Keeping this vision out in front of people helps them see where they are going in ways that are not visible at the gemba. So technology trends, customer service advancements, market channeling, market growth opportunities -- these items that will significantly change in the next three to five years need to be thought through deeply and supporting activities deployed throughout the organization. The combination of waste elimination through daily kaizen (PDCA) and milestone progress on key breakthrough objectives (strategy deployment) are where the significant improvements come from in a lean organization. Keeping this "true north" out in front of everyone every day keeps them on course as they address daily issues that inevitably crop up. They may make countermeasures to transient situations, but will always reset course to this destination.

Q. What would you answer to a finance manager asking about the payback of investing in visual management systems such as boards, displays, etc?

A. The same answer that should have been given to GM in 1972 when they calculated acceptable defect rates. They had rationalized their way to the point of stating that the American consumer would not pay the price for a defect free car. That was because they only calculus they had to work with was that more inspectors = fewer defects. No one in power believed you could eliminate defects by building quality into the design and process.

There is no payback for the visuality of the workplace or management standard work. You are creating a whole new context for the elimination of waste while improving customer service. What is the value of an organization that continually eliminates waste in every nook and cranny of the operation?

Q. What should I do when I find a deviation from a standard?

A. Ask those doing the work what they see, ask them why. Don't offer a solution as this will only train them to wait for your answer. Don't absolve responsibility, foster it.

Q. One of the things that struck me was the amount of paper associated with all of the methods throughout the presentation. While hard-copy graphs serve a purpose for looking at extended periods of data collection, they do not serve as an early warning system for conditions starting to trend out-of-specification. The ability to respond to real-time issues is critical where product movement is measured in fractions of seconds. I am interested in electronic systems instead of paper for both reductions in contamination potential and environmental impact. Are you aware of any companies that have transitioned to electronic visual manufacturing?

A. Electronic systems are one thing and immediate identification of an abnormality is really another matter entirely. Sometimes electronic solutions are the best answer and often they are not. The point is not the media but rather communicating to the right people in the least wasteful manner possible and the organizational response to abnormalities.

In high-volume manufacturing two essential items are the andon and management standard work. The andon can be electronic or a simple flag. You can electronically track how often it is activated but this often leads to the wrong behaviors. When a line producing thousand of batteries, for example, goes abnormal for any reason the frontline workers must be enabled through training and visual systems to identify the abnormality at its inception. Once the abnormality is identified an andon would be activated whereby a frontline leader would respond within minutes to address the problem with a short-term countermeasure. The team meetings that take place each day would be the venue for further reflection and long-term solutions which may or may not be supported with additional technical support from content experts. People must be trained to participate in these meetings to solve problems.


Electronic feeds of information into remote offices for purposes of "management" are actually counter to lean thinking. Our job as leaders is to develop the problem solving capabilities of the entire organization and solve problems at the lowest levels possible by continual education. Having people interact with visual tools keeps them involved and promotes understanding.

All that said, there is a solid place for today's IT capabilities in a lean organization. That role is primarily to constantly and in real-time show process performance. As teams carry out their daily reflection meetings and contemplate kaizen opportunities they must have performance data in front of them to determine if they are on a path of continuous improvement. So essentially the visuality of the workplace breaks down into two categories. The first is visual process adherence telling us if the process is progressing normally to standard work. The second is visual process performance. This essentially answers the question of whether the process itself is good enough or do we need to find a better way. Management's response to each of these leads the organization down different paths.

What we "see" in a visually managed environment is only the very tip of the iceberg. It's the thinking behind these artifacts that means everything. If you are finding that reams of paper are being generated for subsequent review in remote locations it would seem that the management standard work is not focused on developing the problem-solving capability of the people carrying out the work.

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