Lean and Continuous Improvement

Should Smart Screens Replace Pen & Paper on the Shop Floor?

I was asked recently by Scott Smith of High Performance Solutions what my opinion was between the effectiveness of using Smart Screens or handwritten control boards for tracking metric performance on the shop floor.  My immediate response was handwritten!  However, after some further thought, my answer is, it depends.

I do believe there is a place for Smart Screens that automatically pull down and display certain operational information.  The use case for a Smart Screen in my opinion, is to provide overall system or process status in more complex processes provided it has visual indicators that differentiate between normal and abnormal conditions.  Furthermore, the screens should be capable of indicating whether the abnormal condition has been acknowledged and action is being taken.  Beyond that, I’m old school and advocate for pen and paper!

Why pen and paper, or at least handwritten on a white board, flip chart, control board or other visual display?  Well, screens become invisible over time and people walk by them without looking or really seeing them. Having a leader go in to the floor management system to see the metrics, understand them, recognize if achieving target or not, and then recording it using red/green markers engages them in a deeper awareness and understanding of how their operation is performing.  When missing target and recording the result in “red” it’s more difficult for someone not to take action to get things back on track.  In fact, this approach facilitates the documenting and displaying of what actions are being taken to address the issues.  Also the handwriting provides variation in appearance on the board which can draw attention to it versus a screen which is more or less static, always appearing the same. As a senior leader, you have no idea if anyone is looking at the screen nor if they are doing anything about it!

Perhaps a little extreme, but makes the point none the less, I recall a situation where I was taught this as the GM of the Lexus plant when a high ranking company official came to the plant to confirm our operation.  Given that it was a Lexus plant, we made a lot of effort to ensure the plant and the processes were always in “clean room” condition to ensure the mindset we wanted our team members to have towards building Lexus quality vehicles.  At each flow rack of parts there was a sheet of paper that contained a list of all the parts and how many boxes of each part should be on the flow rack based on the model mix for the month.  Members of the team had it in their standard work to check the flow rack list to the actual parts in the flow rack each shift.  Typically, these flow rack lists were rolled up and stuffed in the end of the flow rack.  After several uses, the paper became torn and tattered, not looking so good.  To improve the condition at the process, the team placed the flow rack list flat behind a clear piece of plexiglass so that you could just pull the paper out, do the check, and place it back in behind the plexiglass.  The paper always looked smooth and in good shape.  The senior executive took one look and instructed us to get rid of the plexiglass and go back to rolling up the paper and stuffing it in the end of the flow rack.  He explained that he liked the visual indicator that the checks were being done by easily seeing the torn and damaged condition of the paper!  Now that’s a visual indicator!

Another advantage of handwritten boards is they provide an opportunity to be much more interactive. A more senior leader can leave questions or comments for the floor leaders to consider or think about.  Leaving a comment or question indicates to the floor that someone is actually looking at the board and the information on it.  It’s also facilitates “good job!” comments when things are going well.

What are your thoughts or opinion, should Smart Screens replace pen & paper on the shop floor?  Leave a comment!





4 thoughts on “Should Smart Screens Replace Pen & Paper on the Shop Floor?”

  1. I agree. Pen and Paper on the Shop Floor – Engages Action Leadership.
    Great Post.
    Dr Jacob (Jake) Abraham
    Global Op. Ex. Leader & Coach

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Having shop floor Leaders responsible to fill out this information forces “Go See and Understand” If they know that Upper Leadership is checking , not just the numbers, but the activity surrounding what the numbers are telling you.There will be accountability at all levels. Digital information collected with out going and seeing tends to allow process absence, thus reducing the opportunity for urgent response and problem solving. In my experience, there are very few cultures that sustain urgent response to abnormality when they create a world of digital metrics. Strong shop floor leadership is embedded by collecting information manually and frequently.Discipline! Great article Glenn. Just my 2 cents.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fantastic Insight, Bob. Digital moves leaders away from the shop floor. There may be a time when digital is possible. We must embrace technology AT THE RIGHT TIME. However, if a mature problem solving culture is not well developed, watching a screen to get information away from the actual place problems occur results in “old news” discussion and zero action

      Liked by 1 person

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