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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