Habit 5

Case study for Visual Management: What goes on in Vegas Stays in Vegas.

Technology department of a robotics and R&D production company.

Once again, I will reference specific examples which relate to my time working with clients, to present practical cases for you. So, the typical thing when you enter a mechanical or electrical design department, or a technology department is you don’t see what they are working on. Sure, apart from people sitting at monitor screens, there is little or no information regarding what they are working on. If you ask the manager in charge how he manages all these people and projects, you will probably hear the affirmative that all is going well. From my experience, unless I see clear, simple visual management of a design or technology team, I am not convinced I believe in what I hear.

During production, planning and R&D meetings you will hear from these departments that they are working on this and that, that they have some problems here and there and so on. Finally, you are listening out to capture the words, “but we are onto it and we should sort it out soon”. Really, how many times have we heard this before. The thing is, any good Sensei coach will be engaged in a company to ease their work, thereby making business progress smoother and people more engaged in what they do.

Visual management, if applied properly will improve how people work and provide them with a reason to enjoy their work and progress in their development. In most of such organisations, “what goes in Vegas stays in Vegas” is the motto when it comes to, say the technology department.  We simply don’t know what they are working on. Getting information from a design manager or technology manager or even IT, for that matter, is like drawing out teeth, its painful and the results are never satisfactory, you remain in the dark and don’t have anything to bite on properly. There are no or too little facts exchanged during the conversation. There is no meat only runny soup to go on, as “facts” shall we say. What goes on in these departments is just a black box for most of us, that is why we need to visualise their work as you would anywhere else in the organisation. Here are just a few examples where visual management improved efficiency and effectiveness of these teams by 70% over say a few months of working together.

A typical technology department will have suppliers who send technical specifications, drawings, or packets of information. Often these suppliers are non-other than the internal design engineers that work within the organisation. With these drawings come expectations that the technology department will review, amend, ask for verification, and produce something of value from themselves. These could be Bills of materials for the purchasing department. They could be quantity orders sent in packet form, for production to produce to a Kanban system and so on. It could be modifications or maintenance of specific items such a production-aluminium or steel forms for plastic, steel, and aluminium moulding processes.

The point is I would want to see a SIPOC (supplier, input, process, output, customer) approach to my SQDC (Safety, Quality, Delivery, Cost) of what the technology department is up to. For example, here is a list of things I would want to see on the white boards each day and every day.

  • How many orders or requests sent by design to technology are in the “waiting room” and for how long have they been there still un-processed.
  • How many orders or requests received by technology have been started but are in “suspension-mode” waiting for something or someone to send or receive or agree on something so that work-in-progress of that item can continue.
  • How many defect items (incomplete drawings) did technology receive back from production and need to re-do and resend.
  • How many “throw-ins’ or “unplanned requests” have been received by the technology department this week and from which department did they come from.
  • How many hours or “man-days” did we spend on that design project and how does that compare to the planned hourly rates we have agreed to invest on that project.
  • Who is working overtime in this department, how many hours did they work and on what?
  • What is the scale of emails, telephone calls and unplanned visits you have from other departments. What is their nature, I want to understand where your Pareto is, who is consuming so much of your time on meetings.

The list of course goes on. But you see, I want to be able to go in and help technology department achieve success in what they are doing. For me to do this, I need to “see” what they worked on, and what they should or could be working on. We don’t need power-point presentations, we need extra time to collect this information. We don’t need yet another sit-down meeting in a conference room to hear from technology they are over-worked, and the Boss needs to give permission to employ yet another person.

Visual management is a strategic and practical operational approach to running any organisation. If you add the other remaining principles and tools of lean management and the required habits, you will achieve results which will leave your competition far behind.