Picking up from last month’s discussion of the four principle elements of the Lean Management System, this month’s column will focus on the second element — visual controls.
The four elements that make up a lean management system — leader standard work, visual controls, daily accountability process and leadership discipline — can be related to parts of a car.
1. Engine: Leader Standard Work — when the leader follows his/her standard work effectively, the rest of the lean management system has a good chance of operating effectively, powered by the engine of leader standard work. This is the first line of defense for the focus on process.
2. Transmission: Visual Controls — translate performance of every process into expected results vs. actual. It converts the driving force of leader standard work into traction, and grants leaders the ability to quickly spot and move to action where performance is not what is expected.
3. Steering Wheel and Gas Pedal: Daily Accountability Process — through daily accountability, a leader can steer and set direction for improvement activity in an area.
4. Fuel: Leadership Discipline — none of this will work without discipline — most importantly, leader discipline. Leader Standard Work, Visual Controls and Daily Accountability won’t amount to anything without the discipline to execute these elements.
The status of practically every process should be visible in lean management. Visual controls and the processes surrounding them represent the nervous system in lean management. Visual controls bring focus to the process and drive improvements.
The purpose for visual controls in lean management is to focus on the process and make it easy to compare expected vs. actual performance. These comparisons highlight when the process is not performing as expected and where improvement might be needed.
While attention should be paid to the look and feel of the forms, it is more important that leaders understand why they track performance. The variety and type of visuals are as broad as the variety of processes. The form (photo image, chart, checklist, dashboard, etc.) of the visual is limited only by your imagination. The sole intent is to make the comparison of actual vs. expected performance accessible and easy to understand. It is also very important that leaders commit to action in response to performance data, and follow through, so that action assignments turn into improvements.
There is an extremely important connection between the leader’s discipline and the effective use of visual controls. Visuals are an important enabler for disciplined focus on and adherence to lean processes. The focus on processes is absolutely vital for establishing and maintaining a lean management system. And, carefully designed lean processes require this kind of disciplined attention and support.
There is much proof that lean processes do not sustain or improve themselves. This is why lean management emphasizes leadership discipline and follow-up. The processes cannot be left on their own to vie for themselves. Visual controls are of no use without the discipline to insist they are taken seriously and used as a basis for action.
Consider security patrol reports generated by a guard tour system. These reports are varied and are very useful for comparing actual vs. expected performance. Some of the more widely used reports include: activity and exception reports, anomalies and incidents, time spent during a tour, time between tour points and missed hits. Documenting reasons for non-compliance and exceptions are the most important entries on the form, even if the process is new.