Imagine a radio contest…caller number three…free tickets to the Super Bowl. You win! A limo picks you up and drives you to the airport where you fly first class and check into a five-star hotel. You decide to take a short nap before the game – but you oversleep. You rush out of the hotel to your limo and frantically yell at the poor driver to "step on it!" He tries, but traffic is so bad that you miss the kick-off. As you jump out of the car and hurriedly scramble through the security checkpoints you realize that you are so late you don't even know what quarter it is. As you settle into your seat, the crowd erupts with a joyous roar! Something great has just happened and you missed it. You don't know the score, the down or even which team has possession of the ball. You are lost in a vast sea of confusion and over-priced beer.
If only there were some way, some magical tool that you could use to get up to speed on everything. Something that could tell you exactly what you needed to know in order to just relax and enjoy the rest of the game…
If you have managed to envision this scenario, congratulations, you have just participated in what most people view as "visualization." It is almost always interpreted as something imaginary as part of some nebulous exercise (often in futility). However, for the purposes of Kaizen and Standard Quality, visualization has a tangible presence and a deeper purpose. It is a powerful tool that provides a method for employees to immediately know what's going on and, more importantly, what they are supposed to do.
With much love to Mr. Marvin Gaye, let's tackle what's going on in this month's article.
Think back to the Super Bowl, to our hapless contest winner, late to the stadium, not knowing heads or tails as to the game. What to do?
Anyone, at this point, currently yelling, "Look at the scoreboard!" has already grasped the power of visualization.
If processes are properly documented and standardized (see last month's article), a manager needs only to observe the Gemba with the mindset of identifying deviations from the standard. Visualization provides an easy means to this end. Like the scoreboard at a sporting event, proper visual reporting tools at the Gemba will allow a manager to quickly identify anomalies so that action can be taken.
Visual tools can be created for almost every possible tracking metric: loading, unloading, processing (these are primarily productivity based), safety numbers, environmental impact (compliance based), even total transactions (as McDonald's says with their "Over 99 Billion Served," indeed).
There are three main criteria for a successful visualization tool:
1. It must be visible
Perhaps this may have been filed under "obvious," but leaving nothing to chance is part of the Kaizen philosophy. If you have a visual tool, it needs to be big enough, clear enough, and displayed well enough so that anyone can easily see it while working. Having a KPI update posted on the bulletin board in the lunch room will savor shallow effectiveness towards any real improvement on the Gemba floor. Thinking back to the scoreboard at the Super Bowl, is this difficult to be seen from any seat in the house?
2. It must be easy to understand
Not just talking language here, the visual tool must be simply designed and clearly laid out so that any operator looking will instantly know the status; an even better tool is understood without having to be trained first.
3. It must be easy to update/change
The tool must be a living, adaptable entity. The manager must be able to update the metrics in as close to real time as possible in order to reflect the current (or as close to current as practical) situation.
Large monitors displaying KPI's, such as CBM per operator hour or safety numbers or the like, that can be updated remotely are quite effective. However, visual tools need not be uber high-tech. A few sporadically placed dry erase boards with fresh markers can do the trick. As long as a manager can update as needed the tool will be effective. Once again, like most things Kaizen, the method is not as important as the methodology.
An easy illustrative example is to consider a warehouse, specifically the outbound loading process. The standard time for this process is two hours. At the beginning, as the empty is secured, the lead writes the time, 9:00 am, on a dry erase board by the outbound door. If at noon a manager notices that the container is still being loaded, he/she can stop and investigate. What is causing this drop in productivity? What steps can be taken to get the team back on track? Whether or not the question can be easily answered is not the point here – the manager would not have known to ask the question without the rule and the dry erase board.
Next month's article will delve deeper into visualization as it pertains to Kaizen's "make the rule/follow the rule" aspect.
Until then, remember, if you don't keep score, NOBODY CAN WIN.
Kirk White has worked in every division of Yusen Logistics. After a brief stint in Transportation, he transferred to Corporate, where he coordinated Yusen's Employee Empowered Kaizen system and served as a Specialist for the Business Process Re-engineering group, after which he moved to the Warehouse division to serve as the East Coast Quality Manger before ultimately joining the International division, where he hopes to use his Quality knowledge base to prove an asset to OCM.