We live visual management. It’s one of the core principles of the Toyota Production System – and probably up there as the most important of our 14 Principles.
“Use visual control so no problems are hidden”
We live visual management because of this simple yet exceptionally powerful statement. So much so, we made Boardsync – the unique board syncing tool. This is the first in a rapid series of blog posts that will cover how visualisation of work will allow problems to be highlighted, tackled and solved – not by `managers` – but by empowered team members.
The first in this series covers the absolute basics – The Task Board. Task Boards are not new – especially not in software development – but it’s worth revisiting.
The Task Board
There are three foundations of a solid task board:
- The process or workflow. Start with something that models your existing business process. But be prepared for this to evolve and improve over time. We model steps in the process as columns on the task board.
- Items of work. These could be features, orders, service requests or whatever your “unit of customer value” is. In software, these tend to be features. In manufacturing, these tend to be items that you are manufacturing. It is important that they are customer facing or as close to customer facing as possible. By customer facing we mean that they should make sense to the customer and be of value to the customer. Items like “install widget-thinga-me-jig widget in sub-assembly B” make no sense to the customer and certainly of value to her.
- They originate at the customer (or are `pulled` or requested by the customer).
Using signal cards like this is not new – having originated in Lean Manufacturing way back in the mists of time. Kanban literally means “signal”; a signal to pull work through the process. Many industries have been using T-Cards (see tcardsdirect.co.uk) to represent these signals for decades now. In our background in software they’ve only really been used since the rise of Agile over the past decade and only started to become mainstream in the last 4 or 5 years.
Stick one of these up on a wall or window right in your work area, and hopefully you can immediately see why visual boards could prove useful:
- The ‘process’ is visible to all – everyone can see it. The whole team physically moves signal cards through the process. Any flaws, blockages, missed steps are visible to all. Couple this with collective accountability and continuous improvement and you have the beginnings of an evolutionary process.
- The volume of ‘work’ is visible to all. What does it tell you if there are 10 things currently in the `Doing` column but only 3 people able to work?
- What does it tell you if a card 3 sits in `Doing` for a month?
Start Low Tech
The best way of getting up and running is not over-thinking the task board. Just do it:
- Find a large, clear wall space in your work area.
- Windows work with masking tape marking out columns
- Mark out your workflow – simplify this initially
- Magnetic whiteboards are ideal
- Blutac works wonders too
- Print out on paper, or record cards
- Get the team used to moving cards themselves.
Workflow or Process
Your particular business process will be specific to your business. This isn’t about taking an ‘off the shelf’ process. It’s about your business process. Take developing software and running a car repair shop as examples – both have wildly different processes. Even two car repair shops will have different ways of working. The important thing is to visualise your current way of working – and then improve it, evolve it, over time, into something better. Take this car repair shop:
- Tuesday looks like a busy day, yet Wednesday is empty. Imagine if this information was hidden away on a ‘booking’ sheet that just the office managed?
- Quality assurance is suffering badly – why is this? Holiday? Broken machinery? Can anyone do anything to help?
As your task board is visual, people will start looking at it, congregating around it, discussing it. Questions will arise:
- What does ‘waiting parts’ actually mean?
- What does ‘inspection’ actually mean?
Be patronisingly explicit if needs be. Underneath each heading write clear and simple expectations of what it means for a work item to be in that column.
Limiting Work In Progress
We’re not even going to scrape the surface of this one in this post – but consider the garage example above. What would happen if we put a limit on 2 maximum concurrent inspections?
Eyetracking Business Value
We covered this extensively in one of our previous posts, but the business value in the example above is the last column – invoices received. Invert the board, so that’s on the left. The business value in software is the software is out making money for the company – in front of customers. Invert the board, and encourage teams to `start from the left`
In our garage example, the conversation should start:
- Is there anything we (the team) can do to get the two invoices out and paid?
- Is there anything we (the team) can do to help the build up of inspection?
In later series posts in this series, we’ll cover many more tactics for getting the most from your visual boards. If you, like us, love your visual Task Board and have a bunch of ideas – drop us a line at @14principles