Balancing Two Types of Visual Controls within the Context of Lean Management

Some folks may wonder what the heck I mean by “two types.” Within the context of a lean management system, we can make the following distinction:

  1. Visual process performance (VPP). These are typically metric based visuals that provide users with meaningful insight into the health of the process or value stream. For example, we can easily relate to graphs that are displayed on tiered team meeting boards. These graphs, often categorized in people, quality, delivery, and cost-type buckets, trend and compare performance to targets. They help team members and leaders quickly identify and acknowledge performance gaps, which should naturally lead to root cause identification and implementation of effective countermeasures. But, VPP visuals are not limited to simply metrics. A classic example is a plan versus actual chart (a.k.a. production analysis board). It captures typically hour (or pitch), by hour (or pitch) planned production and compares it against actual performance for a given line or cell. The visual, as all good visuals, should be worker managed, and will reflect the reason for any substantive misses.
  2. Visual process adherence (VPA). Leader standard work requires leaders to assess both adherence to and the sufficiency of standard work. This is largely about PDCA’s sister, SDCA (standardize-do-check-adjust), and provides necessary insight into process and value stream health. So, what kind of visual controls are we talking about here? The examples are pretty far and wide – standard work sheets, standard work combination sheets, FIFO lanes (and the related max levels), shadow boards, supermarkets (and the related kanban cards, their flow, and the periodic supermarket re-sizing process), heijunka box (including, how it’s loaded and relieved), etc., etc.

Assuming that the notion of VPP and VPA is less than radical, why my concern about balance?

Because, frankly, I see so many folks who care somewhat (plus or minus) about VPP, but not a lick about VPA.

That’s illogical!

Effective lean leaders care deeply about what the process or value stream is producing from an output perspective (at least better, faster, and cheaper) AND how the process or value stream achieves (or doesn’t achieve) those results from a process perspective. In other words, lean practitioners want both...

...because they really, really NEED both.

Besides, how does one identify performance gaps and then not fix process!?!

We’ve probably all seen the following characterization, but it's worth revisiting.

  • Good results, bad process means we probably just got lucky and the likelihood of repeating the good results is remote.
  • Bad results, bad process should be expected.
  • Good results, good process should be expected and all the more reason to ensure adherence to the good process(es).
  • Bad results, good process should be impossible…if the process was indeed good…and was followed rigorously. Further investigation is warranted in such a situation.

So, why would folks not seek the proper level of visual balance within their organization?

There are a few possible reasons why an organization is “performance heavy:”

  1. Developing good VPA visuals is hard work. For example, developing standard work sheets and standard work combination sheets for a number of different processes can be daunting.
  2. Checking on process adherence and sufficiency is hard work. Let’s face it, this is really auditing the system. This requires multiple levels of leadership to perform their leader standard work audits at regular intervals at the gemba and identify abnormalities (think 5 why’s) and sometimes have hard conversations with folks who don’t really like to adhere to standards, ever.
  3. The culture values outputs, not process. This is the realm of non-lean thinking hero cultures. You know, the “we don’t need no stinkin’ standard work, we have a bunch of super smart folks who will work a ton of overtime and pull a victory from the jaws of defeat…every month, or every project, forever.” Heck, why fix problems and keep them fixed with good standard work, when you can wrestle with the same ones, over and over again?

If the reasons are #1 and/or #2, it’s time to get busy. But, do it smartly via a pilot. Go narrow and deep. Learn and then expand. The results of VPP and VPA balance are within your reach.

If the reason is #3, there’s probably a need for some fundamental leadership education and alignment first.

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Plan Vs. Actual – The Swiss Army Knife of Charts, Lean Management Systems and Mysterious Performance Metrics

There are 2 Comments

markrhamel's picture

Hi Jason,

Thanks for the comment. Not being too bright, I had to look up the definition for meta-process...and I'm still not sure what it is.

But, to your point, even a six sigma process, statistically speaking, will yield bad results (3.4 DPMO...let's not get into 1.5 sigma shift right now). We've got to strive for capable processes and apply vigilance to identify and respond to special causes.

Effective lean practitioners apply stop and fix. Often this means the true "fix" or countermeasure must wait to be deployed - when the root cause is understood (for example, after being able to turn the problem on and off) and the countermeasure addresses the root cause. In the interim, problems must be at least contained so that they do not negatively impact the downstream customer(s).

Best regards,

Jason Yip's picture

If good results, bad process may indicate good luck then it's reasonable that bad results, good process may indicate bad luck especially in more complex domains. Granted usually a meta-process to contain impact of failure can still lead to good results even with bad luck.