Plan Vs. Actual - The Swiss Army Knife of Charts

swiss army knifeImagine that you were only allowed one chart (or board) at the gemba. What would you pick? What is the Swiss Army knife (I'm more of a Leatherman Multitool fan myself) of charts that gives you insight into process adherence and process performance?

For me, it's the plan vs. actual chart - also known as the production analysis board (or chart), day-by-the-hour chart, etc. It is typically a paper chart (my preference) or dry erase board that is positioned at the pacemaker process. It's refreshingly low-tech and reflects, at a minimum, the line, cell or team name, output requirements (number of picks, assemblies, invoices, etc.) for the day or shift, the related takt time, the planned hourly (or smaller time increment) and cumulative outputs for the day or shift, the actual hourly and cumulative outputs (or in some practices the cumulative deficit or surplus) and fields to record the problem or reason for any hourly plan vs. actual deltas as well as a sign-off by lean leader(s) as proof of review.

So, why is the plan vs. actual so powerful? Here's 5 reasons.

  1. Communicates customer requirements. The chart reflects the demand, by type or product, quantity, and timing and sequence. It reflects a takt image.
  2. Forces the matching of cycle time to takt time. Standard work should dictate the requisite staffing (and related cycle time, work sequence and standard WIP) to satisfy the customer requirements.
  3. Engages the employee and drives problem-solving. Like any visual control worth its salt, the plan vs. actual is worker-managed in a relatively real-time way. It highlights abnormal conditions (hourly and/or cumulative shortfalls or overproduction) and drives self-correction or at least notification/escalation and containment. The plan vs. actual also spurs PDCA in that the worker is required to identify the root cause of the abnormal condition and ultimately points the worker, team and leadership to effective countermeasures.
  4. Focuses lean leaders within the context of leader standard work. A good plan vs. actual will have fields for team leader/supervisor sign-offs on the hour and managers twice daily. This is essentially proof of the execution of leader standard work in which the leader should ensure that the plan vs. actual is maintained real-time, is complete (i.e., no unexplained abnormalities), and that countermeasures are being employed in order to effectively satisfy customer requirements.
  5. Focuses associates and lean leaders within the context of the daily accountability process. The prior day's plan vs. actual and trended performance (including pitch logs) should be reviewed within daily tiered meetings. These meetings help drive the identification of improvement opportunities and countermeasures at the individual, team and value stream level.

So, what's your Swiss Army Knife chart and why?

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Leader Standard Work – You can pay me now, or you can pay me later

There are 9 Comments

David Williams's picture

Hi Mark,
Couldn't agree more with you... I find it one of the great visual tools in the cell on the factory floor...The hardest part is ensuring the reasons for the misses are included. It's so much better than the spreadseet tooked away on the network drive...never thought I would hear myself saying that!

markrhamel's picture

Hi David,

Thanks for the comment. I am glad to hear that you're a convert! Low tech paper and marker helps make it easier to engage the worker and locate the plan vs actual at the pacemaker operation without worrying how and where to put a keyboard and screen. And your right, this PDCA tool really only works if the reasons for abnormal conditions (typically misses) are reflected on the chart...and acted upon.


Jerry Foster's picture

Hello Mark,
To the comments in your article and the response from David, the failure of any system is closing the loop. How many times have we seen perfectly good data collection systems deteriorate when the output is not used properly. A board should never be installed unless it is to be actively used and reviewed. So many times I have walked through facilities populated with boards with ancient data, silly comments from associates to seed if leadership will acknowledge them, etc. The production control board, in my mind, can be the most powerful of boards, used properly. It is foundational, as you mention is establishing an active quality control system with associate involvement.

Best regards,

Craig Hill's picture


When confronted with a board or printed chart in our plants or offices I always ask, "Is this wallpaper or value adding?"

All too often I answer my own question



markrhamel's picture

Hi Craig,

Thanks for the comment! You're absolutely right. Most of the time boards and charts are wallpaper. I think there's at least a couple of reasons for that: 1) the board or chart does not pass the "So, what?" test - it's not relevant or actionable, and/or 2) the leaders don't require the folks to maintain and really use the boards or charts in a consistent and value-add way (i.e., for problem-solving), so they end up falling into partial or total disuse.

Best regards,

Shakti's picture

is the JIT/one peice flow approach tecnique is always profitable for all areas?
or we can proceed with keeping some inventory for safety margins in case of any down time happen, means it help in avoid production loss ? waiting for ur reply

markrhamel's picture

Hi Shatki,

My rule #1 of lean is to make sure that we do not unfavorably impact the customer. If stripping out inventory is done before the "system" is capable, then this violates rule #1. Use continuous flow where possible, if not pursue supermarket pull, if not sequential pull (FIFO lanes), or a hybrid of supermarket and FIFO. Value stream analysis should give you insight into where your opportunities may be. Remember that JIT is takt, flow and pull and does not absolutely prescribe single-piece flow and that basic process stability is a foundational element of lean as well.

Hope this helps.

Best regards,

markrhamel's picture

Hi John,

Thanks for the comment. I love the $5 bill "test!"

Best regards,

John's picture

The more the wallpaper, the less the affect. I have never seen value added from the computer generated charts, graphs, etc. The only thing that is real (or has value) is what is closest to real-time and is followed by the leadership team.

If you are curious as to the significance of your charts and graphs, fold and tack a $5 bill to it and see how long it stays. If nobody reads your charts, it will be there next month and beyond.