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When a factory starts working on a Lean initiative, one of the first steps generally involves putting up lean visual management boards on walls. We are not against visuals. Actually, nearly every project we do in the production area involves putting up or improving on a board. But there can be common issues...

When we see this, though, we get concerned:

Example of lean visual management boards

 

What is wrong with lean visual management boards in most factories?

If the factory has very mature systems and processes and has done quite a bit of training at all levels, there is nothing wrong with them.

In other cases, those boards are simply not useful. And, since a lot of data posted are seen as useless (not to mention, they might be faked a few days before an auditor comes in), the staff becomes cynical about all posted information. It makes further improvement efforts harder.

In some of the factories we visited, there is already enough decoration with all the ‘not for real’ work instructions!

 

So, what is the logical approach to set up lean visual management boards?

Here is a way that makes sense:

  • Step 1 is to clarify the company’s goals & objectives.
  • Step 2 is to cascade those goals & objectives down to each department, each workshop, each team.
  • Step 3 is to train the local leaders to “keep score”, if possible on a visual board.
  • Step 4 is for the managers to use a mix of persuading and enforcing to get everybody to fill out their boards.

Is it good to start showing 10-20 indicators at a time?

I don’t think so. Remember, the boards are for the users (who will fill them out with data and analysis) and their managers (who will read them, probe the local leaders, and push for improvements).

Start with just one – for example, unplanned equipment downtime, or first-pass yield. Get the local leader, or an operator, to report one key piece of information on a certain schedule. And then make the most out of it – set a target, set plans to drive actions, review the plan and the actions regularly…

Once everybody sees the value of managing that one indicator, go for a second one. And so forth.

Also, follow your needs – if the number one issue is productivity, track the number of pieces per labor hour (and divided by the standard time, in case a line makes many different types of products).

 

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What about sensitive information?

What about sensitive information

Obviously, they need to be treated differently, but there is no reason to keep them in computers only.

  • Highly sensitive data (profit & loss, etc.) can be posted but kept in a locked room, for management meetings only.
  • Relatively sensitive data can be posted once a week, just before a meeting, and then taken out. For example, most factories consider HR data are best kept away from governmental eyes.
  • “Internal only” data can be removed when visitors are coming to the factory.

 

Should you just set up graphs, charts, etc. and fill them out?

Certainly not.

Make sure everybody in an area understands how the data is collected and what they mean.

Then, make sure they understand what is expected, as well as the current gap (expectation vs. reality).

And then comes the need for something that is seldom well done in China... The use of problem-solving tools.

I listed the most common mistakes we see in an earlier article. This is not an area most Chinese managers excel at… 

 

A few words about posters and slogans in general

In maybe 90% of Chinese factories we visit, we see some type of posters on the walls.

  • In Chinese-owned companies, it is usually exhortations for high quality, innovation, or whatever they think customers want to see.
  • In Western-owned companies, they might proclaim how much they care about their staff, about safety, and so on.

You have good options for employee engagement. Slogans are not one of them.

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What has your experience been with visual indicators? Have you been able to use them for daily management, and to foster problem solving abilities among your staff? Leave a comment below sharing your experiences, issues, or questions; we'll happily respond!

*Featured image courtesy of JDR Cables slideshare


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Renaud Anjoran

10 years experience in China.
President, China Manufacturing Consultants.
Audited and/or consulted for hundreds of factories in China.
Author of well-read blog, Quality Inspection Tips.

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