Poor communication is the bane of almost any form of teamwork. The more complex the process the team is working on together, the more difficult proper communication is, but also the more critical it becomes to successfully implementing the process.
The somewhat peculiar title for this piece, and its inclusion of Agile Software and Standing Meetings, is due to the ideas behind Visual Factory being evocative of some of the early practices I adopted managing software teams in order to improve their communication. These practices involved creating a “Standing Meeting” that involved gathering my whole team briefly every single day to make sure communication was happening. Some authorities credit my original Quattro Pro team (yes, I have been doing Calculators of one kind or another for quite a while!) with having started this essential part of Agile Software methodology. My emphasis was on what’s new, what needed to be clear, and keeping the meetings very short: 15 minutes to half an hour max. They were also very visual when possible. We didn’t want to just go around the table and get the usual boring progress report. Instead, we insisted on demos of new features and developments wherever possible.
I won’t belabor the Agile Software thing too much more here except to say a quick 10 minute meeting at the start of every shift might be very helpful in making sure everyone on the team knows exactly what they need to get done during the shift. Making such meetings work well is an art that requires preparation, but the results are worth it. If you want to know more about Agile Software Development, at least in terms of how I practice it, I recently did an article on my business strategy blog that tells the story.
Getting back to Visual Factory, the Lean Manufacturing concept here is that communication suffers from waste (mostly when it doesn’t happen crisply, clearly, and easily) and is therefore worth “Leaning Out.” If you can reduce the amount of time and resources required by communication, you can improve productivity, and that’s the whole point of Lean Manufacturing.
There is a particular emphasis on Visual communication in Visual Factory because it has a number of advantages:
– It’s fast to absorb: a picture is worth 1000 words. How long would it take you to read 1000 words versus lancing at a picture?
– Visuals tend to be compact. We don’t want a lengthy tome, we just want a poster-sized sign, perhaps.
– Visuals simplify. Most of the time when we’re trying to convey something visually, we have to simplify it.
– Visuals summarize. You can tell by glancing at a Kanban Board how close the overall job is to completion because of the weight of the cards on one side or the other.
This is not to say that Visual Factory relies solely on purely visual communications with no words, just that it tries to be immediate, simple, and accessible at all times. Pictures can help when the explanation will require too many words. Information needs to be presented at the physical location where it can do the most good. This reduces the waste of searching for or fetching the information.
The types of information typically address by Visual Factory include:
– Process Metrics
– Process Steps
– General Use Information
Let’s drill down on each type a little more.
Process Metrics tell us whether we’re on plan or on forecast. They tell us whether we are meeting management’s expectations. They also tell us whether our programs to improve are working.
Process Metrics become dramatically more impactful when they can be updated in real time. It’s hard to get excited about old news, but show us the latest and we’re interested. Show us the trends culminating in the latest and we’re often even more interested.
Various kinds of scoreboards can be used for Process Metrics. One trick seen often in Silicon Valley is to set up a home theater-style projector to display live data being generated by software. The information is projected in some prominent place, such as the entrance to the break room, where people can see it as they walk by. Here’s one such from a Silicon Valley firm:
The nice thing about projectors and screens is they’re software driven so they can be flexible and even switch back and forth to show multiple displays. The area where this sort of information is located is often called the “Information Center” in Lean parlance.
A related indicator is called an “Andon“. Andons are lit signboards that are deployed to signal something:
– A machine is down
– A defect was found
– A safety problem was identified
There are many more. The Andon makes it easy to see from everywhere on the Shop Floor where attention is needed.
Process Steps or Work Instructions
Having the steps needed for a particular process display as a sign or handy laminated checklist would be another good example of the Visual Factory. There are even sophisticated systems that can do this using software. For example, the Kanban-based system in G-Wizard ShopFloor does this.
Consider adding photographs to your process steps, just like the GW ShopFloor Kanban system shows. For Job Shops, your Setup Sheets are your Process Steps, so add photographs to make them as visual as possible.
There are hybrid combinations of process metrics and process steps. For example, the Jaguar assembly line uses a system where any of the workers can pull a cord to signal they have a problem. When that happens, their team leader comes over to help. If they can’t get things back on track quickly, the team leader pulls a cord that stops the whole line until it can be fixed.
General Use Information
Any commonly needed information that can be put up in the form of a sign may be helpful and is easily accessible. Try to put this information where it can do the most good.
General Use information may be broad or specific. For example, suppose you’ve got a gauge on an air line. Try using a sticker like this so it is immediately obvious whether the pressure is what it should be:
One could imagine all sorts of visual indicators like this for preventative maintenace and similar purposes. Get a timer with a suitable timespan and hook it up to a colored light. Now you’ve got a reminder of when it’s time to check the coolant on a machine or perform some other periodic task. How about this nifty visual system to tell when it’s time to order more tape:
The Visual Factory is all about using visual techniques to minimize communication waste. The simpler and more convenient we make our communications, the more likely they’ll be successful!
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