May 07 2013

I’m currently setting up some visual management team boards for a client organisation but at the same time there is a team of managers also looking at an electronic system to do the same. Touch screens all over the shop floor with simple navigation to all manner of information such as status against plan, H&S or quality issues, skills matrices, etc… It has much more functionality than a whiteboard, but I am concerned about a few potential downfalls with the idea.

Firstly, having it electronic means it is available from anywhere, and that includes the managers desk. It almost provides a license for managers to manage (or attempt to) their business from behind the desk. How much harder will it be for people to get up & go see what is really happening on the shop floor if one can get all the headline info from the office? Having said that, there are reasons why this information would be useful to people without having to go to the shop floor every time they wanted/needed it.

Toyota had engine counters & line running indicators in the offices. It didn’t stop their managers from going to the shop floor, but that was more about a culture that existed regardless of VM systems. It could also be one more additional distraction that people have when they are out & about or off for the day – taking a peak to see how things are going, calling in and being an “arm-chair coach/quarterback” (I think the Brits call it “Terrace Managers”)

My second concern is about the limitations of a system that can not be updated live at the boards with the team engaged in the process. This to me moves it from visual management to visual information, the former being preferred to the latter. Without the ability to see the specific issues behind the missed targets or red conditions it is merely information providing status. Good visual controls/management includes the issues & the actions being taken to resolve, so everyone knows what is being done to solve the problems. Yes, a touch screen board could have this capability, but imagine standing around as someone types, touch by touch, to enter the issues onto the board. Drop down menus? Easy to select but will they tell the whole story, the real story?

Finally I am concerned that the amount of information available (which is currently available within the systems & there are PCs all over the shop floor so people can access it) will mean people are looking at too many things, not the key pieces of information that are required to manage the daily routine. Is it possible to have too much information? Are we risking information overload or worse, merely data overload as the data is separated into many screens that have to be navigated through removing the ability to see the whole picture at a glance, without cluttering it up with lots of interesting & sometimes useful information, that is not necessarily needed on the shop floor? (Think 5S, if I don’t need it every day, do I need it in my workplace?)

An article by Systems2win discusses some of the aspects I refer to above. I’m open to the idea, and willing to give it a try, but I have my reservations as above – I’d be interested in any feedback or experiences anyone has had with electronic visual management/team accountability boards. Please do comment or get in touch, I’d love to hear what others say on this subject.

photo credit: r h via photopin cc

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