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Visual Management Board for Lean IT

A note from my Lean journey

A few years ago I was introduced to Lean concepts and principles at work. After several months of studying the topic I realized that many of my professional activities for both managing processes and people already mapped to some of the core components of Lean. That makes sense as many of the leading management philosophies and programs of our time share foundational elements.

One of the important principles of a Lean is visual management.  Visual controls are used to communicate information to people that indicate if the current condition of a system is acceptable. The Toyota Production System says to use visual controls so that no problems are hidden. It’s like the old phrase, “you can’t fix what you can’t see.”

On my personal Lean journey, my next task is to develop a Flow and Performance Board.  This will be a form of visual management that displays information to use at recurring team meetings. The contents on the board support the Lean principles of continuous flow and reducing waste. Effectively, the board becomes a visual control to see how flow of product is progressing for customer value-added activities and where waste exists in the system.

Flow and Performance for IT – My 1.0 version

I used the following guiding principles when designing the 1.0 version of a Flow and Performance Board for my IT shop:

  1. Show elements of product flow – At what stage work is in the system.
  2. Show key metrics – If possible show actual vs expected. The focus of the board, and Lean, is process flow and eliminating waste (as opposed to traditional boards that focus only on results).
  3. Show flow influencers – These are items that may influence the production system such as holidays and customer audits. The intent is to make the influencers visible ahead of time so it’s possible to manage through them instead of reacting to them.
  4. Show audit results – Part of the Lean journey is having leaders that inspect our work to see if we are following standard process. IT also has a rapidly growing set of requirements for compliance, which customers require, that fits in this space.

My 1.0 version of a board looks like this:

Since IT team members are geographically dispersed and most of our tools report data electronically then this will be an electronic board. Content will vary for different groups within IT. My first board is targeted towards and enterprise level view.

The board is intended to be referenced during recurring team meetings so that team members have a visual control as they inspect pieces of the product flow. As such, it should be easy to read and process information. The contents of the board must be current to be relevant. Ideally the board will updated dynamically to reduce the amount of non value-add work of administrative processes.

I anticipate I will wrestle with screen real-estate, content, and compactness with each future iteration.

Onward and Upward!

Corralling your task list and action items

The Chaotic Symphony.

Throughout the course of a typical week in the office I attract action items and tasks like mosquitos on a summer night. They appear from every direction and often without notice as part of what I call organizational entropy. Most professional workers today have this dilemma because there are so many sources tasks can originate:

  • Meeting minutes (usually in a word file or email)
  • Meeting minutes (verbally given because no one wrote the minutes)
  • Emails
  • Ticketing system / Service desk
  • Project plans (Excel, MS Project, Software Development System)
  • Personal notebooks
  • Hallway conversations
  • CRM
  • Customer requests for information

It’s easy to get to a state where the loudest voices get my attention during the week and I lose all sense of priority. Having tasks in multiple places makes it easy to lose them and really difficult to see what is most important. Help!

Make a Corral.

I’ve tried different systems over the years to corral tasks into a reduced number of areas. I try to group personal tasks outside of ticketing systems and email together into one tool. Getting down to one tool is part of a simplification plan that makes managing action items achievable. A single location allows me to group, sort, and prioritize the list.

I’ve tried a number of electronic solutions over the years and at times I just use pen and paper. There is a no perfect tool or system. What we choose to use is a personal preference based on how we think, how we mentally organize data, and what we can make part of our routine.

Personally, I prefer a tool that puts a task into the context of the larger body of work. I like a task list that is easily searchable. I like a tool that allows me to add notes and related documents to the task.

Some action items, like service tickets, are assigned in group workflow tools. These tasks require interaction with the customer/requestor or project manager. Using group workflow tools provides communication back to the requestor and keeps a record of the interaction.

Two important attributes for tasks.

To create an effective system for tracking my tasks and action items I try to focus on two key attributes. If you are evaluating methods or tools then consider these:

  1. Communication – Keeping the requestor current with clear communication is the best way to reduce the number of status report inquiries.
  2. Visibility – It hurts when I forget about a task. That’s like letting someone down because I forgot about something that is important to them. I need to pick a tool that I will both use and will see through the course of a day.

Making it routine.

Since I have tasks in both a personal to-do list and group workflow systems, I created an entry in my leader standard work definition so they receive recurring attention. Without some definition of routine our day is ruled by the loudest voices. That’s not productive.

Let’s do this.

Onward and upward!

Solve it!

I carry a paper notebook with me through the work week to records notes, thoughts, and action items. I prefer not to take my laptops into meetings because it helps me stay focused on participating injustsolveit the meeting. The content of a meeting, or other interaction, is often the source of ideas or even blog posts! Typically I transform my notes into an electronic system or put them in a to-do list. As I was reviewing my notes from this past week I found this thought:

“We want a formula to solve our problems.”

___________________

What would our business be like if every problem had a formula to follow for a guaranteed answer of success? That would be great. Sign me-up. Books are released every week with answers to common or recurring questions and problems. They give us checklists, rules, and procedures to find success. The ideas, the process, and the results make us feel good inside. It’s a prescription for success. Let’s get started!

But problems in life and the business are rarely that easy. A formula will give an answer and quite possibly a very good answer. But then I think if all the problems had a formula to follow to solve it, and everyone could do it, then there wouldn’t be winners and losers. Everyone should solve the problem every time. But you and I know that’s not reality.

The next thought in my notebook reads:

“Formulas and methodologies position teams for success but don’t ensure it.”

___________________

I enjoy the experience of a good game of baseball. Recently I read the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis. The book discusses the journey of Billy Beane as a professional baseball general manager who sought a formula to predict the baseball players most likely to succeed at their sport. With the help of some smart data analysts Bean did come up with a formula and it was used as the basis to build some successful baseball teams.  

But even with that formula there was more required. Even with the latest and greatest software development methodology more is required. Even with the dieting rules defined in that book more is required.

What the formulas don’t provide is the ability for someone to read current conditions before making decisions about the inputs and timing. In a business environment I’m thinking about conditions such as when people will be available for a project, when cash is available to fund an investment, or the opportunity cost for two competing projects.

I want to formula to neatly solve all the problems. But I can’t miss the requirement to read the context of the situation to augment the benefits of following the formula. I feel the skill to read the context of a situation and then execute the play is often times what separates a successful outcome from one that doesn’t meet the goals. Easy to say. Not easy to execute. There’s no formula for that.

Onward and upward!

What’s your True North

Sometimes when I read books I realize the author’s point is a variation or derivative of another concept that I studied in the past. It’s doesn’t mean the two authors thoughts are necessarily linked in any-way. I just get the same basis from each of their thoughts as I consider application in my life.

Here’s an example:

In Start with Why Simon Sinek talks about the power of understanding ‘why’ we do something and its relationship to ‘how’ and ‘what’ we do. He argues successful companies are started with a ‘why’ by an individual or group. ‘Why’ is the driving idea for inspiration and innovation.  When companies lose sight of ‘why’ they are in business and solely focus on what they produce, the results are not as beneficial to employees and customers.

I linked Sinek’s idea to basing management decisions on a long-term philosophy, (even at the expense of short-term financial goals), from the book The Toyota Way by Dr. Jeffrey Liker. In the Lean Principles a True North is a vision of an ideal state. True North is a guide to help with long term thinking because it is based on ‘why’ more than ‘how’ and ‘what’.

Why?compass

A while back I considered the lean principle of basing management decisions on a long-term philosophy. I thought about why I chose a professional career in Information Technology. Why am I motivated by certain experiences at work and not others?

I documented my answer as a mission statement.

IT Mission – “We connect people through systems and solutions.”

It’s simple. My ‘why’ is more about people than machines. My ‘why’ is more about solving problems than working with technology.

What’s your True North?

 

Photo Credit: Verino77 via Flickr Creative Commons.