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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Visual Controls: Simple or Sophisticated

When it comes to visual controls in the workplace the most common line of questioning is related to manual visuals versus computerized visuals.  Many people prefer the look of a more sophisticated information technology solution over a simple hand written solution.  There are a number of things to consider when deciding which visual method to use.

Manual Visual
Computerized Visual
Manual visuals are current as of the last recording and reviewed by frequency of the pitch.
Computerized visuals are current as of the last data entry and last time the report was run.
Hand written visuals are usually close to the process whose performance they reflect.  This also makes it difficult to disperse the information to other locations.
Computerized systems encourage managing the production process from a computer screen in an office somewhere removed from the actual production area.  A computer aided solution is definitely advantageous for computational accuracy as well as ease of distributing information.
Manual visuals are usually near or at the Gemba and can be physically verified but humans do make mistakes.

Computerized visuals are usually a long way from the source, often require judgment and execution of data, which can make accuracy difficult to assess.
Manual methods are not always precise, notes sometimes vague, and reporting periods can occasionally be missed.
Computerized visuals are highly precise regardless of accuracy.

Questions prompted by manual visuals can be addressed at least initially where it is posted and can be easily modified or new visuals created.
Computerized solutions are powerful analytical tools, but usually only designed to address the questions programmed and not easily changed or customized.
Manual visuals require little to no expense to implement and maintain.
Computers and network equipment are expensive to purchase, require continuing maintenance costs, and technical expertise.
Manual visuals are easy to use, owned by production floor, and draws people to the information whom helped create it.
Computers can be intimidating; the data is removed from shop floor to be transformed into impersonal computer-generated report.

Visuals are a means connect people to their processes.  They also reflect the adherence to the process and are the basis for comparing actual versus expected performance. Visual controls help transform the abstract concept of discipline in lean management into directly observable, concrete practices.  It is important to choose the right visual format for each process.  Due to the immediate, accessible, flexible, inexpensive, and responsive nature of manual visual controls they are my preferred method.

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1 comment:

  1. Tim these are very valid points, but I think technology in the past 10-15 years has allowed to challenge some of these paradigms.

    The most important and the key part to really address the question is what the visual control is for and what its source of data is - Since data, and the volume of data is important, deciding what format to use for reporting needs to be based on the best (most efficient) method to collect and store data. If it's best to manage via software, then it's best to report from the software.

    For example, visual controls associated with an inventory control system will likely be computer generated. There is too much data to be managing by hand (it's not very Lean to do so).

    Flexibility - the advent of great reporting tools allow software developers to integrate multiple filters and functions that allow any user to develop and save their own report variants. Users can select fields from a list, date ranges and even report colors and fonts.

    Expense - Wireless communication and cheap laptops allow you to have the computers at Gemba. Cloud computing now allows many companies to outsource their IT services to the point that they no longer need onsite expertise beyond managing the facility's internet connection and internal wireless network (for all those laptops now at Gemba)

    Where I think manual visual tools are best used is in short term or adhoc processes where developing a new system is not justified.

    George Rathbun
    INCENT Solutions