Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The White Board in Identifying Opportunities for Change

"Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement."
-Henry Ford

The primary role of team members is to reveal in real-time, to each other, and to their managers what is not working as expected, that is, to identify in-process defects and waste.

To this end, we place white boards in the workplace so that defects can be made visible by the workers themselves, in a blameless fashion. A white board is a work communication tool for the worker and manager so that “no problem doesn't become a problem.”

Why write it down publicly?  Simply, to collect factual information about less than optimal work and because lack of effective communication begets poor quality. Should you walk into a workplace and see white boards, describing defects encountered, you will understand this tool to be a visual reminder that in a true Lean culture employees are empowered to work differently, invested in and accountable for the quality of the work they receive or produce.

White boards are a simple tool to help the individual worker and the team communicate within and between work stations, connect work stations horizontally across the path of work flow (or value stream) and make the workplace visual for both those doing the work and those managing the reliability, consistency and stability of the work. White boards are only fully functional as visual workplace tools when leaders have created the enlightened culture that encourages blameless identification of mistakes, provides an organizational structure and reporting relationships that incentivize empowered workers to contribute to daily defect resolution. This is the essence of Lean- a continual improvement loop with a 'shop floor' focus by employees who know the nature of their work best.

The elements that may be captured on white boards to clarify the defects that arise in your workstation and facilitate your team's subsequent resolution are the following:
                Who identified
                Action- short term (our rapid fixes)
                Action- long term (our A3 based improvements)
                Estimate % complete  (visual using a circle with quadrants filled in)

See if this Issues List described above from a White Board adapted from the manufacturing world helps you think about how to best to use your own white boards.

Standardized White Board

Although we have been using white boards for some years now, we have only recently standardized our own approach in the laboratories.  Below is our current iteration of a white board. The header is meant to inform and educate the workforce. It contains regularly used references to the defect resolution process of the Henry Ford Production System:

  • The 7 Types of Waste
  • The 5 Why's of Root Cause Analysis using an Ishikawa Fishbone diagram of common causes
  • The 4 Rules of Work from the Toyota Production System that are often in violation when a defect is encountered
  • The process improvement procedure methodology of the Henry Ford Production System
  • The leader's quality messages, here, the Wednesday's Words of Quality that I write weekly

The board is segmented to capture detail about:

  • Daily defects encountered
  • The defects immediately resolved on the spot or those queued for further development as an A3 based process improvement that often requires a 'Go and See' or a customer-supplier meeting
  • Communications for and between shifts and ongoing quality education topics and learnings

So, should you as the manager on a "gemba walk" through the workplace see a blank white board, you now have a visual of either a perfect workday (doubtful) or a workforce disengaged from their responsibility of contributing to continuous improvement. The simple white board functions for all levels of work engagement. 
Ford H. Today and Tomorrow. New York, NY: Doubleday; 1926
Ohno T. Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production. Portland, OR: Productivity Press; 1988
Rother M. Toyota Kata. Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010.
Spear SJ, Bowen HK. Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System. Harvard Bus Rev. September 1, 1999:96-106.


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