One time, while speaking with someone in the Lean Startup world, I said the phrase “visual management”. His response really surprised me: “Oh, I’ve never heard of that term before”. Ever since then, I’ve gained a greater appreciate for the simple, foundational principles of Lean that, for some reason or other, is forgotten by many others.
In this video, we show you Visual Management. You can also read the video transcript below.
What is Visual Management Video Transcript
Moderator: They’re both from Premera Blue Cross which is one of the outstanding LEAN organizations that is helping the state all through this process that we’ve started. They train and coach in Lean principles all throughout their programs. Tim is interested in value stream mapping and visual management as well. Christina specializes in the three M’s: Mura, Muri, and Muda my favorite. Without any further delay, here are your presenters.
Christina: Good afternoon. So you just heard, I’m Christina Webber. I work with Tim at Premera Blue Cross in a team called the Kaizen Promotion Office. What that means is that we train leaders and anyone in the organization on the what and the why of Lean, and then we assist them in how. We help them make that transition from the what is this and why are we doing it, and then the how by helping them figure out how do we apply this in the work that we do. In doing that, we learn something new every day about who our customer is, the work that we do, and the people that do it. We have learned a lot along the way from having some really good teachers who taught us and encouraged us to pick ourselves up when we fell down, which happen a lot and still does.
So we’re really, but what I don’t get to do every day is talk about that with people who aren’t from Premera. So we’re really honored to be here to talk with you just about what we’ve learned. You’re going to hear a little bit about what we’ve learned by falling down. We hope that by sharing a little bit about what our journey has been like, that that will help you do some of the how.
Tim: So Premera has worked with providers and employers. We are currently collaborating with the Washington State Health Care Authority. So we are excited today to be here and to partner with you to share some of our LEAN experiences and to talk about our Lean journey. So health care is a very hot topic. It’s one that everyone has opinions about. Premera as a company is interested in ways that we can add value from a customer perspective and LEAN and visual management as a way to do that.
So what are going to talk about today? We’re going to talk about ways to make problems visible so that they can be solved. We’re going to discuss how you can create a safe environment so associates feel comfortable surfacing problems, and in turn, how you can have the people that do the work, solve the problems that they bring forth. Then we’re going to discuss ways that you can use visual management to display what is happening compared to what should be happening. Take action to close any gaps, and then we’ll share with you some examples and how you can apply these Lean foundational concepts in your own area.
Christina: Thanks, Tim. So our agenda for today is really three things. We’re going to talk about vision management in terms of what it is, why it’s important. When we talk about what it is, we’re specifically going to focus on controls themselves, visual control boards, and on, which is a specific form of visual control used to call out problems. We’re going to talk about some ways that you might be able to apply it. We’re going to share some ways that we’ve applied it. Our goal is really that maybe you could take away just one thing that you could start tomorrow.
If we will some up visual management, if we look at any process or any work that we do, visual management is about knowing at a glance what is actually happening and what should be happening. So that’s pretty simple, right? But the funny thing is sometimes we don’t know that. There’s a lot going on. We’ve got some complex processes. I know we do. Visual management is about focusing us on the right things. So when we can clearly communicate at every level of our organization who’s our customer, what matters most to them, and how well are we doing on delivering what matters most to them, it starts to become a little simpler to see how we can get better.
Another part of visual management is empowering people that do the work to know that it’s okay to surface problems. Because when we show them that, when we show them it’s not only okay to surface those problems, but when you do, we’re going to help you fix them and we’re going to make you feel good about raising that problem, then your organization is going to be unstoppable. There’s not going to be anything that you can’t do. You might have heard throughout this conference, maybe before this conference, that implementing Lean is all about the culture. We want to create a Lean culture. A big part of that is taking the work that we do, taking the system which we do it in and building a system to show ourselves problems. So visual controls are a key way to doing that. I’m going to turn it over to Tim to tell you a little bit more about that.
Tim: Thanks, Christina. So visual controls are everywhere. They really are part of everyday life. Think about the dashboard in your car. At a glance, you can tell what speed you’re going, you can check your oil temperature, you can check the water pressure. Some cars, you can even tell if your tires are running low on air. So visual controls are really part of our everyday life. We’re all familiar with such things as traffic signs and traffic signals.
Since traffic can literally be a matter of life and death, traffic signs are very well designed. You don’t have to think about them. You just take a look. They’re simple. They’re intuitive. Their meaning is immediately clear.
You can apply this same concepts in your work area, come up with some simple, intuitive visual controls that provide at a glance information for all associates to see. So what happens when visual controls are not there? Think about when you pull up at that intersection and the lights are out. Now all of the sudden, you have to think, you have to start paying attention. You have to think about what you’re going to do next. Or think about when you go to the grocery store after it snowed and you can’t see the parking stalls in the parking lot. Its chaos, right? Everybody’s parked sideways. They’re up in the landscaping. There up on the sidewalk. It’s pandemonium. Same thing could happen here in your work area if you don’t have visual controls. If you don’t have visual controls in your workplace that provides at a glance information for employees, the associates need to seek out that information if it’s not readily available.
So an important part of visual controls is a need to provide easy visibility to the problems. You need to know if you’re not meeting expectations, and then you need to take action to get back on track. If you can’t see your problems, you can’t solve them. So visual controls your work area can provide status on your processes in a way that’s easy to understand and provides visibility to issues. You want it done in a way that’s simple and intuitive.
So before we talk about some work examples, I want to discuss the more every day examples of visual controls. So this picture is one of our recycling and compost and trash stations that we have at Premera. It’s in all of our cafeterias. There’s actually a version of one of these out in the lobby. The cool thing about this is it really lets the pictures do the talking. I don’t know about you but it seems to me like the rules for recycling and composting, it changes every week. So I need these pictures to tell me what to put where. I need to know what goes in the compost container. I need to know what goes in the recycling and so on. The other thing about this picture in the station is there are different shapes.
So there are different shapes for the different types of items. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get all the composting stuff into the trash container. It just it doesn’t work. So visual controls need to be simple and intuitive. This is a picture of a water bottle filling station. Is anybody familiar with this? Does anybody have these in their stations? A few people. So these devices showed up in the Premera hallways one day. We want to show this picture because there’s some really good visual controls on here. They showed up. We didn’t need an email that told us how to fill our water bottle. We didn’t need somebody to fill out a 30 page procedure document that says, “This is how you do it.” We didn’t need to do that because they’re simple and intuitive visual controls right on here.
So put a few of them out. There’s a diagram that shows you where to place your bottle. There’s a filter light that tells you what the status of the filter is. If it needs to be replaced, or even better, it tells you when it’s going to need to be replaced, so you know in advance. There’s also a counter that tells you it says, “This station has helped eliminate waste from over 19,000 disposable bottles.” So not only can you get hydrated but you get to feel good about doing it. So there are really very few words on here but there are still instructions. They’re very clear and simple and to the point.
I want to provide example of another visual control that some of you may be familiar with. I know that sometimes when I talk to my wife, she gives me this look. You know what I mean? Does anybody seen that look from their spouse? That look that says, “I need you to stop talking right now.”
So visual controls, what is happening? Believe it or not, this is a picture of a work environment. So you think about “I am,” or Office Communicator. You have a way to show your status, right? You could say, “I’m in a meeting I’m available. Do not disturb.” What we heard from a lot of areas, that they wanted a way to do that in the office environment. So this is actually what we do in the Premera Kaizen Promotion Office. So it’s pretty simple and intuitive, right? If you’re green cup is out, it means my door is open. I’m available. If the Yellow cup is out, it means please wait. If you can come back later, please come back later. If the red cup is out, that means please do not disturb. If you come up and all the cups are gone, well then, that probably means it’s 5 o’clock on Friday.
So we want to be available to answer questions for peers and be available for our teammates. But at times, we need to be able to put our head down to get our work done. So these simple visual controls help us do that. Talk about cheap. Talk about simple. You could stop at the Dollar Store on your way home tonight, pick up some solo cups, and put some controls in place in your work area tomorrow.
So visual controls should also say about what should be happening. So this is an example of a whiteboard that we use in one of our Premera departments. We like white board because they can be easily updated. It’s a quick and crude way to show what is happening compared to what should be happening. Like probably many of your areas, this department does many processes.
So this group came up with some clever ways to show the status of their processes. I want to point a few of them out. So there’s a gauge on here on the left-hand side that’s in yellow. So that process is not meeting expectations. So there should be an action plan in place to get that process back in green. There’s another process on here that uses thermometers that’s above the gauge that shows the status of that process. It’s currently green. Then on the right-hand side, there are some phones that can be colored in to show the status of that process. So that’s currently green, so it shows that their phone Q is currently meeting expectations.
So you might be asking yourself, “Why not just send out a report over email? Put it on a SharePoint site,” right? Isn’t that the new hip, cool thing to do? But you know, the source just may not read it. They may not go out to that SharePoint site and get it, and it may not even provide the information they need. Has anybody worked in a department that has one of those reports that’s like information overload? You know the kind I’m talking about, right? It’s like the numbers, they’re sliced, their diced, they’re due end. You can’t even read it, right? It’s the kind of report that says, “Hey, we’re really good in making reports.” Or I heard somebody say one time, “Oh, I can’t take Monday off. Monday is reporting. I need to spend all day getting the reports ready.”
So Lean says why don’t you come up with some quick and crude ways? Come up with some visual controls that provide the numbers that you really need. What are the top two or three numbers that you need and that your employees need to do their job?
So visual controls also provide an opportunity for teamwork and allow you to focus on the process. People respond to visuals. Visual controls allow for communication and sharing. You can use visual controls so anyone walking into your area knows what your processes are and how they are performing based on the standards. A good rule of thumb is 15 feet or 15 seconds. Somebody walking in should be able to tell what your processes are within 15 feet and after 15 seconds, know how those processes are performing based on the standards. Visual control board should also show status at a glance. At a glance, you should know like we talked about, 15 feet 15 seconds. But another important component of visual control boards is that you don’t want to just report the news. You also want to say how you’re going to influence tomorrow’s headlines. It allows you to bring your team together to talk about what is happening and what should be happening.
If you’re not meeting expectations, how are you going to close that gap? Get the people involved in the work to solve those problems to close that gap. There are benefits from increasing the involvement of you and your associates and in improving your processes. So visual control boards help connect people to their processes so problems can be surfaced and problems can be solved. So what are the benefits of visual controls, of visual control boards? Well, it provides timely information. They’re easily accessible, prompts questions, and it helps promote teamwork. So the actual appearance of these boards, it’s relatively an unimportant. What is important is that you understand why you should have these boards. That’s to show the status of your processes and the plan to close the gap if you’re not meeting expectations.
So you might be asking yourself, “How can we get started? How can we get some of that visual control goodness in our area? Just get started. Get those white boards out of the meeting rooms and bring them into the places where the work is actually done. Have the teams that do the work come up with the boards. Challenge them to be creative, to show and tell the story of their processes. One thing we did is we had different areas in a department each come up with their own visual control board. Then we have visual control board tour. For each area, talk about their board. All the other areas, we’re allowed to provide feedback to say, “Hey, is this port simple? Is it effective? Is it intuitive?” So one of the opportunities with visual controls is that once a problem or a discrepancy is discovered, someone needs to take action. So here’s Christina to talk about Andon.
Christina: Thanks, Tim. So Tim just talked about some quick and crude ways that all of us could figure out how to make what is happening and what should be invisible. I’m just going to ask you to think about something with me for a quick minute. So I want you to think about the last time you made a mistake or you discovered a problem, and I want you to think about how many people you wanted to tell about it. So what I’m going to talk with you about is this way of telling when a problem happens. Let’s tell everyone about it. Because if we can make, if we can discover a problem, that’s when we can get down to business. That’s when we can start doing something to make it better. So that’s really what an Andon is. It’s a type of visual control whose whole purpose is to bring attention to a problem so that everyone in the organization can know we have a problem and we need to deal with it now. The intent is for leaders to be able to respond quickly and start that problem-solving process.
So an effective Andon is simple, easy to understand and it alerts people to problems and it’s really a call for help. Let’s come together, fix this problem or do what we need to do so that we can continue the work. This phrase top the line as something that we learn from our study of the Toyota production system. So I know we’re going to Toyota. I’ve heard about it that there’s this line that the cars are on, that when there’s a problem identified, people doing the work tell everybody about it. They pull a cord or a lever or something like that and something significant happens. An alarm goes off, a light goes off, and people come diving out of the woodwork to help them literally.
So that idea can be very counter-intuitive, but that’s what our challenges is . It’s to agree as an organization that when we have a problem, we are going to agree it’s more important to stop and fix it now to save ourselves time, money, and heartache down the road. So a plan for action is really critical in making the shift I’m talking about, in making the shift from I just made a mistake or have a problem and I want to hide it. If you want to shift to making those problems visible and solving them, we have to have a plan for action. That plan for action is making sure that every time somebody says I have a problem, we respond right away. That can be kind of tough. Having somebody available to do that all the time can be tough. That’s something that we’re still learning about. But every time we respond quickly, we are going to be getting ourselves that much closer to getting better.
So we’re going to look at some Andons that maybe you already make use of. So there’s the dashboard again that Tim talked about. So in the lower-left hand corner, there’s a little tiny red light. That’s a little blurry, but you might recognize it as the seat belt warning light indicator. So the light gets our attention visually. I don’t know about your car, but in my car, there’s also a bell. I don’t know how the bell affects you, but the bell makes me want to do whatever I need to do to make that bell stop. That’s the point of an Andon. It’s to figure out a way to communicate. We need help with this right now so that we’re compelled to respond.
So the other Andons we’re looking at here is up in the upper right. When computer applications don’t work, we get an error message that’s telling us there’s a problem. This one tells us who to contact to get that resolved. The low battery is my good friend. Because sometimes, you just have so much work to do, you forget to plug in. You’re working along your merry way and we get this warning light saying, “Hello, Christina. If you’re really excited about saving this work, you need to plug me in.” A lot of us use Instant Messenger. The whole point of Instant Messenger is what? Access right away, right? So if someone’s not available, I get a message saying you need to go find another person to contact or something else.
Then look at this look at this. I told you we’re going to talk about some our problems. That’s my email up there. It’s almost full. So I can see at a glance. There’s a quick visual tells me how much space I’ve used and how much room I have left before I don’t get to send any more email, and wouldn’t that be sad?
So Andons are a way to really get creative. Your team can come up with the idea. It’s a way to get everybody working together. These are some Andons that are all from teams of Premera. So we have everything from a quick and crude paper sign that says “help” too. There are some teams that have little tiny maracas. So when you hear them maracas going, you know it’s time to get down to business or start solving some problems. We have tambourines and we have whistles. So one of the things that we learned about Andon is it’s really fun to be creative but you need to think about your neighbors. Yes, yes, yes. It gets better.
So our team that had the whistles was really excited. They were sitting next to customer service. So this is what we did to our customer, “Hello. Thank you for calling Premera.” “Hello? Are you guys on a fire drill? What’s all that whistling?”
So they came up with another Andon, but it’s a powerful lesson in learning how what we do really does impact everyone else in our organization. So when is it appropriate for an employee to raise an Andon? What the problem is big enough to tell everyone about it? Any problem exactly, employee, we want to encourage employees to let us know any time they have a problem and we want to have a way to respond anywhere they have a problem. So any Andon, any time we want to respond. If we do, they’re going to want to tell us about more problems and we’re going to find out things that were going on in our work that we never knew about and we want to be excited about that because discovery is a powerful thing.
So if you want to start doing this, this is something that you want to try so they can learn about more problems. You can do this right away. You don’t even have to wait to get back from the conference. So if you are willing to do this, I would like you to try this. The next time somebody tells you about a problem, I would like you to say two words before you say anything else. Those two words are thank you, because they just gave you a gift. So Andons really are about starting the problem-solving process so that we can help people know we really want to hear those problems. It’s something that you really can put in place right away. I think you’ll impressed about how much you learn how quickly.
So another important thing in making the shift that we talk about is learning to see and eliminate waste. Sometimes it’s hard to see waste because we’ve had to cope with it for so long that it’s just become part of what has to be done. So we’re going to talk a little bit about a way to learn to see that and eliminate it.
Five S is really a series of steps that you can apply to anything anywhere that work is done to learn to see and eliminate waste. Often, you’re going to see all the ways. But a lot of times, the ways that you’re going to see is the time we spend looking for things that we’ve misplaced, the movement we waste in trying to run around and find all those things, and we start to kind of see our work in a new way. So part of this whole point of five S is to learn to see waste so you can eliminate it. So if it’s all right with you, we’re going to show you some bars. Is that okay? All right. So we’re going to walk through each of the five steps and show you some pictures of physical environments of Premera. We’re going to talk a little bit about how this can be applied to processes or electronic environments as well.
But there’s another reason why we’re using the pictures of the physical environment. Because if you can do five S on a small scale, you’re going to have to exercise a certain amount of discipline. If you can exercise that amount of discipline on a small scale, you’ll be able to do it on a big scale. So when we talk about why five S, one of the reasons I want to share a little bit more about the why is because of what we’ve learned at Premera from maybe not doing it the right way in the beginning.
So the benefits of five S are that you’re going to be more productive, you’re going to save some money, you’re going to build your team by working together, and you’re going to create a safer environment. When I first heard about five S, I heard that’s verbatim. Those are the exact same things that were shared with me, but that’s not what I thought it was. It kind of felt like this rapid clean-up campaign where this group of people swooped in and I’m just kind of sitting there watching as they take my stuff. They’re like this is what you need, this is what you don’t need, this is where you’re going to put it. Now, it does all look the same. Isn’t that great? What’s not to love about that?
So I can let you know people didn’t love it. We learned a lot about what five S means kind of through trial and error. So if there’s any way I can save anybody from our mistakes, then my job here is done. But what I did learn at five S’s about, it is about learning to see and eliminate waste but it’s also about establishing the leadership modeling for standard work. So when we walk through and apply the five steps to anything. It could be your email. It could be a shared electronic folder or a website, your desk, a filing cabinet, we do start to see waste. I’m sifting through my email and I’m starting to see I have 4700 emails. No wonder I can’t find anything. Or there are twenty people that work out of the shared folder. You know what I’m starting to see? We’re naming things from 20 different points of view. We’re saving things from twenty different perspectives. Now, it started to make some sense why we can’t find them when we need them.
So then when we start to figure out, “Okay, well let’s figure out what we really don’t need. I really liked how the governor in the morning yesterday, she talked about sometimes we hang on to things that we used to need to sort through that and say, “Well, this used to be really important, but we’ve moved on.” We start to figure out what we do need and we don’t. We start to put it in the right place. So then we’re working together as a team. When we do that, we’re starting to do things in a standard way. Then we figure out, “Okay, so now that we’ve cleaned it up, we kind of like this. Let’s keep this going.” So let’s figure out a way to make that easy to maintain and then we’re starting to build self-discipline, which is really the first step toward standard work. Without any standards, we can’t get any better.
So we’re going to take you on a little virtual tour of Premera and show you some pictures. So we’ll get going with that. The first step we’re going to talk about is sort. So separating what’s necessary from what’s unnecessary. So we talked about how when we walk through the steps of five S, it’s not just about a clean and organized area. That’s just going to happen. It’s just a residual outcome of using these five steps to solve a problem. So let’s talk about some problems. So we had a space problem at Premera. We didn’t have enough of it. So we thought it was a good opportunity to apply the steps of five S and we started to find out some pretty interesting stuff.
So this, the sorting step is a simple step but it takes time. So don’t cheat yourself on not giving yourself enough time to do this because sorting means whatever your area is whether it’s your email or this cabinet we’re talking about, you touch every item and make a decision. Do we need this or not? A lot of times when we support a team doing five S, we can spend the better part of an afternoon just sorting. So it’s worth the time. Everybody in the team, if you’re sorting as a team, then the team gets to decide what we need and what we don’t. If I’m five S in my own desk, I get to decide what I need and what I don’t. We literally separate it. We can get the necessary pile, we can get unnecessary pile, and then we have a chance to re-purpose it or organize it. We’ll talk about that a little bit more later.
So in our little picture here, we were probably doing the sort step for about ten minutes when we started this figure out why we had a space problem. So we’re going through and we’re seeing, “wow, we got a lot of toner cartridges. That’s interesting.” So we’re doing some more digging and we’re finding out, “You know what’s funny? We don’t even have the printers that these toner cartridges go to anymore.” So then we start pulling out some boxes of highlighters and markers and we’re finding. “Wow, well this is great. Maybe somebody can use these. But then we start to discover, “You know what? These are so old. They don’t even work anymore. We’ve got to toss them.
You know what? We probably have some other really good embarrassing examples but those are just the two that stand out to me. So we’ll talk about simplifying placing things next. But when we figure out what we do need and what we don’t need, we end up usually having enough space. So some other things that we’ve learned that are really important in this sorting step is when I talked about people get to decide what’s necessary and what’s unnecessary. So if I’m at my desk and I decide every item that I say this is necessary, I then take ownership and accountability for making sure it’s always clean, available and ready for use. In a team area, anything that the team decides to keep,, they’re going to figure out a way to make sure that’s always clean, available and ready for use.
But in other things, we just talked about Andons and how if we have a problem, we’re going to be glad we found the problem and use it to get better. Sometimes when we’re going through the sort step, we’re going to see a lot of waste. Sometimes, that’s kind of a tough pill to swallow. At Premera, all our money comes from people’s premiums. So when we see ourselves wasting that money, it can be a little tough to take. Sometimes, you could be tempted to point fingers and start asking some hard questions about why would anybody do that. But we would just encourage you to let’s focus on the opportunity and not the failure, because it’s good that we discovered it so that we can do something about it.
So once we’ve sorted, then we’ve got to find out where it needs to go. So our next step is really about simplifying and finding a place for everything. So here’s some office supplies that we’ve sorted. So the pens are all together, the markers are all together but they’re not really in the right place and it’s kind of like a junk drawer waiting to happen, and we don’t want that. So one approach to take is decide a place for everything. Make it clear. You can use a label. You can use whatever to make it easy for anyone to understand where you want them to go. So another example that might be applicable to your own desk is your email. So if we’re going to use five S to solve a problem, we have to go back to that idea of what’s happening in my email and what should be happening in my email. Sometimes, what’s happening email is that it’s taken us 15 minutes to find something. So then, we set a goal.
What do we want it to be? Do we want it to be 30 seconds? Do we want it to be a minute? So then, that’s our should be. What should be happening? I should find it in 30 seconds. So then we’re using five S to help us solve that problem, close that gap between 15 minutes and one minute. That’s going to drive where we decide to put things. So maybe I need to change some of these folders where I’m saving my emails, or maybe I can use something like color. Maybe I can set up some rules to kind of drive email where I need it to go. Maybe I can come up with a better way of figuring out when I need to delete it. But whatever the outcome is, get back to that what should be happening and what is happening and use it to help you solve a problem.
So just like the sorts of stuff, people doing the work get to decide where things go. If it’s in a team, the team decides. If you need to get to consensus, something simple is just to use majority rules. But once you have a place for everything, now you want to make it clean and safe. So that brings us to a step called Sweet. Some people call this step shine. So this is a real task at Premera. What’s standing out to me is things that might not be a big deal right now but they could be. So we got some cords on the floor which probably aren’t a problem but they could be kind of a safety hazard. We have a lot of items on the desk. So they’re probably all important items, but they might make it hard to find some things.
You kind of can’t tell where things go, and sometimes we need to support each other. So a joke we have at Premera is that what if I win the lottery and I can’t come in tomorrow? How are you going to find stuff at my desk? So we want to have to be able to have a way for people to know how to access things. So after we got some clear work space, it’s just a lot easier to concentrate when you have that space or safety hazards have been removed and everything has a home. So there’s another part of the sweet step that is important to identify these safety concerns. It’s that sometimes if you’re doing a five S of your own desk, you might invite a neighbor to come watch you work for 30 minutes or half an hour. The reason for that is sometimes we can’t see the safety concerns that are going on in our work. So if I’m doing a five S of my desk, I might say, “Hey Tim, once you come hang out for a half an hour and watch me work. Because when Tim comes to watch me, he’s going to pay close attention to my hands, eyes and feet, and they’re going to start to tell their own story.
So if I’m at my desk working away, and this is all I really type, he might start to see things like I’m straining my neck, I’m squinting my eyes. I was going to think, “Well, why is that happening? Can you put your monitor closer? Can you adjust your chair?” Things like that. I might be working away. Maybe my desk isn’t even messy. I’m working away and every five minutes I’m kind of going like this, move my shoulders. I’m bending and twisting to reach things. Those are all opportunities for improvement. Like I said, they might not be a big deal right now but they could lead to a costly injury down the road.
So people can just get more done with better quality in a clean and safe environment. The word sweep isn’t a metaphor. We really do have to clean everything. The reason why is that cleaning is a form of inspection. When we clean things, we just don’t have any other choice. You’ve got to look at it a little closer. You have to look at a little differently, and it might tell you about a problem that you didn’t know about beforehand. So once we’ve gone through the steps, we’ve sorted, we put a place for everything, we made it clean and safe, so now the next thing we want to do is figure out a way to make it the norm. That leads us into our standardized step which is about making it easy to maintain.
So I don’t know if you have a junk drawer at home but we have one at work or we had one. So in the work that we do, supporting leaders in applying these tools, a lot of times we need a pencil, paper. You’ll notice in the lower-left hand corner, there’s some gum. Because when you’re getting ready to do Kaizen, it’s nice to have fresh breath. So what was happening is that we were getting ready to support people events and we were all just grabbing supplies at the last minute. So a few minutes before the event, were scooping down and taking some pencils and paper. Then after the event, we’ll dump them in there to deal with later.
So we applied the steps of five S and we spent the better part of an afternoon with some crafts supply boxes and some labels and tried to figure out, “Okay, so how many different events are we supporting on a predictable basis? Four? Do we need four boxes for different supplies? How many of each item do we typically need at any given time?” So we just tried to make what we discovered visual and labeled each section of the Caddy with a number of different items we need, and we had to agree as a team. So we’re doing this, and now we all agree that every time we pick up one of these caddies, when we come back, we agree to make sure we leave it fully stocked.
The interesting thing about making it easy to maintain is you do work together as a team. You have to come to some agreements and figure out how to make that work. One of the best ways to make that work is to be able to build that maintenance into your regular routine. If you’re thinking about electronic environment like a shared folder, naming conventions are a big way to help this easy to maintain and assigning ownership. So if Tim and I are sharing a folder and there’s ten different types of sub-folders in there, maybe I take five and those belong to me. Whatever Tim and I agreed to on standard naming conventions and retention guidelines, I take ownership of five of the folders to make sure that they’re always meeting our agreements. Tim made the ownership of the other five. So when we talk about making it easy to maintain, we’re going to start to see that it can always be improved. That leads us to our last step, self-discipline.
So we want to maintain and improve. So here’s our cabinet again. So we’ve got some things put in places but we noticed we were having trouble maintaining it and extra items were starting to creep back in. So I don’t know how well you can see, but on the before picture in the upper left, that sign says something to the effect of, “Please don’t leave stuff here,” and there’s stuff there. So sometimes just because we come to an agreement, we haven’t put enough in place to make that easy to maintain. So then we just need to go to the next level. So making some right size containers. So if we decide, “We only need 50 sharpies at a time, let’s make a box that only 50 Sharpies can fit in.” So when we talk about self-discipline, we really want to make sure that we can put something in place so that we pay attention to it every day. Because if we pay attention to it every day, we’re going to make it stick and we’re also going to start to see problems that we didn’t see before.
That’s what five S really does. We do learn to see waste. And once we learn to see one layer and eliminate it where our eyes are freed up to see something more, because we’re not distracted by the first thing that was getting in the way. That’s why it never ends. That’s why you’re always going to keep getting better. Because the more you see, the more you realize there is out there.
So when we talk about self-discipline, I just want to share something that we’ve done at Premera that has taught me a lot about this step. When we’re supporting these leaders doing these events, we sometimes generate some posters for value stream maps. Sometimes people bring things with them and we’re starting to find that there was all these orphaned items. After people would be in our area doing some Kaizen, there was a lot of stuff left behind and it start to get in the way. We started to waste time looking for things. I’ll be honest, the place was just kind of looking dirty.
So we had known about some manufacturing companies that they build cleaning into the into the workday. At a certain time during the day, everybody stops what they’re doing and they start cleaning. We thought, “Well, we’re not manufacturing anything, but we could. So we agreed as a team to break up our area into a couple different sections. Each person on team owns an area. We went out and bought some sweeper dusters. We agreed that every day from 12:00 to 12:05, we would start cleaning. That might sound kind of silly, and I know that we look silly when we’re out there with our sweepers. But some funny things started to happen that really have taught us a lot about this. So within like three days of us spending five minutes, no more than five minutes cleaning, we start to hear people our area making little comments. Some of the comments sounded like this, “You know what, the janitors are really stepping it up. They’re really cleaning up better.” Because one of the areas that we took is kind of a kiosk kitchen type area.
Some other things started to change too that we didn’t expect. So we started to change and we start to see different things. So when you’re cleaning the same place every day, it should be clean, right? It should stay clean. But we started on as, “That’s weird. I’m cleaning the space the same day. Some of it is always dirty and some of it is not.” So some of these books always have a layer of dust on them but others don’t. So that starts to tell us things like, “You know what? I think we don’t use the books with dust on them. Maybe we could share those or get rid of them.” We started to change our behavior, which was really interesting. So one of the areas that Tim has is this kind of shared collaboration table where we work on projects together. Sometimes I buy lunch there. Before this little activity, sometimes I’d leave my garbage there. So then, I start to know every day at 12:00, Tim is going to be cleaning up this table and I don’t want him to walk at the table and say, “It’s Christina’s junk again,” so I start cleaning up.
So we start taking more accountability just by spending five minutes cleaning. So this is something that anybody can do. Like I said in the beginning, the place looked better. Our area looks cleaner and more organized, but that’s not the reason we did it, and that’s a very small part of what we got out of it.
So if you’re interested in doing that, I think you get a lot out of it. Then if we think about five S and self-discipline, we’re talking about a lot of physical environments, and it’s important to exercise that step in something small so you can understand the discipline. But what if we did that with a process? What if we took one of our processes that is most important to our customers and we went through all the steps of five S and found a way to pay attention to it every day? Every day, we’re figuring out how is it going and how can we make it a little bit better. We can start with one process and extend that to others and others and others so that we always keep going and always improving. That’s one of the reasons that we’re talking about how five S is a foundation to continuous improvement.
I promise that you really can do this anywhere. You don’t even have to start it work. If you did it to your garage, I guarantee, you would learn a ton and you could take everything you learned back to your job. So if this is something that you’d like to try, I’d encourage you to do so. So you’ve been really good. You’ve been listening really well. I appreciate your time. We’re getting close to the end, I promise. We’re going to have time for questions at the end, so I’m let Tim do a quick summary.
Tim: So all these tools methods that we talked about today, visual controls, visual control board, Andons, five S, these are all tools and methods to make problems visible. Once those problems are visible, we kept talking about taking action. So when we say take action, what do we mean? Well, a lot of times, we go to the old standbys where we need to work over time. We need to hire more people. But that’s not what the Lean principles say, Lean principle say examine your processes. Look at your process to see how you can eliminate waste? How can you eliminate defects so you reduce rework? How can you add more value for your customers? How can you reduce hand-offs? That’s the action you should be taking. Look at your processes. If you can make your processes more efficient today, it will save you time tomorrow. Seeing those problems will actually lead to solving them.
Christina: Thanks, Tim. So when we talk about visual management and how seen problem seen waste leads to solving, we hope that you’ve found at least one thing you can take back to your area and try it.
This picture, that visual control board that Tim showed earlier and one of the ways that that team has used what they have started to see and drive that to solving, so this is one of our customer service groups that kind of done some visual control, some five S, what matters most to our customer, how do we know how we’re doing? It’s very simple. If we’re doing what we thought we should do, we write it in green. If we’re not, we write it in red. T hen that team gets together regularly and we start to talk about, “Great. Now that we know where we’re in red, let’s talk about why. What do we think is contributing to that and what kind of ideas do we have on how to solve that?”
So this other board on the right, whistling idea board, it’s full of these documents that we call an idea summary sheet. It’s a tool that we use to kind of walk ourselves through the process of describing ways, describing problems and coming up with ideas to try. It’s just a description of what problem is happening, what waste is contributing to, what’s an idea to solve it and then a little picture of what’s that look like now and what will it look like later. Then this is out in the area for all to see. You can see little signs that say, I don’t know if you can see what they say but they’re in process, new, or implemented. So because we want to make a big deal out of it when people say, Hey, we’ve got a problem,” we want to praise them for that and we also want to make a big deal about ideas that they come up with. So we want to make that something we really pay attention to. Is this idea new? Is this idea in process? Or is this one that we’ve implemented and help to eliminate some of that waste.
So if you want to start this and you think, “Hey, where do I start? We got a lot of processes. We’ve got a lot of complexity.” Start by going where the work happens and start by observing. Start asking people. Ask them what they think about what should be happening and what is happening and what they think is contributing to that. I’m going to go ahead and let Tim close this out.
Tim: Okay. So we’ve all heard that phrase, right? Well, that’s not a problem. That’s an opportunity and. With Lean, it’s really that phrase it’s true, because we want to celebrate problems. Because when we have a problem and it’s visible, that means we can solve it. We want to be able to recognize associates when they make those problems visible. But celebrating problems, that’s not the normal approach. Do we want to sweep one of the rugs? Do we want to run away from them? We want to go in the other direction, right? Or what happens when somebody brings a problem to us? We don’t always react in the most positive way. But we want to be able to create an environment where it’s safe for people to bring up problems. We want to create an environment where we celebrate those problems, because then we can solve them.
So people that practice and Lean say they love problems. They love problems because not only can we solve them but then it also helps us flex our problem solving muscles. We get to work on those problem solving skills. So we really do want to recognize associates when they bring up issues and concerns and it create that safe environment. So why Balloons? You might be asking yourself, why do we have balloons on the slide? Well balloons have become a similar Premera for celebrating problems. It reminds us that we need to think associates when they notice problems. It reminds us that we need to react in the right way when problems are surfaced, when you act in a positive manner and say, “Great, let’s go fix it. Let’s work together to solve this problem. Let’s develop our problem solving skills so we can be better tomorrow and solve even tougher problems.
So remember, it’s not about assigning blame. It’s not about pointing fingers. It’s about being focused on a better way. How can we make our processes better? It’s better to solve problems today than to deal with crisis tomorrow. So making problems visible is foundational to creating a workforce of problem-solvers. Governor Gregoire yesterday, she had a couple comments. She talked about honoring the power of your employees, and she talked about tapping into the innovation and creativity of your employees. That’s really the essence of Lean. Maybe you want to attack the process, not attack your people. We want to challenge the people to make the processes better and challenge themselves to do better themselves. So with that, Christina and I want to thank you very much once again for attending this sessions. We want to open it up for questions, so we think we’ll be able to hear people. So if you do have a question, please stand up, and we’d like to hear right here. Please stand up or speak up. Okay.
Participant: [Inaudible 00:51:48]
Tim: OK. So the question if you couldn’t quite hear, it is about standardization and how does that impact people not being robots and not turn to switch it. So really, standardization is important, because really, think about travel knowledge. Well, what travel knowledge is, with standards, it’s making that travel knowledge so everybody has that experience. So if somebody is doing something very well, you want everybody in the department to do it the same way. Like Christina was talking about with five S on your desk, if the desks are set up the same way, so somebody, if Christina is on a vacation, I know where her work is on her desk. We have a standard place for that work.
Christina: Can I talk?
Christina: I’m sorry. What’s your name?
Christina: Nancy. I’m really glad that you asked that question because I can tell you a little bit about a problem that we had in doing just what you talked about. So I didn’t mention it in the presentation. I wanted to but I forgot. So that was one of the things that we didn’t do well when we first started doing five S. We did exactly what you’re talking about. Like when I was on, it felt like it’s this campaign. Everybody is coming in. I’m taking my stuff. Tell me where to go.
We did that. People did feel like that. So to your point about standardization, this is what we learned about it. So if Tim and I and maybe five other people were on the same team and we’re going to have five S of our desks, I get to set my own standards. So does Tim, so do the other three people. The standardize, making it easy to maintain, I can do it however I want but I need to make it easy to maintain. If I’ve done those steps well, it’s probably going to be easy for other people to understand what I’m doing. So that was supposed to leave it at that. Now in a team environment, I don’t know if you have questions about that. So we have different team environments. I don’t know. I guess I’m going to come up with some of the ones that I know. If I’m not hitting the mark let me know, but we have areas where we all have to use the space. So we have a conference room in our team where we do a lot of our training. So it belongs to all of us, but there can only be, we have to figure out one way to set it up.
So there’s probably as many different approaches to that as there are people, but the important thing is that each person on the team gets to share their piece and the team has to decide, because we use five S to solve a problem. So the team has to decide what is actually happening in this conference room and what should be happening in this conference room. That’s going to lead us to start thinking about, “Okay. So what waste is going on? Like if it is the problem that the conference room is always messy, then our problem to solve is so how do we keep that clean. Do we need to put some like one of the things we tried in our conference room? Is the chairs were always askew? So we put down some tape to indicate where the tables and chairs should go, so then anybody can do it. But we also kind of assign some ownership, so our little daily team clean that we’re talking about. One person owns the conference room. Problems that they expose in the conference room, we then problem solved it as a team.
So does that help? Okay. Thank you, Nancy. Awesome question. In the back.
I’m excited about your question, I just couldn’t hear it. Sorry.
Oh, very good. What’s your name?
Participant: [Inaudible 00:56:24]
Christina: Okay, you don’t have tell to me your name. Just fine. I’m just excited about your question. Yeah. Okay. So thank you, Tim. Tim, this is why Tim is here, to help keep me on track. I need a lot of help. So the question as I understood it was, it is important to standardize, but how can you let people be creative?
So I’m glad you asked that question for a couple of reasons. One, I was planning to address in my presentation but I forgot, and two, because it’s important. So I’m going to ask you guys to think about your local daycare kindergarten classroom, preschool classroom. They’re all probably different but they all have standards and they’re probably very creative. I don’t know what they are, but I think when 90% of your audience can’t read, you have to let pictures do the talking, right?
So they provided creative ways of doing that. So there’s probably like they have things of the right size, like they have the little cubbies and the cubbies would only hold a kid-sized coat, not a grown-up size coat and it will have like a picture. This is where the coats go and this is where the activities go. They probably have some tape like we have in our conference room. They probably have a little line on the ground to say, “This is where you line up.” I guarantee you that any one of these preschoolers could give us a tour of this room and tell us where everything goes. But they could tell us if anything’s out of place and that teachers probably have maintenance built into the work day.
So if I’m not answering a question let me know, but the standardization is less about having to do it in a sterile uniform way, and it’s more about doing it so that the standard is simple and easy to understand. So does that helps? You can say no. So okay. So if we’re talking about being creative and being standard, I’m trying to think of an example. Tim, would you want to take that?
Participant: [Inaudible 00:58:38]
Christina” Oh, Okay. So the question is how you handle the balance of standards and creative. So I would say that that probably goes back to the fact that we have to agree what problem are we trying to solve. Then to solve this problem, what do we need? What do we not need? Where do things need to go? And then in standardizing, how do we make sure that where we all just decided, it needed to go. How do we make it easy to keep it there? So you could use labels. You could use pictures. You could use a combination of both. Sometimes, the best way to standardize is to spend the time making sure it’s that way every day. But the balance really goes back to the problem-solving. Because generally, whatever problem we’re solving has to do with who is our customer, what matters most to them, and how well are we doing.
I don’t know who was first, I’m sorry. I think I saw you first in the back. Yeah.
Participant: [Inaudible 00:59:59]
Tim: Okay. So the question was about prioritizing ideas on the idea board and visual control board. So really, it’s having the team work on those items together and deciding as a group what items are most important. It goes back to the problem too. What problems are you trying to solve? What problems are going to add value to your customer? What problems are going to have the biggest impact on your processes? You’re right. You don’t want to lose sight of them.
Some of those items that fall down to the bottom of the pile, you want to keep revisiting them because they might have a bigger impact tomorrow. What you can do is just assign those ideas sheets to associates and have them work on them. It goes also together with having the standards. So you have your standard in place, team standards, but what you have your creativity work on making that standard better and improving as a group.
So I had an experience where I was able to go to a workshop at a local manufacturing company. One of the team leads said something similar to the sense that he said, “We five S this area every six months. In the sense, I said, “Well, if you’re doing it every six months , then you’re not teaching and educating your employees on what five S really is about. Five S is about minimizing the waste of time. Five S is about coming up with team standards. So he said it’s about training your associates, training your employees about what five S really is, having them see the benefits; increase safety, saving time, saving costs. That’s that self-discipline. It’s the tough part but you have to keep educating people and keep focusing on that to make it beneficial.
Christina: I’m sorry. I just had a question about your question with the trouble maintaining or sustaining. Do people know? Does every person have a role in sustaining each piece when you talk about holding people accountable?
Participant: [Inaudible 01:02:42]
Christina: Yes. I mean, if it’s not clear to people what their role is in maintaining it, that could be the next area to focus on. So what makes sense for each person to do to help maintain this? So it could be if five minutes is too much, then that’s Okay. It doesn’t have to be at the same time. We do it at the same time, but maybe it’s just that each person knows what their piece in it is and they do that as they can. So it’s really up to you, but it sounds like that figuring out who’s accountable for what might help solve that accountability problem. So good luck. In front.
Participant: [Inaudible 01:03:40]
Christina: Right. So if I put a whiteboard up in this building here in Tacoma and everybody that needs to see it scattered all over the state. OK, so I didn’t repeat the question. The question is how do you apply visual management when different people on the team aren’t in the same physical location to see it? So that’s a good question. That’s something that we deal with at Premera as well. You can be creative about it. I’ll share with you some of the ways that we deal with that, but there might be something that works better for you. The visual control board, it doesn’t have to be physical. That is the best way, because of what Tim said about 15 feet and fifteen seconds everybody should be able to now. But if everybody’s world is really through instant messenger and e-mail and what not, leverage your current communication.
So the key thing about that if you have to do it, through email or some sort of site predictability is your friend.
So let’s say you figure out who’s a customer, what matters most to them and how are we doing on that, so if we’re going to agree to figure out what that is and measure that every day or every week or whatever the interval is for your group, we have to communicate that at a predictable way. So if we’re going to do it through email, people have to be able to depend on it. If it’s always going to be 8:00 on Monday, it always has to be 8:00 on Monday. Key to visual management is engaging your team. So if we’re going to send out the email 8:00 clock on Monday, let’s get on the phone at 8:05 and just talk really quickly. It shouldn’t be more than 15 minutes. Just talking about that what should be happening, what is happening, and then maybe giving people a chance to share what problems they’ve had. Then the problem solving happens outside of that daily meeting. Any other questions?
Participant: [Inaudible 01:06:07]
Christina: So that’s a good question.
Tim: So the question, if you didn’t hear, if an employee brings a problem up and it might be master in the form of a complaint, how do you deal with it? That probably happens all the time. That’s probably how we perceive it. So I talked about earlier about making sure we celebrate those problems. Sometimes, the delivery of I have a problem may not be the most pleasant experience. But a good example is we had idea summary sheets and people had a hard time to turn them out. But it’s easy for people to complain about what’s hard. As soon as they start complaining, flip it around, and then that’s their idea sheet. So when they’re complaining, and it’s our job we kind of pull it out of them. Okay, so what are they really saying? What is the problem through that complaint? As you work through that process then, people will feel better about delivering what our problems in a better format. But that complaint, that’s an opportunity. That’s a gift as well. It may not feel like it, but it is a gift and it’s up to us to be able to really cipher that out. Other questions? Okay.
Christina: You guys are fantastic.
Tim: Thank you very much.