I love visiting manufacturing facilities. I learn something every time I do. When I take a walk through a company for the first time, I am always looking for one thing: Is it talking to me?
No, I don’t mean I want people to stop me to have a conversation, I’m talking about the shop floor (figuratively) telling me what its condition is . If I walk down the center aisle of someone else’s company and I can’t tell where the problems are, the fact is that they can’t either.
I love it when I can walk through the aisle and understand:
- How well the line is performing compared to the target
- What the problems are
- What they are doing about the problems
One of the ways that many companies will accomplish this is by utilizing metric boards at the end of the lines. These can be very effective if used properly and I have seen many companies try to implement them on their shop floor. After all, they are very easy to spot and when a leader visits another company that is embraced lean. They see these wonderful boards and think that they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Then they will insist that these miracle working boards be installed immediately around the shop so they can sit back and watch the performance skyrocket to new levels.
Let’s say you coach a basketball team and they stink. Installing a scoreboard isn’t going to make them a great team, right? Practice, conditioning, teamwork and things of that nature will. Yes, the scoreboard will be used during the game to understand the current status and may be used to make decisions during the game, but the scoreboard is only an indicator to how well they are performing.
When we have metric boards on the shop floor, it is to communicate what the goals are and the status of the performance compared to the goals. What makes a difference is how we are managing and implementing improvement activities in order to reach those goals.
All too often, I see leaders install these boards, chart information and carry on with business as normal and wonder why the boards had no effect. It’s because charting is not an improvement activity. It doesn’t change anything. It does, however, provide information on where to apply change. It might also provide information on what changes to apply, but the board must drive activity. This is what those Lean companies have understood, but it’s not always apparent to the visiting leader that thinks they’ve found an easy tool to mimic.
I do strongly encourage manufacturing to utilize metric boards for their lines, just please don’t try to use them as a substitution for improvement, but a compliment to them.