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Metrics, Boards, Huddles….Oh My!

Using Metrics, Visuals, and Huddles to Drive Continuous Improvement

By Heather Fraizer, Training SpecialistHeather Fraizer

As fall approaches, Training Services has had the pleasure to facilitate several groups’ strategy and deployment plans. Additionally, with more and more “big data,” it seems more people are becoming interested in metrics — rightly so. Metrics and paying attention not only to outcome data, but also process data, is vital to making progress on the continuous improvement journey.

Similarly, a growing number of organizations are recognizing the value of huddles — short stand-up meetings to kick off the day and have everyone start on the same page. As these two trends have continued to develop, our team has started coaching clients to utilize three tools in a systematic way to facilitate continuous improvement: metrics, visual management of those metrics, and regular huddles or meetings to check the metrics.

What we have then is essentially a three-legged stool that dramatically improves the likelihood of effective execution and as a result, continuous improvement. This line of thinking is supported by a wide variety of practitioners and authors ranging from David Mann in Creating a Lean Culture to McChesney, Covey, and Huling in The Four Disciplines of Execution. Let’s examine each leg in turn.

Metrics. Simply put, metrics are a way to observe the outcome or functioning of a process. While many organizations struggle with any metrics outside of the standard financial ones, people make decisions and adjustments based on metrics all the time: temperature, body weight, gas gauge reading, speedometer reading, movie ratings, etc. These are all examples of metrics — they are quantified information that tell you something about what is going on inside a process you cannot see. They tell you about either the process or current state of your body, the weather, your car, a movie, etc.

Metrics of an organization can tell you if a “process improvement” is actually improving your outcome. Or they can tell you if anyone is actually adopting or implementing the improvement. They can help you detect unexpected changes or variations that lead to further investigation and problem solving. The simple act of looking at a metric will typically improve the process just because the light is being shined upon it.

Visual Management. Many people track metrics in their business and a few people in those organizations actually see that data. So why aren't those data driving change and improvement? Often the right people are not seeing them. The data need to be seen by the people that can influence those numbers. Imagine this, your doctor tells you that you need to lose weight. So you start working hard at eating more vegetables, walking every day, and cutting back on sugar. You weigh yourself every Friday morning, but there’s no display on your scale — instead the data are sent directly to your doctor for him/her to monitor. How does this help you?

The next principle is those whom have influence over the data need to be actively involved in collecting, posting, and reviewing the information. This is most easily done through visual management boards. In addition to this keeping the data closest to those that influence it, the data are also available for leadership to check when they are on their gemba walks or visits to where the work is done in the organization.

Huddles. Our team has the pleasure of being able to visit a lot of different organizations. One thing you learn to look for is the detritus of past lean implementation attempts. Five S labels and old visual boards are the most commonly “left behind” artifacts of an abandoned lean attempt. Lots of people start visual boards but find they are too difficult to sustain. This is where huddles come into play. Huddles and weekly metric check meetings that occur around the boards help to keep pressure on using, adjusting, and updating the board. Also, huddles are where the magic can start happening — problem identification and initiating problem solving. While we don't want to engage in problem solving in the huddle, this is where connections are made, conversations started, and next steps identified that will result in improvements in outcomes down the line.

Read here about huddle best practices.

It doesn't matter where you are on the lean journey or if you rely on lean principles in your organization at all, the use of these three tools in synergy can provide the foundation of all other process improvements and organizational success.

Please contact our team at (231) 995-2218 if you would like help implementing these tools.

Heather Fraizer
Training Specialist
(231) 995-2200

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