Visual workflow management


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Visual workflow management

  1. 1. 4 Visual Workflow ManagementBackground and OverviewO ne of the questions that I am asked most frequently by clients who are interested in implementing lean product development is “where should we start?” Given the manifold forms of wasteassociated with new product development, deciding on a starting pointfor your lean journey can be difficult. In principle, your firm should beginas this book begins, with a highly effective project selection and priori-tization process. From there, you would move through the chapters inthe order they are presented. That is not, however, the way that I answerthe above question. Instead, I tell my clients with absolute confidence:“Start by implementing Visual Workflow Management.” There is no toolor method in my repertoire that has had greater success, both from thestandpoint of impact on team performance and from the perspective ofease of implementation. Organizational change is a beast that feeds onsuccess: Quick and highly visible wins are critical to building momentumand gaining credibility for any improvement initiative. Visual WorkflowManagement is quite simply the best place to begin your lean productdevelopment transformation. The background for this methodology begins with the straightfor-ward concept of stand-up meetings. In the early days of my career as a 81
  2. 2. Mastering Lean Product Developmentdevelopment team leader, I was assigned a high-risk technical projectand provided with a team of brilliant scientists. Unfortunately, afterseveral weeks of virtually no progress on my new project, I discoveredthat these clever folks had no idea how to be productive. Each Friday Iheld my obligatory team coordination meeting, statused my schedule,cajoled the team to get their act together, and was consistently disap-pointed. Then early one morning I took a walk through our factory andeverything changed. As I was wandering the production line, I noticeda group of about twenty people clustered around a large whiteboard.Curious, I inserted myself into the group and observed what I laterlearned was a shift-change meeting. Ten minutes of intensive interaction,coupled with a detailed list of actions, issues, status, and progress, allupdated and captured in real time on the whiteboard. After the meeting,I spoke with the shop foreman who had led the meeting and learned thatthis took place every single morning. Somewhat in desperation, I insti-tuted a similar meeting with my team of unproductive scientists and theresults were immediate and dramatic. Frequent, short-duration stand-upmeetings created a sense of urgency, instilled positive peer pressure to beproductive, enabled synchronization of work, allowed the rapid resolu-tion of conflicts and issues, and much more. In the twenty-five yearssince those first meetings, my techniques have evolved and improved(see Mascitelli (2002) and (2007)), but the basic concept remains thesame: Just-in-time management of a team’s workflow is critical to maxi-mizing productivity. Actually, the use of frequent stand-up meetings is more commonthan you might think. Many restaurants and retail establishments holdbrief staff meetings just prior to opening their doors each day. In lawenforcement, a similar meeting is held to prepare patrol officers for theirshift. The obvious sports analogy is the football huddle, which in rugbyis called a “scrum.” Interestingly, the term scrum has been adopted byagile programmers to describe their version of the stand-up meeting (seePichler, et al (2010), Poppendieck (2003), and Schwaber (2002)), whichis an integral part of this very successful methodology. In every case,the benefits are the same: In a rapidly changing environment, it is vitalthat team members frequently resynchronize their efforts, coordinate,communicate, and flexibly adapt to current conditions. 82
  3. 3. Visual Workflow Management The stand-up meeting is actually only half of what I refer to asVisual Workflow Management, as shown in Figure 4.1. The other half isequally important; the use of a visual management tool to capture thecurrent state of a team’s activities and enable real-time planning of futureactions. The concept of visual communication dates back to the dawnof history. Roman legions used color-coded banners to communicateorders across a vast and noisy battlefield. For centuries, ships at sea haveemployed signal flags to communicate under similarly challenging condi-tions. Much more recently, the idea of visual management became a coretool of the Toyota Production System, in the form of andon boards andvisual kanbans (see Bicheno (2004) and (2009), Galsworth (1997), andGrief (1991)). Toyota and other Japanese firms subsequently adaptedvisual tools to the office workspace through the use of obeya rooms andboards (which are closely analogous to the “war rooms” used by majorproject teams for many decades, see Shinbum (1995)). In each instance,the use of colors, graphics, and symbology provides clear and unam-biguous information that can be understood in a heartbeat.FIGURE 4.1: Visual Workflow Management consists of two techniques used syner-gistically. Stand-up meetings provide a forum for intensive exchange of informationamong team members, and encourage rapid resolution of issues and conflicts. Whencombined with a visual project board to capture status and facilitate near-term plan-ning, a significant increase in team effectiveness and productivity can result. In the sections that follow, I will describe an extensively tested andproven approach for implementing Visual Workflow Management. 83
  4. 4. Mastering Lean Product DevelopmentAs always, your own creativity must carry you beyond my genericmethodology. However, I strongly recommend that you consider usingmy templates and guidelines as a low-risk starting point. Although myinitial discussion will focus on the visual management of individualproject teams, I will later extend this technique for use in a multi-projectenvironment, and even into support groups and other value-creatingresource pools. Visual Workflow Management is not just a productdevelopment tool; it will benefit any group of individuals who must worktogether as a team toward a common goal.The Basics of Stand-up MeetingsThe most important attribute of a successful stand-up coordinationmeeting is brevity. The purpose of this meeting is not to deep-dive intotechnical details. It is intended to answer three specific questions: whathas the team accomplished since the last meeting, what actions mustbe completed by the next meeting, and what issues or obstacles mightprevent the team from achieving those goals. I’ve found that fifteenminutes is an optimal duration. Keeping your stand-up meetings briefis vital to imparting a sense of urgency to your development team, andgiven the fact that participants are actually standing, fifteen minutes isabout the limit of people’s comfort. Maintaining this discipline can bea challenge, given the tendency of engineers and designers to go off ontangents. You must stand your ground: If you allow these meetings to beopen-ended, you risk alienating the attendees and poisoning the watersfor this highly beneficial tool. As trite as it may sound, I recommendthat teams use a kitchen timer at first to condition team members tothis short duration. Once the team has a sense of the pace required, thetimer will become unnecessary, but someone should still keep an eye ontheir watch to make sure that your stand-up meeting doesn’t turn into anendless dirge. The timing of your meetings is also important, although there ismore flexibility here. Getting the team together first thing in the morningis ideal, provided that the arrival times of attendees are not too far out of 84
  5. 5. Visual Workflow Managementsync. If your firm has instituted “flex-time,” for example, you may have toschedule your meetings just before lunch. Try to avoid holding stand-upmeetings near the end of the day: There is little point in creating a senseof urgency as people are walking out the door. Location is arbitrary, andcertainly not restricted to a conference room. As long as others in thevicinity will not be disturbed by the team’s conversation, a hallway, largecubical, laboratory space, or even a break room will work perfectly well(note that once the visual project board is integrated into this method-ology, some wall space will be required). Several firms that I’ve workedwith have established dedicated rooms for their stand-up meetings, withmultiple project teams sharing a common dedicated space (at differenttimes, of course). A few have even installed chest-high conference tablesto allow attendees to take notes without the need to sit down. The most unusual attribute of stand-up coordination meetings isnot their brevity, but rather their frequency. The primary goal of thiscommunication tool is to break up the time batches caused by the typicalweekly (or even twice monthly) team coordination meeting. If we thinkof coordination meetings as points of synchronization and alignment,then every day that passes before the next meeting increases the likeli-hood of team members drifting from the optimal path. Depending onthe pace of the project and the criticality of team communication andcollaboration, the rate of drift can vary considerably. However the prob-ability of misunderstandings, missed opportunities to interact, delayedhandoffs, indecision, and incorrect assumptions will steadily grow as thegap between coordination meetings increases, as shown in Figure 4.2. The appropriate frequency for your team’s stand-up meetings shouldbe determined by answering a simple question: How rapidly do thingschange on this project? Information theory tells us that for commu-nication to have value, it must contain something new, different, orunexpected. If your team members have little new information to shareat their stand-up meetings, then they are being held too frequently. If alot happens between meetings, and it is evident that communication andalignment opportunities have been missed, then the frequency shouldbe increased. Even within the life of a single project, the frequency can(and should) change, depending on the pace of activity. During periodsof intensive collaboration, such as prior to critical milestones, gate 85
  6. 6. Mastering Lean Product Development High High rors rors gnitude of Err gnitude of Err and Waste and Waste MagMag Low Low Time Between Meetings Time Between MeetingsFIGURE 4.2: In any collaborative team activity, the greater the gap between coordi-nation meetings, the higher the potential for errors and waste to occur. More frequentcommunication of status, progress, issues, and priorities will ensure team alignment,avoid schedule delays, and encourage a truly collaborative, prototype tests, integration points, etc., the frequency of meet-ings should increase. Conversely, in lull periods where work is slowedby supplier delays, waiting for regulatory approvals, and so on, thefrequency should be reduced. That being said, I’ve found that for mostprojects, holding stand-up meetings three times per week is about right,as shown in Figure 4.3. This allows enough time for significant work tobe completed between meetings, but avoids the time-batching effectsdescribed above. Remember that stand-up meetings are a replacementfor the usual weekly team get-together, so in principle, team memberswill spend less time attending three fifteen-minute stand-ups than theywould spend in longer (and more boring) formal meetings. The stand-up meeting represents a feedback and control system foryour product development projects. In this context, the frequency ofmeetings determines the degree of control. Some real-world exampleswill make this abundantly clear. Returning to the analogy of a footballhuddle, imagine what would happen if the team coach decided on theplays for the entire game before the coin toss, and then just sat back andwatched the game unfold. Of course this would result in a catastrophicloss. Instead, huddles occur after every play, enabling the team andcoach to adjust their strategy based on their current situation. Likewise,imagine a car with a steering wheel that has a substantial delay betweenyour steering action and the response of the front wheels. If you are 86
  7. 7. Visual Workflow Management Monthly Sustaining activities / long-term strategic projects Weekly Major projects with low schedule pressure Recommended For Most Projects! 3 per Week Typical projects with high schedule pressure Daily “Crunch times” within a schedule-critical project Crunch times Twice Daily Emergencies, firefighting, last few days prior to launchFIGURE 4.3: The frequency of stand-up meetings should be based on the pace ofactivity of a project. For a typical project, three times per week is sufficient to avoidtime-batching effects, while still allowing enough work time between meetings forprogress to be made.driving on a straight and open highway, this might not be an immediateproblem. However, on a winding road or in traffic, even a one-seconddelay would be potentially deadly. As the pace and urgency of a projectincreases, the need for rapid feedback becomes compelling, and thefrequency of stand-up meetings should increase accordingly. The specifics of what transpires during a stand-up meeting will bediscussed in a later section, but one point must be made upfront: thisforum is owned by the team, not the team leader. Initially, the team leaderwill have to provide the impetus. Getting people to show up on time,holding to the fifteen-minute duration, imparting a sense of urgency,and so on, will require leadership. However, once these meetings reacha steady state (typically after just a few weeks), the team leader shouldretire to a passive role, and only intercede when decisions are required,or to provide guidance as to priorities and direction. In fact, I stronglyrecommend that the facilitation of the meeting rotate among the teammembers, so that everyone has a chance to play this role. If stand-upmeetings become little more than frequent flogging sessions by the teamleader, you will have entirely missed the point. This tool is intended toencourage collaboration, overcome obstacles, and ultimately build the 87
  8. 8. Mastering Lean Product Developmentemotional commitment that is vital to a team behaving like a team. Ifproperly instituted, the stand-up meeting will take on a life of its own.However, if team members do not recognize the benefits of their partici-pation, it will never achieve its full potential.A Proven Format for Visual Workflow ManagementMy first “visual project board” was nothing more than a flip-chart easeland a handwritten list of short-term tasks. From those humble begin-nings, I’ve been evolving this tool for two decades, always mindful ofthe tradeoffs. If the visual board does not facilitate real-time statusingand planning of a project, then it fails to achieve its goals. On the otherhand, if the board becomes so complex that it requires excessive timeto maintain it, then we have created waste rather than reducing it. Theformat presented in this section is my current recommended approach,and can be adapted to virtually any development project. Again, thefocus in this section will be on applying the tool to a single project: Thistechnique will then be adapted to managing multiple small projects in asubsequent section. The primary goal of a visual project board is to provide a “snapshot”of the status and progress of a project that is intuitively understandableto both the team members and upper management. For this tool to beuseful as more than a wall-mounted status report, however, interactivity isessential. I want more from a project board than just information; I wantengagement, commitment, and real-time issue resolution. The formatillustrated in Figure 4.4 meets this broader goal successfully, and requiresvirtually no time to maintain. Before I discuss the details, however, it isworthwhile covering some of the logistics. First, I typically recommendthat a four-foot-by-six-foot whiteboard be used for this display; plenty ofroom to cover all the bases, but still a manageable size. Smaller dimen-sions can certainly work, but avoid turning your visual board into aneye chart. Remember that the whole idea is to engage both the team andmanagement in the flow of your project, so a board the size of a microficheis not ideal. Location is arbitrary, but sufficient space must be available 88
  9. 9. Project Timeline Planned Work Two-Week Action Plan Week 1 Week 2 Mon Wed Fri Mon Wed Fri Tom Problem Solving Dick Out Harry Out89 Unplanned Work Jane Out Out Parking Lot Visual Workflow Management Sally Mary FIGURE 4.4: A well-tested format for a visual project board that captures the status, progress, and plans for a single development project. A multi-project version of this board will be discussed in a later section of this chapter.
  10. 10. Mastering Lean Product Developmentfor the team to hold their stand-up meetings. In the best of worlds, theboard would be situated in close proximity to the team’s cubicles, and inconvenient view of management. Don’t let the lack of physical space holdyou back from implementing this tool. There are a number of innova-tive solutions to limited wall space, including sandwiched multi-boards(three overlapping boards that slide relative to each other), freestandingmulti-boards, and even pull-down boards. Several virtual solutions arealso possible (these options will be discussed in the final section of thischapter), but heed a word of warning. Visual Workflow Management isa human engineering tool: It depends on the physical interaction of theteam with the board to achieve its maximum benefit. Use physical projectboards whenever possible, and only resort to virtual solutions when logis-tics or other issues cannot be resolved in any other way. Now for the details. The left-hand side of the visual board formatshown in Figure 4.4 displays the upcoming work commitments of theproject team. These commitments are divided into two categories:planned work and unplanned work. The planned-work template liststask milestones that are derived from the project master schedule (thecreation of a suitable project schedule will be discussed in Chapter 6).In a perfect world, this planned-work section would be all that is neces-sary to guide the team toward success, but often this is not the case. Theunplanned-work template shown at lower left is designed to captureunexpected tasks or action items that arise during the execution of theproject. If unplanned work is of substantial scope, it should be foldedinto a replan of the project. Smaller activities that can be dispositioned injust a few days or weeks, however, would not warrant a replan, but mustnonetheless be captured and integrated into the team’s daily workflow.When combined, the two templates shown at left should represent theentire workload of a given project team. Note that if team members arecommitted to other projects as well, those demands would be captured onother visual boards, in such a way that there is no duplication or overlapamong the boards. If sustaining factory support or other non-projectresource demands are draining time from team members, a variation ofthis format will be described later that can make those conflicts visible. Examples of a planned-work and unplanned-work template areshown in Figures 4.5 and 4.6. The planned-work template displays a 90
  11. 11. 91 Visual Workflow Management FIGURE 4.5: The upper left-hand section of the visual project board format shown in Figure 4.4 contains a template for planned project work. This template displays a two-month “magnified” view of the project’s master schedule. I suggest using a spreadsheet rather than a Gantt chart to improve readability, and allow inclusion of red / yellow / green exception-statusing of individual tasks.
  12. 12. Mastering Lean Product DevelopmentFIGURE 4.6: Minor deviations from the project plan would not warrant a formalchange to the project master schedule, but must nonetheless be visually capturedand managed. The template shown above is just a typical action-item trackingsheet which can be used to monitor short-duration activities such as risk-mitigationtasks, minor changes to the product design, responses to management or customerrequests, and so on. A red indicator is used to signal when a task on this list hasmissed its agreed-upon completion date. A priority column is provided to help theteam focus their time.two-month, rolling-window view of the project’s milestones. The two-month window provides sufficient forward visibility for the team to plantheir efforts, yet helps keep them focused on the actionable near term.I use a basic spreadsheet format with appropriate columns to capturethe nature and ownership of each milestone, along with red / yellow /green visual status indicators. A Gantt chart would work here as well,but I’ve found that the task-list format is easier for team members toread, and allows more information to be presented (e.g., status, owner-ship, comments) than a typical bar-chart schedule. The granularity oftasks listed in the planned-work template depends to some degree onthe duration of the project. Relatively short-duration projects, of saysix months or less, should have a task milestone every week or so, onaverage. Longer-duration projects should have milestones every twoto three weeks on average. As time moves forward on the project, therolling window moves forward as well, acting essentially as a magnifyingglass for the project’s high-level master schedule. This level of granularity 92
  13. 13. Visual Workflow Managementis important: For the project board to enable real-time planning, theremust be a seamless connection among the high-level master schedule,the two-month rolling-window plan, and the center portion of the board,which will be described in the next section. Since one of our lean goals for new product development is toinstitute exception management, the use of red / yellow / green statusindicators is ideal. In this familiar scheme, a green color indicates that aspecific task is meeting its goals, whether they are cost (typically refer-ring to unit manufacturing cost), schedule, or technical performance.A yellow color represents a warning that the given task is enteringdangerous waters. Finally, a red color signifies that the task has exceededits exception boundaries, and deserves attention and possible interven-tion by management. For exception management to be effective, yourcolor indicators should be defined as quantitatively as possible. Forexample, a red for cost could be defined as exceeding the product’starget manufacturing cost by greater than 10 percent. A red for schedulemight imply a critical-path schedule slip of more than two weeks, whilea red for technical status would highlight a shortfall in some mandatorydesign requirement or feature. Your goal should be for this template torepresent a self-contained management status report, and over time youshould collaborate with upper management on its contents to avoid theneed for any other statusing of the project. The lower left-hand section of the project board contains a templatefor capturing unplanned work, as shown in Figure 4.6. This is critical tothe success of Visual Workflow Management, since all work performedby the team on the development project must be managed through thisboard. Any stray tasks or minor distractions will create turbulence to theflow of a project, and must be visually managed to minimize disruptionsto planned work. The suggested template is just a typical action-item list,with ownership, due date, etc., explicitly shown for each task. The type ofactivities that might populate this template include minor task modifica-tions (e.g., running a retest of a prototype, making a small change to adesign element, deviations from normal procedures, and so on), alongwith actions required to reduce risk, or accommodate management orcustomer requests. Rather than dignify these quick-hit activities withfull statusing, I simply use a red indicator for tasks that have missed their 93
  14. 14. Mastering Lean Product Developmentagreed-upon completion date. When combined with the planned-worktemplate, all project work should now be clearly documented for boththe team and upper management, and will be dispositioned using aninteractive short-term planning tool as shown in Figure 4.7. The heart of the visual project board is the center section – aninteractive extravaganza of colored sticky notes. Before we delve intothis powerful, but somewhat unusual tool, let’s consider what should beincluded on the right-hand side of the board. This area is much moreflexible than the left and center sections, and is a great place for you toinject your own preferences, or integrate the requests and feedback fromyour project team. I’ll provide you with some suggestions, but feel freeto improvise. The first element that I recommend is a visual representa-tion of the overall project schedule, with a focus on the critical path. Theformat that I’ve found to be most successful is the “snake diagram” shownin Figure 4.8. The two curves that make up the snake diagram representthe planned and the actual completion dates for critical-path projectmilestones. Note that every milestone on the project schedule shouldnot be included here; just major progress points that are unambiguousindictors of schedule fidelity. Since the y-axis of the graph representstime, the vertical separation between the two curves at any milestoneis an indicator of how far the project is ahead of or behind schedule.Ideally, the two curves would lie on top of each other, but of course thisis rarely the case. Hence, when the vertical separation (i.e., the schedulevariance) becomes significant, this should raise a big red flag that reme-dial action must be taken immediately. There are two advantages of thisgraphical format. The first is its understandability. I’ve personally createdhundreds of Gantt charts, and I still find them cumbersome to interpret.Of course software helps, but that requires an understanding of projectmanagement tools that a typical team member will likely not possess.The snake diagram can be understood by everyone from management toa machine-shop foreman with little or no explanation. The second advan-tage is unique to this graphical format: You can easily determine theapproximate slope of the two curves at any point throughout the project.If the slopes are substantially different (most often in a bad way), this tellsthe team leader that there is something fundamentally wrong. For this tobe the case, either the resource-loading on the project is inadequate, the 94
  15. 15. Planned Work: Scheduled key milestones based on project master schedule. Two Week Two-Week Action Plan Week 1 Week 2 Mon Wed Fri Mon Wed Fri Tom Dick Out Unplanned Work: Unscheduled Harry Out95 tasks, tasks including sustaining support, problem-solving, Jane Out Out fire-fighting, etc. Sally Visual Workflow Management Mary FIGURE 4.7: The left-hand side of the visual project board provides a feed of both planned and unplanned tasks to the center section, referred to as a “wall-Gantt.” This powerful workflow management technique will be described in the next section.
  16. 16. Mastering Lean Product Developmentscope of work is greater than originally assumed, or some other system-atic problem exists. If this situation occurs, either a significant correctionshould be made to project staffing, or a replan should be initiated toadjust the end-date of the project. 24 Actual Time to Completion 20 Scheduled Time to Completion eks) 16 uration (wee 12 Schedule VarianceCum Du 8 Actual Planned 4 0 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Critical-Path Milestone NumberFIGURE 4.8: This so-called snake diagram is an excellent way to visually displayhigh-level schedule status. The two curves represent the planned and actual progresstoward project completion. The vertical separation between the two curves indi-cates the schedule variance of the project at any given milestone. If the curves areconsistently different in slope, this should be taken as a warning that something isfundamentally wrong with the current project plan, and additional resources or otherremedies should be immediately implemented. I generally include two additional sections on the right-hand sideof my visual project boards. The first is a place to display A3-formatted“knowledge briefs” that have been created by the team throughout theduration of the project. These problem-solving briefs capture solutionsto critical technical (and other) issues, and form a knowledge base forfuture projects as well. The creation of these knowledge briefs will bedescribed in detail in Chapter 7. The final section that I recommend issimply a parking lot for open issues. This can be nothing more than ablank space on the project board, where open issues written on sticky 96
  17. 17. Visual Workflow Managementnotes are placed as they arise. This parking lot is available 24 / 7 to projectteam members, so that if an issue arises between stand-up meetings,it can be captured for disposition at the next meeting. Beyond theserecommended sections, anything is possible. You can add any informa-tion to your project board that you feel will benefit the team, providedthat clutter doesn’t obscure the vital information needed to effectivelymanage workflow. Keep in mind one of my favorite quotes from Cicero:“The purpose of communication is not to be understood, it is to make itimpossible to be misunderstood.”Interactive Management of Daily Workflow Using theWall-GanttAt last we have arrived at the most interesting and powerful element ofthe visual project board; the so-called wall-Gantt shown in Figure 4.9.This tool is designed to engage the team in the real-time planning ofnear-term activities, and encourage ownership and accountability byteam members. Again I use a rolling-window view of project activities,but this time the magnification is increased such that only a two-weekinterval is displayed at any given time. A horizontal row is provided foreach project team member who is actively involved in value creation.The number of vertical columns is determined by the frequency of theteam’s stand-up meetings; one column for each meeting day spanninga two-week period. Finally, a column is provided on the far right for“Week 3+” to allow for overflow tasks that extend past the two-weekwindow, but are integral to the current plan. At the intersectionbetween each row and column is a box that is slightly larger than astandard sticky note. The wall-Gantt is populated with sticky notes, written and placed bythe team members themselves. Each note describes a near-term task orachievement that must be accomplished by a given team member duringthe two-week period, as shown in Figure 4.10. These are not intended tobe formal milestones, but rather informal progress points necessary forthe completion of the significant tasks listed on either the planned- or 97
  18. 18. Mastering Lean Product Development Two-Week Week 1 Week 2 Team Plan Week 3+ Member Mon Wed Fri Mon Wed Fri Tom Dick Harry Jane Sally Mary High Priority g y Low Priority Unplanned Work/ Medium Priority Out of OfficeFIGURE 4.9: The wall-Gantt represents a two-week snapshot of a project team’splanned activities. Each sticky note captures a near-term progress point towardachieving a major project milestone. For this tool to be effective, the sticky notesmust be written and placed by the team members themselves, thereby representing acommitment to accomplish a given task by a specific date.unplanned-work templates. The granularity is somewhat arbitrary, butI like to see at least one sticky note per week for each team member,with two or three being more typical. In every case, the completion dateof the task described on a note must be in alignment with higher-levelmilestones. In this way, the wall-Gantt captures commitments by theteam over a two-week period which will ensure that the project remainson schedule. Basically, the wall-Gantt is a tool that is owned by theteam, and represents its response to the challenges presented in theplanned- and unplanned-work templates. The only time that the teamleader (or management) needs to become involved is if it is clear that theteam’s two-week plan does not lead to major project milestones beingcompleted on schedule. 98
  19. 19. Visual Workflow ManagementFIGURE 4.10: The sticky notes that populate a wall-Gantt should include the nameof the person responsible for the task, the date that the task will be completed, and abrief description of the deliverable for the task involved. One of the advantages of using sticky notes is the huge range ofavailable colors. For the single-project version of the wall-Gantt shownin Figure 4.9, we can use color to denote the priority of a given task oractivity. A red sticky note can be used for the highest-priority activi-ties, and in particular for work along the project’s critical path. Yellowsticky notes indicate a moderate level of priority; important, but not yetschedule-critical. Finally, those tasks that have significant slack-time,and hence can slip somewhat without risk to the project, are indicatedby green notes. I’ve found that other colors can be useful as well, suchas defining a blue sticky note to indicate either “out of office” or that atask represents unplanned versus planned work. Use your imagination;there are a lot of colors available and each can be used to communicate adifferent category or type of work. To bring Visual Workflow Management to life, we must understandhow a project team interacts with the project board. I will use the teammembers listed in Figure 4.9 to illustrate the flow of a typical stand-upmeeting, and show how the board is updated in real time. Let’s assumethat Mary is the team leader for a mythical project (note that the team 99
  20. 20. Mastering Lean Product Developmentleader should always have a row on the wall-Gantt). It’s 8:00 a.m. on aMonday morning, and the team has gathered around their visual projectboard. Mary calls the meeting to order, and begins by asking Tom (thefirst team member listed on the wall-Gantt) to provide his input. Tomcomes up to the board and briefly describes the work he has accom-plished since the last meeting. If he has completed the task posted in theMonday column corresponding to his name, then he removes the stickynote and hands it to Mary (what the team leader does with removedsticky notes will be explained in the final section of this chapter). If,however, the task is not complete, he must move it to a later date in hisrow. If the task moves, Tom lines through the original completion dateand writes the new completion date below it. Once he describes hiscurrent status, Tom will then share with the team his plans for the nextfew days. If a new task is involved (one that is not already posted in Tom’srow), he creates a sticky note for that activity and places it on the datethat the task will be completed. Note that the priority level of the stickynote is Tom’s decision, but feedback from the team and team leader willinfluence this choice. Finally, Tom will share with the team any issuesor problems that might prevent him from meeting his commitments.At this point, the team and leader will briefly discuss these issues, anddetermine if they can help. After about a minute or two with Tom havingthe floor, Mary will call on the next person listed on the wall-Gantt andthey will approach the board for their time in the spotlight. So it goesuntil all team members, including Mary as last on the list, have had theirturn. Once all have spoken, Mary may share some final comments, andthe meeting adjourns. A few procedural notes should be considered. First, it is importantthat once the stand-up meeting is completed, the entire column for thatday has been cleared. Each team member has three options: they canpull the note because that task has been completed, they can move thenote to a later date in their row, or they can ask for help from the teamand possibly move the note to someone else’s row. In the latter case, theoriginal name on the note would be lined through, and the new respon-sible team member’s name would be added. Second, although there isno hard rule regarding how many people can attend a stand-up meeting,from a practical standpoint the group should be restricted to no more 100
  21. 21. Visual Workflow Managementthan ten to twelve people. Any larger and the time allowed per personwill not be adequate, and the duration of the meeting will inevitablygrow beyond the fifteen-minute limit. Third, it is very likely that issueswill arise during someone’s turn that will cause discussion and debate tooccur. While this ad hoc collaboration can be very valuable (indeed it isone of the advantages of frequent meetings), it should be “parked” untileveryone on the team has given their status update. Once everyone hashad their turn, the team leader can allow detailed discussions to continuefor those interested in the topics, while everyone else can get back towork. Ad hoc discussions are not subject to the fifteen-minute time limit,and can continue indefinitely, provided that all uninvolved parties areallowed to leave. Finally, it is critical that the wall-Gantt not be modifiedbetween stand-up meetings. It might be tempting for a team memberto pull their sticky note as soon as their task is complete (or possiblymove a sticky note because they know they will be late). This must beavoided; if the team is not aware of changes to the wall-Gantt, the vitalsynchronization of team workflow may be jeopardized. Although Tom,for example, may be perfectly comfortable with moving his task note toa later date, others on the team may be counting on his output to allowtheir own work to proceed. If they are not aware of the move, their ownwork schedules may be negatively impacted. Beyond these basic rules, your own experience will be the best guide.Ask the team for feedback after a week or two of stand-up meetings, andbe a good listener. A few minor tweaks to format or procedures can makeall the difference in the successful implementation of this methodology.Although the format I recommend is only a starting point, it has provento be successful under many different work conditions. A fine exampleof a single-project visual board is shown in Figure 4.11 as a guide to thecreation of your own masterpiece. 101
  22. 22. Mastering Lean Product DevelopmentFIGURE 4.11: A well-crafted example of a single-project visual board. Note that therecommended format is closely followed in this example, with all elements describedin this section represented.Variation on a Theme: The Multi-Project Visual BoardIf your firm’s product development projects are of a substantial scale,then each new effort might warrant its own dedicated visual board. Onthe other hand, if either the number (too many) or scale (too small) ofthe projects you deal with renders single-project boards impractical,there is a straightforward alternative. With just two easy modifica-tions, you can convert the single-project-board format discussed inthe previous section into a multi-project board capable of tracking adozen or more separate development activities in one concise location.I’ll first describe these changes, and then discuss how a multi-projectboard functions in practice. For a visual project board to represent a multi-project environ-ment, the left side of the board (i.e., the side that feeds work into thecentral wall-Gantt) must capture status and upcoming milestones 102
  23. 23. Visual Workflow Managementfor several distinct projects. In principle, you could just stack up anumber of single-project status sheets (representing both planned andunplanned work), with one sheet for each of the projects included onyour board. This might make sense if you only need to manage a fewactivities, but would become unwieldy as the number grows. Instead(or in addition), you can use a “project cadence tool” to illustrate multi-project status, such as the one shown in Figure 4.12. In this template,several distinct projects are listed along the left-hand column. Foreach project, a kickoff date and planned completion date are displayed,along with a single “progress bar.” The progress bar is intended tocommunicate the high-level schedule status of each project, relative toa standard set of milestones that all projects must complete. The exactnature of these standard milestones will vary depending on the types ofprojects represented, but a generic list is provided at the bottom of thefigure for your reference. The bar extends to the most recently achievedmilestone, thereby indicating status relative to project completion.Along each bar, I typically show the planned date (above the bar), andadd the actual completion date (below the bar) as the milestones arecompleted. Finally, I use a single color-coded circle to the right of thebar in each row to show the general status of the project relative tocost, schedule, or performance. If you want to get fancy, you can usesymbols of different shapes to indicate each of these three metricsseparately, or just lump them together as I have done by displaying asingle red / yellow / green status symbol. The best thing about this tool is the time scale along the top…there isn’t one. More precisely, time is represented by the milestonesachieved, not by weeks or months on the calendar. This normalizationtrick allows projects of varying durations, start dates, and end-dates toall be illustrated on a single graph. You can effectively represent a two-month-duration project and a two-year-duration project on the samecadence chart with no loss of clarity. Another advantage is that there isno limit to the number of projects you can simultaneously track usingthis tool. In the past, I worked with a major apparel manufacturer thatused a cadence tool such as this to manage dozens of running-shoedesigns at one time. The only rule is that the projects represented mustall align with a common set of predetermined milestones (or at least 103
  24. 24. Mastering Lean Product Developmentmost of them, since you can waive a milestone or two without muchconfusion). This is actually quite easy; just think generically about yourdevelopment process and identify a set (ten or twelve is a nice number)of serial milestones that occur on virtually every project. Although thecadence tool doesn’t allow for the same level of detail as a single-projectstatus template, it still provides a feed of planned work to the wall-Gantt.If more detail is required, you can include a supplemental status / actiontemplate for each project, and use the cadence tool to view the bigpicture. Incidentally, for unplanned work (i.e., the lower-left section ofmy standard project-board format), I use a combined action-trackingsheet for all projects, with an added column to indicate which project isassociated with each action. The other modification required to transition from a single-projectto a multi-project visual board is the structure of the wall-Gantt itself,as shown in Figure 4.13. This is surprisingly easy. By defining a differentsticky-note color for each project, you can display the tasks for up to adozen simultaneous projects on your wall-Gantt. Although this mightseem like visual overload, in practice it is quite simple to follow thethread of any one project by just focusing on the appropriate color. Theonly thing that is lost in this technicolor scheme is the ability to indicatethe priority of each task. This can be achieved by using red sticky dotsto indicate high-priority activities (yellow and green dots can be usedas well, if your esthetic sensibilities allow). In fact, you can transform asingle-project wall-Gantt into a multi-project one with no effort at all;just change the convention you use for sticky-note colors, and you areoff and running. A particularly well-crafted multi-project visual boardis illustrated in Figure 4.14. In this case, the cadence tool is shown as aseparate board on the left, and provides a color key for the sticky noteson the multi-project wall-Gantt on the right.FIGURE 4.12: The project cadence tool allows the display of multiple projects ofvarying durations and schedules on a single template. By using a time scale that isnormalized to a standard set of project milestones, the status of all projects can beillustrated in a concise manner. Note that planned completion dates for each project’smilestones are shown above the bar, and actual completion dates are shown below.To avoid clutter in this figure, only the last set of dates for each bar is shown. 104
  25. 25. Project Kickoff Milestone Number Completion Date Designation Date 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Planned Est. Actual 10/1/11 Project 1 1/2/11 R 1/2/12 6/5/12 11/20/11 9/24/10 Project 2 3/5/10 Y 3/5/12 3/5/12 Planned 10/5/10 7/1/10 Project 3 2/5/10 R 10/5/11 5/13/12105 11/1/10 9/20/10 Actual Project 4 5/2/10 G 8/19/11 8/19/11 11/1/10 Visual Workflow Management 10/1/11 Other? 10/3/10 Y 5/13/12 5/13/12 11/20/11 Key 1. Engineering Spec Complete 5. Critical Design Review / Approval Milestone 2. Conceptual Design Review / Approval 6. Long-Lead Items Ordered Definitions: 3. 3 Prototype Performance Validated 7. 7 Qualification Testing Complete / Approval 4. Drawing Pkg. Rev. 0 Released 8. Release to Production
  26. 26. Mastering Lean Product Development Two-Week Week 1 Week 2 Team Plan Week 3+ Member Mon Wed Fri Mon Wed Fri Tom Dick Harry Jane Sally Mary Project 1 j Project 3 Project 5 Project 2 Project 4FIGURE 4.13: A multi-project version of the wall-Gantt is almost identical to thesingle-project format, except for the colors of the sticky notes. In this case, multiplecolors are used to indicate the various projects included on the board. The priorityof each task can be communicated by using a red sticky dot to indicate high priority,yellow for moderate, and so on. Project Cadence Board Multi-Project Wall-Gantt Multi Project Wall GanttFIGURE 4.14: A fine example of a multi-project visual board. At left, the cadence toolis presented as a separate board, with each project color-coded to serve as a legendfor the multi-project wall-Gantt shown at right. 106
  27. 27. Visual Workflow Management There are two general modes in which the multi-project boardcan be used to visually manage workflow. In the first scenario, severalseparate project teams use the board at different times to conduct theirstand-up meetings, with each team focusing on their associated color.This would be the preferred mode when the membership of the variousproject teams has very little overlap. In a sense, each team uses the toolas a single-project board, and ignores the other projects represented.More commonly, there is significant overlap in the membership of theproject teams represented on the board. This is often the situation insmaller firms or business units that have a single pool of developers thatmust handle all new product development work. When this occurs,the resource pool would hold a single, multi-project stand-up meeting,and discuss all projects at once. Actually, this is not as overwhelmingas it sounds, since each team member still updates his or her two-weekplanned activities at the same level of detail as they would for a single-project meeting. The only difference is that their work will be dispersedamong a number of separate efforts, instead of being directed toward asingle, larger project. This latter case is where the multi-project board canrepresent the difference between sanity and chaos. Just making the work-load of a multi-project resource pool visible will be a major step forward.Add to that the ability to allocate these shared resources dynamically andflexibly to meet the disparate needs of multiple projects, and you haveconverted a nightmare situation into a manageable plan for success.Advanced Topic: Team Metrics and the VirtualProject BoardYou might have been wondering, “What do I do with all the stickynotes that come off of my wall-Gantt?” Naturally, recycling is always anoption, but with just a small effort by the team leader, some powerfulteam performance metrics can be generated using those notes. Allthat is needed is a three-ring binder filled with blank sheets of paper.At the beginning of each stand-up meeting, the team leader writes thedate at the top of a blank sheet, and draws a line running down the 107
  28. 28. Mastering Lean Product Developmentcenter of the page. As the meeting progresses, whenever a sticky noteis pulled from the board, the team leader pastes it onto that page. If theassociated task was completed on schedule, it is placed to the left of thecenter line, whereas if the task slipped one or more times, it is placedon the right-hand side. Thus, with little more than a few minutes oftime invested on a weekly basis, the team leader can gain some valuableinsight into his team’s on-time performance. Depending on how theteam defines the colors of their notes, either one or both of the graphsshown in Figure 4.15 can be generated. With just the basic red / yellow /green priority indicators, and a record of how many times a task hasslipped (i.e., the lined-through dates on the upper-right corner of anote), you can create the chart shown at left. This histogram displaysthe frequency of occurrence of slipped tasks, allowing both the teamand leader to determine the percentage of on-time task completions,and the number and severity of slipped tasks. By updating this histo-gram weekly, the team will have a metric that will help them focus oncompleting their tasks on schedule. By defining some additional colors (beyond red / yellow / green)for your sticky notes, even more can be learned. Suppose that the teamleader defines a separate color for each type of non-project-relatedactivity that is consuming the team’s time and capacity. When teammembers are pulled away from project work to do sustaining support,proposals, special orders, etc., they place an appropriately coloredsticky note for those activities on the wall-Gantt. Upon completion,the notes go into the loose-leaf notebook. Periodically, the team leadercan count the number and type of occurrences, and plot the results asshown on the right of Figure 4.15. This chart can be invaluable in iden-tifying the magnitude of resource conflicts between project and non-project work, and can help the team identify remedial actions to reduceor eliminate these drains on resources. With just a little creativityand cooperation, a project team can design its own wall-Gantt-basedmetrics system with almost no added work for either the team leader orits members. There remains a last critical topic to discuss: How does VisualWorkflow Management work when a product development team isgeographically dispersed? It is fine to consider the ideal situation of a 108
  29. 29. On Time Performance Project Team O Ti P j T P f Project Team F P j tT Focus 70 80 70 60 60 ormed eted 50 50 40 40 30 30 o 20109 20 Perce nt of All Tasks Perfo 10 Percent of All Tasks Comple 10 0 Planned Unplanned Sustaining Other Non 0 j j pp j Project Tasks Project Tasks Support Project Tasks Visual Workflow Management On Time One Slip Two Slips Three Slips Four Slips Tasks FIGURE 4.15: The above graphs display valuable team performance data which can be derived from the use of a wall-Gantt. As sticky notes are removed from the project board, they are placed into a loose-leaf notebook. Depending on how the colors of notes are defined, and the categories into which they are grouped after completion, a wide range of metrics can be tracked with virtually no additional time spent by either the team or the team leader.
  30. 30. Mastering Lean Product Developmentcollocated team with plenty of wall space for their visual board, but thereality of most project teams is that developers may be spread out overseveral time zones, and may also include outside contractors and keysuppliers. Clearly a physical project board and stand-up meeting cannotservice the needs of such a virtual team. Fortunately, many of the benefitsof a physical implementation of Visual Workflow Management can beachieved using a customized virtual tool such as the one shown in Figure4.16. In this case, a template was created in Visio that looks as much aspossible like a physical wall-Gantt. A set of drag-and-drop stencils areavailable on the left side of the template for use by the team during theirvirtual stand-up meetings. To allow real-time interaction with this tool,stand-up meetings can be held using on-line webcast applications suchas those available through In this way, each teammember can interact with a common Visio template, and make theirmodifications (i.e., move, add, or remove sticky notes) in real time. A virtual stand-up meeting should be facilitated in the same wayas a collocated one. All team members log into GoToMeeting at theappropriate time, and as each takes their turn, they drag sticky-noteicons to appropriate squares on the template and fill them out in theusual manner. If a task is complete, it is dragged to a “finished-tasks”section of the template for later disposition by the team leader. Once themeeting is over, it is possible to print out a physical copy of the templateto post on the wall at all involved locations, if this is considered desirable.Otherwise, the virtual version should be posted on a team SharePointsite (or equivalent intranet site) so that all members can view the currentversion of the project board at any time. Although this virtual approach comes as close as possible toapproximating a physical implementation of a visual project board, afew words of caution are needed. First, there is no substitute for thepersonal interaction of team members with the wall-Gantt, whether realFIGURE 4.16: An excellent example of an interactive “virtual project board.” In thiscase, a Visio template has been used to create a realistic representation of a physicalwall-Gantt. Through the use of interactive webcast applications, a geographically-dispersed team can update this template in real time, thereby capturing many of thebenefits of having a collocated team and a physical project board. 110
  31. 31. Visual Workflow Management Courtesy of Jerry Berg of Foth Companies 111
  32. 32. Mastering Lean Product Developmentor virtual. Just because the tool is in cyberspace, doesn’t change humannature. Team members need to move and fill out their own “sticky notes”on the virtual template. If this is not enabled and enforced, much of thecommitment and accountability that is the hallmark of visual manage-ment may be lost. Second, don’t fall into the trap of “since we are goingvirtual anyway, let’s just use an action list in SharePoint instead of agraphically-accurate project board.” Action lists are better than nothing,but they don’t come close to matching the clarity and interactivity of awall-Gantt. Finally, use the virtual wall-Gantt sparingly, and only whena physical project board is just not possible. Gathering a project teamtogether several times per week for face-to-face discussion and planninghas benefits at many levels, not the least of which is the building of teamidentity and emotional commitment. As hard to define as they may be,a great team leader recognizes these intangibles, and makes the most ofthem whenever possible. A virtual project board may be easy, but havingteam members see each other face-to-face is the most powerful “visual”management tool there is.Chapter ReferencesBicheno, J., 2004, The New Lean Toolbox: Towards Fast, Flexible Flow, PICSIE Books.Bicheno, J., and M. Holweg, 2009, The Lean Toolbox, 4th Edition, PICSIE Books.Galsworth, G. D., 1997, Visual Systems: Harnessing the Power of a Visual Workplace, American Management Association.Grief, M., 1991, The Visual Factory: Building Participation Through Shared Information, Productivity Press.Mascitelli, R., 2002, Building a Project-Driven Enterprise, Technology Perspectives.Mascitelli, R., 2007, The Lean Product Development Guidebook, Technology Perspectives.Pichler, R., 2010, Agile Product Management With Scrum, Addison-Wesley.Poppendieck, M., and T. Poppendieck, 2003, Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit, Addison-Wesley.Schwaber, K., and M. Beedle, 2002, Agile Software Development With Scrum, Prentice Hall.Sekine, K., and K. Arai, 1994, Design Team Revolution, Productivity Press.Shimbun, N. K., 1995, Visual Control Systems, Productivity Press.Tufte, E. R., 1983, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Graphics Press.Tufte, E. R., 1990, Envisioning Information, Graphics Press. 112