I am the founder and CEO of Kerika, a software company that is very focused on the work management needs of distributed, Lean and Agile teams.
This particular session is about the concept of Visual Workflows.
I would like to introduce you to the idea of Visual Workflows, which some of you may be unfamiliar with, and show you some practical examples of this concept so today’s talk includes a short demo as well where we will look at some real-life examples of Visual Workflows, in the private sector, the public sector and the nonprofit sector.
To provide some background to the idea of Visual Workflows, let me just spend a few minutes summarizing the basic concepts behind Lean, and I do this realizing that some of you folks may already be very expert in the history of Lean so please bear with me!
If we look back at manufacturing theory in the decades leading up to the 1930s, early ideas of quality were based largely upon the concept that after you had designed and built something, you would inspect it for flaws.
Most classically, we saw this in Detroit where all of the auto makers would examine their cards for defects only after they had rolled off the assembly line.
Cars that were considered good enough to sell were driven off to the dealers; cars that were defective but salvageable were repaired.
In 1939, Walter Shewhart was one of the first theorists to propose the idea of a cycle: instead of considering the manufacturing process as a purely linear one, he suggested that the different phases of specification, production and inspection should actually form a virtuous cycle which could lead to improvements.
Edward Deming further built upon Shewhart’s idea of a virtual cycle for improving quality by emphasizing the notion of redesign as key to keeping the wheel turning on a continuous basis.
Instead of thinking of design as something that happened only once, at the beginning of a product’s lifecycle, now the wheel started to emphasize the idea that you could, and should, consider continuously redesigning your product based upon consumer feedback, as a way of continuously improving your product.
Now, I am calling this the Deming Wheel only because Deming is dead and so isn’t in a position to contradict me, but Deming himself always insisted on crediting Shewhart for these ideas, and he would have labeled this slide as the Shewhart Cycle rather than the Deming Wheel.
In 1951, the Japan Union of Scientists and Engineers organized an 8-day seminar to which Deming was invited to present his ideas on management and statistical process control.
At that time, Japanese manufacturers were dealing with a critical dilemma as they sought to rebuild the country after the war: the phrase “Made in Japan” was derogatory for most people, particularly in the vital export markets like the United States, where Japanese manufacturing was synonymous with crappy quality.
The Japanese scientists and engineers took to heart the ideas behind what I call the Deming Wheel, and they came up with something that translated into English as the PDCA Cycle: Plan, Do, Check, Act.
The emphasis was always on the idea of continuous improvement, or Kaizen as it is called in Japanese, which means that the PDCA Cycle or the Deming Wheel or the Shewhart Cycle – whatever you chose to call it – needs to turn in order for it to work.
If you think that your processes are fine for all time, that they don’t need revisiting and they don’t need continuous improvement, then your wheel isn’t turning any more; your cycle isn’t cycling.
Whatever you have instead is going to atrophy.
Fast forward a few decades to the 1980s, and Dr. Deming is still going strong, and in his new book on Quality he tries to get people to use the phrase PDSA, rather than PDCA, because he felt that the Check in Japanese was getting misinterpreted in the English translation: the word Check was being interpreted as “Inspect” or “Hold Back”, rather than as “Examine” or “Study”.
So, that’s how the wheel was invented.
Now, let’s consider the use of dead trees in process improvement: what we have traditionally done, and just how well that’s worked.
We have, of course, the good old three-ring binder.
The graveyard of hope.
The popularization of Intranets and the Web in general provided only a superficial advantage over the three-ring binder.
Putting your Word files and PDFs on the Web doesn’t fundamentally change the way you capture, refine and popularize your best practices.
All it does is put “paper on glass”.
What used to be your printing problem is now every user’s printing problem.
With all due respect to everyone who has contributed to their agency’s website or Intranet, let me just point out that what used to be your printing problem is now every user’s printing problem.
More recently, we have seen the use of Post-Its rise in popularity, simply because they offer a more visually appealing way to present your ideas, by treating your entire wall as a kind of canvas on which you can organize your ideas without having to worry about the structure and rigidity of traditional documents.
And these kinds of walls are great for brainstorming, but they have several shortcomings:
If you are not in the same office as the stickies, you are out of the loop. Stickies don’t lend themselves to complex ideas or details of any kind. Stickies can’t be modified, only replaced. Stickies eventually dry up and fall off…
Whether it is paper in a 3-ring binder, paper on glass or paper on walls, you always risk a disconnect between what is being described as the process, and what is actually being happened.
This guy, for example, is clearly riding a bicycle, by any written definition of a bicycle.
And, yet, something seems a little off.
(I can’t quite put my finger on it...)
Instead, we need to consider a more online solution, something like this…
Can you see it now? visualizing your lean and agile processes