How does visual management improve team efficiency?

When I started my career as a developer 8 years ago I struggled to have a global view and see the big picture in my missions. I developed many projects and sometimes reverted my work depending on what I was asked for. 

It was frustrating and counterproductive. Discovering Visual Management has been a game changer in my career.

We'll see together how visual management can drastically help a team to get a clearer vision, to be more aware of improvements and accountable for the project's main goals. We will be focused in the production flow that is a tiny part of Visual Management.

Visual management tries to solve ambiguity

Hi, my name is Julien. I'm a manager at BAM and my goal is to bring the team to succeed in every challenge and mission. And that's not an easy job! At BAM, we are able to simplify the task through what we call Visual Management.

Let me clarify the problem we want to solve: how can we onboard people, have a common vision and share as much information as possible within the team to make better decisions?

This is a really ambitious goal. The good news is every step going forward is a small improvement in team comprehension about the product and how the product is made. In order to achieve that we divide it in two main steps:

1. Show your flow,
2. show your challenges.

First step: start with the flow

Draw the steps

Let's say you are developing a product. This product has a set of features. "Show your flow" means displaying everything a feature needs to achieve before ending in the users' hands. So how does the team achieve that goal?

1. Name the steps,
2. make a list of prerequisites to complete these steps,
3. define the output required in each step,
4. clarify who needs to complete these steps.

You may need some good tips:

- Start from the end,
- prerequisites and outputs should be understood by every one,
- set up the process for a specific feature and then find a more generic flow,
- set up detailed and specific steps into place event if most of the features don't need them,
- go as far as you can to define the output.

There are many tools you can use as a board: Miro, Notion, Trello, Fibery, use whichever fits you. Here is an example of what it can look like:

This is a board of how you develop an app at BAM but it can be done in every profession.

The board allows you to show the progress of every feature and how close they are to being done. On the one hand it helps clarify the process with your team too and on the other hand it challenges your decisions as a team leader - "why do you start a new feature if we haven't finished this one yet?". Trust me, you would be surprised by how much people's thinking process diverges.

Be as specific as possible, this is not about how your team works but how the product is made. If the product depends on another team, add this information as a step and define what you expect from them. We want to see each team working on the product as blackboxes with inputs and outputs.

Consolidate and simplify your visual management

Make sure the inputs and outputs are feasible and that every step can be done without going backwards in the process. Then look for simplification: are we able to remove steps? Can we postpone some of them? Are all the team members attending meetings and are those sufficient? Are we able to know if all the prerequisites are outputs from previous steps?

Then on a daily basis, the team updates the feature status and sets up rules on how to prioritize tasks: pull system, minimum or maximum stock for each step, etc. These rules are your North star and help your daily decision making.

This is why it is called visual management. It helps you manage a project as it shows you the next thing to do according to your set rules. This is really powerful: the decision process shifts from one manager to a whole team using the information at its disposal to make the best possible decision. And because information is so crucial to making a decision, we can come up with a new project standard: "every shared idea must be written down and available to everyone".

Once you are able to create a board with daily updates the real power of visual management is to be able to improve the efficiency of the team which will require you to implement the following mandatory step.

The key in visual management is to show problems

Visual management will help you with efficiency as it will highlight the struggles of your team in the development of a product. There are multiple kinds of problems the team will face and wants to address: steps taking too long, rework, too many features stuck in a particular step, waiting for another team to complete their tasks.

However, to be able to solve problems, we first need to acknowledge them and see them. Let's take a look at rework.

Add a line in your flow called "red bins". Every time you need to go back to complete a task, create a red bin mentioning the problem and the reason why you need to go back. Red bins are waste that can be prevented in the future if the team solves the root cause of the problem and learns from them.

Red bins will start to stack in particular steps. After a while, it will become clear which columns the team needs to focus on. Find out what can be improved and check if red bins are still occuring for similar reasons.

Visual management really shines in the long run

Achieving a clear visual process of your work will take some time. The path may not be completely obvious yet but knowing where the improvement lies is the first step to dive into it, transform your entire work dynamic and give you a clear and common vision.

The more a team is autonomous and proactive on what action to take next, the more the manager's role evolves. He or she takes on a support role in the team, improving and solving problems along the way.

Again, we've seen here only how we can visualize our production flow, but visual management is much more: detecting defects, lead times, touch times, standards, red bins, blue bins, etc.

Finally, visual management is like a map you update every day: it guides you through what you know and what you don't know yet. Having red bins is expected and this is OK, what matters most is that you stick on a continuous improving path!

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