How to Effectively Use Visual Controls

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How to Effectively Use Visual Controls

Flexible packaging Operator

Controlling the Packaging Film

I had the opportunity to work with some plant maintenance people in a subsidiary of a large flexible packaging manufacturer. The focus was on the bagmaking process which consisted of three steps. Staging the raw materials was the first step. Setting up the equipment (temperature, airflow, weld time, tension, speed, etc.) came next. Third was running the film.

In this operation heavy maintenance activities occurred when production was completely shut down. This was referred to as a maintenance turnaround. Turnarounds usually involved tearing down, upgrading or rebuilding equipment. If a maintenance turnaround misses the scheduled completion date, production remained shut down until maintenance puts the equipment back in operation. Executive, operating and maintenance management put a great deal of emphasis on completing the turnaround work on time and right the first time. Even so turnarounds had never met their schedules because of finding the unexpected issues as the maintenance crews got into the inner workings of the processing equipment.

The plant had some exposure to the tools and practices of the Lean management system, but to my chagrin, they did not have much in the way of processed-focused visual controls, nor was there well-defined standardized work for either the frontline workers or leaders. I suggested that they install accountability boards to follow up on tasks in the turnaround plan that were at risk of being late, and for assigning tasks that surfaced from the maintenance teardowns.

The participants on the accountability board included all the maintenance supervisors and their managers, all the relevant support group supervisors and their managers, the plant manager, and the site manager- a maximum of twelve people when all of them attended met around the board twice per day to make assignments and to color code previously assigned tasks green or red depending on whether or not they were on time or late.

The visual accountability board with critical tasks assigned to specific people, posted for all to see with the green and red color coding and reviewed daily by peers and superiors. Made all the difference in completing the turnarounds on time.

Like the old adage, “you can’t keep score without a scorecard,” visual controls serve as the scorecard and help employees keep score – monitor their performance in achieving the goal. I have always been a firm believer in putting employees in a state of self-control.  Self-control is a universal concept, applicable to a general manager responsible for running the company at a profit, a plant manager responsible for meeting various goals set for the plant, a technician running a chemical reactor, or a bank clerk processing checks. To achieve self-control people must be provided with a means for: knowing what they are supposed to do (production goal, product specification, etc.); knowing what they are actually doing (visual tracking boards); regulating the process (the authority to adjust  or make process corrections when not achieving the goal).

Willie Carter has nearly four decades of continuous improvement experience, which have enabled him be a good listener, teacher, coach and leader as he helps organizations do more with less to transform creative thought into organizational agility and excellence. In addition to his consulting practice, he is on the adjunct faculty at Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL.

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