Workshop Wednesday: 10 Workplace Challenges and the Urgent Need for Effective Visual Management

Guest blogger Ben Hogan – who will offer a Visual Management Masterclass at Agile Australia 2016 – shares his top 10 challenges for teams.

10 workplace challenges and the urgent need for effective Visual Management

#1: Too busy to improve

Most teams now have more work to do (demand) than people to do it (capacity); this has become normal. It is no longer enough to work harder or longer hours to keep up.  The pressure to be busy 110% of the time, doing “real work” means teams are too busy to invest in self improvement or process optimisation. Learning suffers. Overall levels of service – both speed and quality – suffer. Visual Management provides techniques for managing demand and capacity to free up space for improving service.

#2: Everything takes too long

Overburdened teams are often working on multiple projects simultaneously and sacrificing vast amounts of productivity to multi-tasking costs. The more simultaneous projects the team takes on the longer each project takes to deliver, often leading to a snowball effect. Unhappy stakeholders pile on more pressure to deliver and make the situation worse. Visual Management can provide a mechanism to better understand, communicate and manage down the number of simultaneous projects with stakeholders.

#3: Unhappy staff

Busy teams are often those with the worst levels of happiness and engagement. Staff become either checked-out or burnt-out and often see no end in sight. They often have a poor handle on how their individual contribution relates to overall goals and are usually completely disconnected from a sense of purpose and disconnected from the customer. In contrast, highly visual workplaces often have energetic and highly engaged teams.

#4: Lack of autonomy, accountability and pride in work

Without a clear and simple mechanism to self-manage work, teams who are under significant pressure will usually revert to a command-and-control style management approach, leading to a lack of autonomy and accountability. Staff will be reduced to order takers, and in the worst cases check their mind at the door waiting for instruction from above. Low autonomy leads to a lack of pride in work and motivation suffers. Low motivation means low productivity.  Effective visual management allows teams to self-manage their work and to take ownership of end-to-end workflows, even in high pressure environments.

#5: Poor transparency and slow access to critical information

Information is power, and in some environments information is hidden and known only to a select few.  In many environments critical work information, e.g current priorities, performance against purpose, stakeholder agreements, who is working on what, and what needs to be done next are often hidden away in electronic tools or in people’s heads. At best they are slow to access, at worst the information is not available in any accessible way. Well managed visual workplaces provide instant and easy access to the most important information, constantly updated and always at hand.

#6: Lack of collaboration

In an individually managed workplace it is easy for teams to focus on just their piece of the puzzle and it can seem unnecessary to have an understanding of what others are working on or how their work contributes to the overall delivery of value to the customer.  Opportunities are lost to help colleagues, to reduce hand-offs, to reduce rework and reduce cross-function and cross-team waste. Visual management can encourage shared understanding and create opportunities for collaboration and improvement.

#7: Work is getting thrown over the fence

Highly siloed organisations often have departments throwing work over the fence via email or documents often leading to distrust, rework and significant delays to customer service. The best visualisations bring staff together across departments and start to break down the silos while creating opportunities for longer term system of work improvements.

#8: Working on the wrong things

Without clear prioritisation policies and good visibility of incoming demand it is very common for teams to be working on the wrong things, working on lower value work when there is higher value work not getting done. Visualising demand as a queue can provide a mechanism for rich discussions around priority and allow difficult trade-offs to be made clear to both team members and stakeholders.

#9: Lack of motivation to change

Larger organisations have often established ways of working over decades, and there can be very little motivation to adopt new practices, learn new techniques or to improve in general. One of the subtlest yet important impacts of visual management is emotional: physical and tactile change in the workplace can kick-start cultural and process improvement even in previously established and static environments.

#10: Conflict is personal

When work is owned by individuals or when the projects are represented by staff there can be a tendency to confuse criticism of the work for criticism of the person. Conflict can become personal and avoided at all costs. Useful feedback about the work can be lost or feedback can be taken personally instead of part of an ongoing improvement of products or services. Visualising work can externalise the focus of feedback, literally putting on the wall to be discussed separate from the staff involved in the work.

Effective Visual Management is a critical skill

I provide training and coaching for leaders and teams in advanced Visual Management techniques. I’m pleased to offer my half-day master class for agile leaders at Agile Australia this year. The class covers the key principles and practical techniques to master Visual Management.

This post was originally published on Ben’s blog.

Ben Hogan

Visual Management Masterclass

Agile Australia 2016

22 June (Melbourne) and 23 June (Sydney)

Half-Day (1:30pm-5:00pm)

Find out more about Agile Australia 2016 and register here.



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