Monday, March 11, 2013

Making the Invisible Visible in Design Projects

By Al Norval

Have you ever walked through a large design center and wondered what the heck was happening there?

If so, you wouldn’t be the first one to do so. What do we see? Lots of people working at computers in their cubicles.

What’s the current condition?

Is everything OK?

Are we meeting the needs of our customers?

Is anyone having any problems?

This is not to imply that these people aren’t working hard, it’s just difficult to tell what’s going on.

Why is it like this? Because the work is invisible! It’s not like a manufacturing process where we can see the flow of materials going through the factory. We can’t see the flow of a project. The key then becomes making the invisible work visible so we can see the flow of work, the status of the project and most importantly see any problems that are occurring. All projects have problems, all designs have problems, in fact all organizations have problems. What separates the great ones from everyone else is their understanding of this and their ability to surface problems and solve them.



How do we make the work visible?

  • Use simple visuals to track progress. Red/ green, hand drawn Gant charts or a simple timeline with 5 or 6 key milestones.
  • Keep a scorecard with a few key metrics – meeting Customer Needs, on time, on budget
  • Make work assignments visible by showing the projects assigned to each person on a card.
  • Stacking cards allows you to assess whether they are at capacity or not.
  • Unassigned projects or tasks can go into a queue which can then be made visible.
  • Do a FMEA at the start of a project and for the top 3-5 problems, put in a standard countermeasures. Both potential problems and countermeasures are made visible.
  • Do a weekly check of project status where people check for on or off track.
  • Make things Yes/ No, or binary which forces problems to the surface.
  • For problems, make them visible as well, keep an action log and make visible who, what, when and status.

People say “why do all this it’s in the computer” but that doesn’t make it visible to all. When it’s in the computer it’s only visible if people go look for it which they usually don’t do.

Key is that when we all see together, we understand together and take action together.

Sounds simple right?

Try it out and let me know how it works

Cheers

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