By Justin Tao – TXM China Consulting Director

What is a Visual Management Board?

If takt time is the heart of Lean production, then Visual Management represents the nervous system in Lean management. Visual Management is an essential tool when we implement Lean. Visual Management helps to amplify the impact of Lean management by visually building a bridge between Lean tools and Lean management.

Ferguson Plarre Bakers conducting a daily stand up meeting reviewing the past days performance.

Some common types of Visual Management in the workplace include:

Most companies have Visual Management Boards, which is one of the simplest formats of Visual Management. I often find that some so called “Visual Management Boards” actually are “show boards”, which only show the information, records or plans and lack interaction with readers. What’s worse, the content of them is often out of date.

How to Identify If Your Visual Management Board Really Works? – The 31 Second Rule

A real Visual Management Board should contain three elements: standards, problems and actions.

  • Standard:In Lean, we set target performance as the standard, rather than average performance.  The standards should be clearly indicated on the board, which tells how things should be if everything is perfect.
  • Problem: What is problem? Problem is the deviation from standard, either actual performance (e.g. lower than target), or the standard itself (improper target); One operations manager in an ice-cream factory told me that there’s no need of improvement as their efficiency is more than 120% every day. After my observation, actually, they had twice the number of operators than was needed on the production line.
  • Actions: Countermeasures to a problem should be taken when there’s a problem. A Visual Management Board without action, is definitely just a show board. How effectively the problems are addressed, and the actions are carried out, represents how efficient your organisation is.

All these elements help the user to understand what’s actually going on in the work area. Only by making the things visible, it is possible to identify the deviations (problems) and quickly address and solve them.

Windsor Caravans employee standing in front of his daily visual management

What Does a Good Visual Management Board Look Like?

At TXM, we believe that a good Visual Management Board should match the 31 second rule:

  • In 1 second, it can tell us if it’s normal (everything is fine in the work area), according to the standards (target or plan); The work area should “talk” to you in simple terms. Usually, companies use green to represent good status (e.g. hit the target, on time), and use red to represent problem status (e.g. lower than the target, delayed);
  • In 10 seconds, it tells us what the problem is, if it’s not normal.
    At TXM, we use magnetic concern strips to record and manage problems.;
  • In 20 seconds, it tells us what action is to be taken, who is responsible for this and what support is needed. Problems without actions, or actions without checks, are a waste to have on the board!

A suitable Visual Management Board will help communicate between users and viewers and make the Lean Daily Leadership Process more efficient and effective. The form of the Visual Management Board is limited only by your imagination! Contact TXM to make your Visual Management more efficiently and effectively.

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How To: Create Flow Without an Assembly Line

Assembly Line in a Factory
Factory Production Line

One of the most well-known Lean concepts is that of “flow”. The most familiar example of flow is the automotive assembly line. On an assembly line products flow through a factory moving through different workstations at a steady rate until they roll off the assembly line completed.

This, of course, is how cars are assembled. And we all know that the automotive industry, especially Toyota, is the inspiration for Lean Thinking. But what if you don’t make cars or are even involved in mass production? What if you are not even involved in production at all and are in a service business. What possible relevance can flow have to your business? This is a question I get asked all the time and, in this article, I hope to explain how flow can be relevant to any process.

Why do You Need Flow?

How often to you look at your process in your office factory or warehouse and wonder where you are up to, how long it will take to finish the current work and what your capacity for more work is? Imagine if your process worked at a predictable rate with every step of the process synchronised to that rate. Imagine as well if there were no buffers or wait times between processes, meaning that your underlying value adding time was also your lead time. If you imagine that scenario you are imagining flow. Whether you are making cars, fabricating steel columns, making bespoke staircases or processing credit applications, flow can deliver huge benefits. So how do you create flow away from the assembly line?

Mapping Processes with Colour Coding

Understand Your Current Process

A value stream map is a tool that will help you design your flow. The TXM Manufacturing Agility Process® (MAP) is based on automotive value stream mapping techniques, but adopted for low volume, high mix manufacturing and service flows. The current state map helps you understand your current process and identify how you create value for the customer and where there is waste. You then develop a future state design for your process that eliminated unnecessary steps and defines your flow.

Measure the Flow

Once you have defined the steps in your flow you need to decide how to control the rate of flow. The concept here is that we match the rate of activity at every step in the process to the rate of customer demand or takt time. To do this you need to find a unit of measure for your process that can serve to control your rate of flow. This is easy in assembly, because products are fairly uniform, and it is a simple matter of counting units.

In some office processes also, it can be as simple as measuring the number of transactions, such as the number of quotes for a sales team. However, for more complex processes, you may be trying to measure “apples against oranges” as one job or product differs in terms of work content to the other. The answer here is to find a simple metric that can be quickly measured, and everyone can understand.

It may be that the metric is not perfect, but as long as your product mix is reasonably constant (e.g. a mix of difficult jobs and easy jobs) this variation should even itself out. If the variation is too great, you might need to create two or more flows, grouping similar products or jobs together with different measures to track the flow.

Once the unit of measure is established you can calculate your takt time in terms of minutes per job (or a takt rate in jobs per minute). The aim is that each process step will then work to that rate.

Lay Out the Flow

You have defined the steps in your flow and set a takt time, but to really make your flow effective, your physical process layout should reflect the flow. This means bringing the processes together so that jobs naturally flow from one step to another. We call this a Lean Facility Layout. It can apply equally in an office, engineering or manufacturing process. Bringing the processes together makes interruptions to the flow of work clearly visible and enables you to correct these problems as they occur rather than after targets have been missed.

Don’t Let Perfection Get in the Way of Better

Rockets in a Hangar
SpaceX Rockets

Of course, reading this short article, you will have visions of an automotive moving assembly line with cars moving through workstations timed down to the last second. This is probably more aspiration than reality for many customised or office processes. There is likely going to be some variation in process times from step to step and it is likely that you will need small buffers to balance out variations in product mix. However, by creating a flow, even if it is not perfect, you will have significantly improved the consistency and predictability of your process. You will also be much more able to see and eliminate waste and problems.

Where can Flow Work?

At TXM we have been applying flow concepts in non-traditional processes for over a decade. None of our customers make cars and very few have been involved in continuous, production line assembly of mass-produced products. Instead, some of the processes we have applied flow concept to include:

If these principles can work in these diverse industries and applications (and many more) they can work in your business.

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Shipbuilding is one of the oldest and most complex forms of project manufacturing

What is Project Manufacturing?

When we think of a manufacturing business, we usually think of a business that manufactures a defined range of products. These products are manufactured in the same way every time. Product development typically involves a creative design phase, a process of testing and approval, prototyping or production trials and finally product launch. Much of our thinking and much manufacturing and supply chain literature assumes this model of manufacturing and product development.

Increasingly we see companies that operate in a different way. Their products are developed to meet a particular customer order. They don’t have a prototyping process because the product is a one-off. That is, every product is effectively a prototype. They manufacture the product from some common parts on the shelf, but will also often require one off bespoke parts. These parts are ordered just for that particular customer order. Finally, these products usually have a long lead time from order to delivery. Orders are often inter-related and sequenced over a period of time. I call this type of manufacturing project manufacturing.

Project manufacturing is not new, shipbuilding is a great example that has been around for hundreds of years. However the major driver of the growth of project manufacturing is changing approaches to commercial and residential construction. Globally the last 20 years have seen more and more of the elements of buildings manufactured off site and delivered to site. This approach makes sense as building sites tend to have limited space and the ability to control complex assembly processes and perform them efficiently is limited. Shifting elements of construction off site, simplifies on-site work.

“Manufacturing efficiencies” can be achieved in specialised factories dedicated to one element of the construction project. The use of automated equipment  greatly improves the efficiency of manufacturing and assembling elements such joinery, structural steel or wall framing. This is much more efficient than doing this work manually on site. Examples of off-site construction include modular and relocatable buildings, pre-fabricated framing, structural steel, joinery, modular bathrooms, building maintenance cranes, HVAC systems, pre-fabricated building facades and pre-cast concrete panels.

Learn How TXM Helped ATCO to Transform Manufacturing of Relocatable Buildings from the Lean Case Study Video

Project based construction is also frequently seen in shipbuilding, plant and equipment manufacture, aircraft manufacture, commercial vehicle fit out and heavy trailer manufacturing.

Seven Common Problems in Project Manufacturing and How to Overcome Them

Because of the unique nature of every product, project manufacturers often argue that they don’t operate a “production line” and that Lean does not apply to them. In fact, at TXM we have made something of a speciality over the years in working with project manufacturers. We see the same problems over and again. The  seven most common problems we see in project manufacturing are:

  • “Throwing Projects Over the Wall”. For many project manufacturers, projects go through a series of handovers. Once the job is won, sales will hand over the project to engineering. Engineering will the complete the detailed design and hand over the designs and (hopefully) a bill of materials to purchasing. Purchasing then order the parts and hand the job over to manufacturing. The problem with this approach is that no-one owns the whole project and that delays are allowed early in the project (often at customer instigation) that then compress lead times at the end of the project leading to expediting, escalating costs and late delivery. An effective project management function and end to end project management processes is essential to ensure that budgets and deadlines are met.

Learn Five Reasons Why You Spend Your Day Fire Fighting and What do Do About Them

  • A lack of standardisation and reliance on “ground up” customisation. Project manufactured products are inevitably one-offs, but that does not mean that they need to be completely bespoke in every way. Often engineers are allowed too much freedom to design every product in a unique way. Clear engineering standards, use of standard materials from a limited range of suppliers, standard sub-assemblies and customisation using “plug and play” options can greatly reduce cost, lead time, complexity and design risk.

Learn How to Create Lean Standardised Work for A Customised Product

  • Material shortages. Many project business spend their days expediting materials. Unfortunately expediting always leads to more expediting as pushing one order forward inevitably pushes other orders back. Kanban systems can be highly effective for standard items such as fasteners, fittings, common raw materials and standard subassemblies. For bespoke parts, they need to be identified in the handover from sales, ordered as early as possible and then tracked by the project manager. Supplier lead times need to be respected and planned for.

Discover Five Ways to Improve the Performance of Your Suppliers

  • Incomplete and inaccurate information from sales and the customer: Products are usually highly complex in project manufacturing. It is reasonable for engineering to insist that information handed over on each new product is complete and accurate. Avoid the temptation to “just get started”, when information is incomplete as this rarely saves time and often leads to rework and errors. It is fair to expect that if customers fail to meet deadlines for providing information then delivery dates get pushed back accordingly.
  • Inadequate information provided to production: Too often production is expected to “just know” what to do when information on drawings and specifications is incomplete or inaccurate. This inevitably leads to errors and rework. Drawings need to be fully detailed and simple techniques such as colour coding can help prevent simple errors such as folding a part the wrong way or welding a cleat on the wrong side of a beam. A manufacturing engineering function can often greatly help the smooth transfer of information from engineering to production.
  • A lack of production “flow”: Project based manufacturers often believe that they don’t have a flow. Products are manufactured in on place on the factory floor in what we call a “static build”. Workers often move from product to product based on availability of parts, “priorities” and, in some cases, worker preference. This approach is space hungry, leads to long and unpredictable lead times, provides little indication of production progress and means that every tool and every material has to be transported to every job. On the other hand, creating a “pulse flow” where products move at prescribed intervals provides a visual indicator of progress and sets a real imperative to solve problems quickly so that products can keep moving. The result is usually shorter lead times, higher productivity and better use of factory space.

Learn how TXM Helped Boat Builder Sykes Racing to Create Flow Production in this Lean Case Study Video

  • Starting jobs that you can’t finish. Often the temptation can be to get a project in to production, before you have all the parts, drawings and information. This is fraught with risk. Instead, develop a “good to go” process where jobs are only released to the line if all the parts and documentation is ready. If project managers see that the production “timeslots” are approaching, it tends to focus their mind to make sure that everything is delivered on time and that their project is “good to go” and does not miss its scheduled production time slot.


Project manufacturing is a growing phenomenon, especially in construction. It is true that this type of manufacturing requires a different approach to traditional manufacturing. However, if the benefits of project manufacturing are to be truly delivered then Lean thinking needs to be applied in a targeted way to ensure that project manufactured products are always delivered on time, on quality and on budget.


on time in full cover
Tim McLean’s book On Time In Full Provides Detailed Solutions to Your Material Management Problems

Over the years many manufacturers have adopted lean tools focused on improving the efficiency of production processes.  However, often despite these efforts manufacturers still suffer downtime, poor productivity and missed deliveries. The cause is the inability to get materials to the right place in the right time and in the right quantity. Many companies know about Kanban and pull systems, but few seem confident to use them. Instead they often rely on cumbersome and ineffective spreadsheets. ERP systems also fail to offer solutions to many companies. A value stream map will show the process steps and, critically, the information flows that trigger the movement of materials and production jobs from one process to the next. From this you can develop your future state map. It is at this point you will probably get introduced to some new concepts for managing the flow of production jobs and materials.




The Difference Between Push, Pull and Flow

The first response many companies adopt to overcome problems with material shortages and late deliveries are to look for a software solution. I call this automating the chaos! There are very many systems available, but most offer a enterprise resource planning or ERP approach. In this approach the business enters a forecast for expected customer requirements in the future. This is called a “push” system since materials and production are “pushed” through the production process in anticipation of future customer demand. This approach relies on customer forecasts being accurate. If you are one of the many companies which cannot get accurate forecasts from customers, then the ERP approach will be ineffective.

In a lean process we aim to achieve “flow”. This means that individual products flow from process to process in sequence. The ideal is “one piece flow” such as on an assembly line or production “cell”.  Each process hands the product on to the next process without work in progress or delay between processes. Failing that, a “First in First Out” (FIFO) lane can be used to control work between processes. A FIFO lane has space for a limited amount of product, usually no more than a few hours of production. Once the lane is full the upstream process needs to stop. This controls the work in progress and ensures consistent, fast lead time for all products flowing between the two processes.

Sometimes you can not achieve flow. For example, a process where it is necessary to run a batch of product such as heat treatment or plating or where set up times are too long to permit a batch size of one unit. Where processes have different hours of operation (e.g. one shift assembly vs. three shift machining) it can also be very difficult to achieve flow. In these situations a pull approach can be used. This means that production at the upstream process is “pulled” by the consumption of parts at the downstream process.





fixing a kanban system
Kanban cards like these trigger replenishment of materials. They are the most well know Lean material management tool, but by no means the only one.

There are many different types of pull systems used in lean manufacturing processes. The one readers are likely to be most familiar with is Kanban. In a Kanban system a card is attached to each container of materials. As the materials are consumed on the production line the cards are removed and returned to the upstream process or to the supplier. Parts are then picked or manufactured in the quantities specified on the Kanban cards, the cards are attached to the containers and the replacement parts sent back to the line. Usually multiple Kanban cards will be required for each part.

To calculate the number of cards you need to work out the lead time required to return the cards to the upstream process or supplier, to replenish the consumed parts and then to return these parts to the downstream process. You then need to calculate the maximum (not the average) number of parts that will be consumed by the downstream process over this replenishment lead time. Divide this by the number of parts per container to work out the number of Kanban cards you need in circulation for each part. You can then adjust the amount of parts in circulation up or down by adding or removing Kanban cards to the system.




Two Bin System

server racks two bin system
Example of a Two Bin Kanban system. When the bin at the front is empty, the bin behind slides down to replace it and the first bin is replenished

For small low value items, a two bin system can be a simple alternative to Kanban cards. In a two bin system a maximum of two bins of parts are held at the downstream process. The bins are usually clearly labelled with the part number and quantity of parts they are supposed to contain. One bin will be in use and the second bin will be full awaiting use. When the first bin is empty the operator drops it down a return chute or places it in a designated location for material handlers to pick up. The empty bin is then returned to the store, refilled and returned full to the line. The quantity in each bin needs to be enough to allow time for the empty bin to be replenished before the operator is using runs out of parts.

Two bin systems work well, but rely on a short replenishment lead times as the parts must be replenished before the bin in use is finished. They generally only work for items that can be supplied from a store to the line or for items where the supplier offers regular (at least daily) deliveries. They are very commonly used for fasteners and consumables. As the replenishment lead time increases it becomes necessary to introduce more bins to maintain supply and the system reverts to the multi-card Kanban system.




Batch Processes

Branach kanban control board
Example of A Kanban Control Board

In many cases upstream processes that are supplying parts manufacture in batches. In this case a system is needed to accumulate Kanban requirements until the target batch quantity is achieved. One way to do this is to set up a Kanban control board as shown in the picture above.

Kanbans are returned to this board and grouped by product. In this case the target batch size is four. When a product has four cards on the control board, the Kanban cards are then hung on the rail above the board. The machine operator then takes the cards in batches of four.

There is no need for a production schedule as the order of production jobs is simply the order that the batches are loaded on to the rail. There are many other variations on pull systems for batch processes, but these require more detailed explanation than is possible in this article.

Purchased Parts Supermarket

A common challenge in manufacturing is ensuring that purchased parts arrive on time. The traditional approach is to break down the bill of materials for a job and order the parts for each job individually. However in most cases parts are used in many jobs and matching up the parts requirements with individual jobs involves many transactions and is highly error prone. In your local supermarket the shelves are replenished at a regular interval to replace the products that have been sold. Each location in the supermarket is sized to ensure that the product does not run out before the shelves are restocked. A purchased parts supermarket operates on exactly the same approach. A “plan for every part” is developed which has the characteristic of each part including its usage, supplier lead time, pack type, pack size and type of storage

(eg. shelving, racking or block stacked). Each part is then stored in a dedicated location to make checking stock easy. On a designated day each week (or each day if necessary), the locations storing that suppliers’ parts are checked and the quantity needed to restock the shelves is ordered. An even better alternative is to get the suppliers to restock the “supermarket shelves” themselves.




The Need to Change Culture

Any system for controlling material requires a level of shop floor discipline and the systems described above are no exception. If products are not returned to their correct location or Kanban cards and product bins get lost, then the system will quickly break down. To create this level of shop floor control we frequently implement 5S techniques to create a discipline of a “place for everything and everything in its place”. The role of the front line supervisor is also critical in ensuring the system is maintained and improved.

In our experience the effort is worth it. Shortages are typically reduced by more than 90%, customer lead times are cut in half and inventory reduced by 50%. The level of expediting and stress is also dramatically reduced – which is often the benefit that our clients enjoy the most!


republished from an Article by the Author in Australian Manufacturing Technology,  October 2009, pp36-37

Understanding Your Production Capacity

What is the production capacity of your business? It is surprising how few manufacturers can answer this question. Even for those who can provide an answer, it is likely to be inaccurate.

Why Does Understanding Production Capacity Matter?

Many business decisions are based on assumptions about the production capacity of your business. For example, your decisions to purchase new equipment, take on new business, add another shift or relocate your business will all be based on your actual or perceived level of capacity. The consequences of not understanding capacity can, therefore, be very serious. You might take on business you can not service, purchase equipment you don’t really need or take on a building that is too large.

Learn How to Improve your Production Capacity “On the Cheap”

How do you Measure Production Capacity

There are many ways to look at production capacity in your business. In planning for sales growth you need to consider “demonstrated capacity”. That is the actual rate of output that has been achieved in recent history, allowing for inefficiency. This ensures that if efficiency does not improve your customers will still get their product on time. Of course when efficiency improves you may be able to get ahead of demand. In this case, your increased “demonstrated capacity” will provide further opportunity to grow sales.

When considering investments evaluate “nameplate” capacity to determine the hidden potential of your assets due to inefficiency. If efficiency is poor then focus on improving it through reducing set up time, downtime and defective product. This will provide much better returns for your business than investing in new equipment. Capacity changes over time as you add machinery or improve efficiency. Therefore you need to regularly review your capacity and compares this to your future demand for products. This capacity review usually forms part of your Sales and Operations Planning process.

Consider the Whole Chain when Calculating Production Capacity

line balance chart production capacity
An example of using a line balance chart to show capacity in the manufacturing process.

For a multi-step process, your production capacity will be limited by the slowest step in that process, the constraint. At TXM we like to look along the entire production process (or “Value Stream”) from supply of raw materials to shipping of finished goods and all the steps in between. We compare each step in this process to a common yardstick called Takt Time, or the rate of customer demand. So if we sell eight units per day from our factory and operate one, eight hour shift our takt time is one hour. Therefore every step in the production process needs to be able to produce at least one unit per hour. A simple bar graph (called a line balance chart) can compare the actual output of each production step (cycle time) with takt time and quickly highlight bottlenecks.

Take into Account Human as Well as Machine Capacity

There may be many steps where the rate of production is determined by people and not machines. In this case, you need to know the normal rate of production for these processes. “Standard Work” is an excellent process for achieving a consistent output and eliminating waste and inefficiency in processes where people set the pace.

Learn More About Standard Work

People can also be a constraint even when they don’t work on the production line. At one company I recently spoke to, capacity is limited by the ability of administration and engineering staff to process customer orders and design data. This can be hard to measure, but the consequences of overloading these functions will be just as devastating for customer service as a bottleneck in production. Standard work and value stream mapping can help identify and improve office capacity constraints.

Understanding your capacity is vital to managing a successful manufacturing business. We can assist you to understand and increase the capacity of your business.

Contact TXM to Learn How to Increase Your Production Capacity

Hand written graphs where the supervisor has to record performance as red for off target or green for on target are much more effective than computer screens or dashboards where the leader is just a passive observer of the data.

Imagine a sport where the score was unknown until two weeks after the game, was often inaccurate and the players were never told the score. Such a sport would not have many fans. Unfortunately many businesses run this way. Financial results are generated weeks or months late and are often inaccurate. Factors driving business metrics are often not well understood and sometimes not measured at all. Even if performance is measured it is often not shared with front line employees. So what should you measure in your business and how should you measure it?


Learn Why Hand Written Graphs Make Sense Even when the Data is in the Computer

Getting Started – Keep it Simple – Measure Frequently

With business metrics the temptation is often to measure everything. In our experience it is best to start with just one or two measures for each of safety, quality and output. Choose simple easily understood measures. Measures that involve counting are usually easier to measure and understand than percentages or ratios. Unit output versus target or takt time is often the first measure that is established. For safety and quality, in the absence of better metrics, we often use a simple red or green indicator to highlight whether there has been an issue today or not. The next measures may well be the key things that impact achieving targets such as hours of unplanned downtime, rework, near misses or number of defects. We also think that measures should be recorded by hand in the workplace by the people engaged in the work rather than producing elegant computer graphics in an office. This ensures that the people who are most able to make a difference to performance see themselves as accountable for that performance. Aim to measure as frequently as you can. Measuring your process hourly means that you can detect problems fast and react quickly, minimizing the consequence if you fall behind target.


Learn How Lean Business Metrics Drive Improvement in Our Lean Minute Video


safety chart
This very simple daily chart records if a safety issue has occured the previous day and prompts a daily discussion of safety.

Leading and Trailing Business Metrics

Most business measure trailing indicators. These are measures such as profit or return on assets that record the past performance of the business. This is a bit like the score in a game of football. However to improve in sport you need to look at the factors that drive the overall score. In football this might mean tracking the number of kicks or unforced errors, while in business, internal quality defects (or right first time) is often a driver of quality, while the number of out of stock items is a good predictor of on time delivery. You will also find it hard to meet customer lead time goals unless your internal production lead time is kept below the lead time your customers expect.

Measure to Improve

A sports team will use its scores and its statistics as a basis for improvement, focusing training on the areas where performance is not meeting targets. Likewise in business, measuring KPIs goes hand in hand with a process of problem solving and continuous improvement. We find that a ten minute meeting every day is often all that is needed to review performance and find and address the root causes of problems. The measures then provide feedback on the success of your problem solving efforts, completing the plan-do-check-cycle. A new calendar year is a great time to start measuring your business, so start today and choose one or two key measures that will drive your business to higher performance.


Learn the Value of Visual Metrics in this Video

accumulation kanban
This board accumulates Kanban cards to trigger ordering of parts.

Kanban Systems or Pull systems of various types with are now common across many industries. They are cheap, simple to operate and can lead to large cost and inventory reductions. Here are some guidelines to help make your pull system work effectively:

Keep the Lead Time Short and the Interval Frequent

Kanban systems (also known as pull systems) trigger the ordering of materials based on previous usage. The longer the lead time for supply of the parts and the less frequently parts are replenished, the less successful the pull system will be. Implementing pull system goes hand in hand with efforts to reduce batch size and shorten replenishment lead times and order smaller quantities more frequently.




Kanban is not “Set and Forget”

Kanban systems need to be maintained. Regularly review (every three to six months) the settings in the pull system to account for changes in demand, changes in the way parts are delivered or packed or changes in suppliers. You may need to add or remove kanbans, adjust trigger points or change kanban quantities.

Good Shop Floor Disciplines are Required

server racks two bin system
Example of a Two Bin Kanban system. When the bin at the front is empty, the bin behind slides down to replace it and the first bin is replenished

To maintain an effective kanban system you must develop a culture where things are always returned to the place they come from. Loosing kanban cards can also be a major problem. If you don’t have those disciplines,  implementing 5S is a good way to develop them. Keeping track of kanban cards can be a real challenge. Some good ideas we have seen include: making someone responsible for system maintenance, making the parts container itself the “kanban” or reducing the number of cards by using a “two bin” system. This means having only two containers of parts per part number, one container you are using while the second container of parts is either full waiting for use, or in the process of being replenished




Engage Suppliers in Developing Your Kanban System

If your pull system is designed to pull from suppliers you must talk to them and understand their systems and capabilities. Suppliers can have useful input on how to make the system more effective and forcing a system on them is unlikely to be effective and will damage your business relationship.



waste chienmei
Waste is not always as easy to spot as in this factory – but it is always present.

When you walk through your workplace do you find it hard to see waste? Maybe you have implemented 5S so the workplace looks well organized and have a solid order backlog so that everyone seems really busy. In this environment you may look at your operation and think that the opportunity to improve is now limited. This situation may be superficially satisfying, but can also be quite frightening if your margins are under pressure.

So where do you look for hidden waste when your workplace already “looks” efficient? The best answer is to revisit your value streams and systematically identify and eliminate waste. However a walking through of your operation may show up some surprising examples of hidden waste in your operation.

Understand the different types of waste

What is Everyone Doing?
Take some time to just stand in a discrete position in the workplace and observe what everyone is doing. Count how many people that you can see and then count how many of those are actually adding value for the customer while you are watching. For example do your operators leave the line to look for materials? Are there non-value-adding processes? For example do you pack your product at one stage of the process only to unpack it at a later stage?
Does product get moved long distances or get put into warehouses to be removed and used again later in the process? The time taken moving stock around and tracking it can be significant and does not add any value to the customer.

Learn About the Seven Wastes in Your Business

Minding the Machines
waiting time
Employees often spend a lot of time waiting for machines to finish their cycle. Well designed Lean standard work and fixing machine reliability issues can eliminate this.

Another common source of waste and cost is waiting for machines. The cash you have invested in your machines has already been spent, whereas the cost of labour is ongoing. Therefore if your operators are standing waiting for machines to finish their cycle your machine efficiency might look great, but your profit statement will not be so good.

Design machines to operate automatically or at least have automatic ejection of parts and make sure that your “standard work” has the operator arriving at the machine just after the machine cycle has completed, not just before.

Address the six big losses on your machines.

Where is the Inventory?
Inventory is waste, because the customer does not pay you more for your products when you have more inventory (unless you are in the warehousing business!!). However inventory also hides waste. If inventory is building up at points on your assembly line this is a sure sign that the work on the line is unbalanced. Inventory will build up behind a bottleneck.
Processes upstream of the bottleneck will have their output restricted by the bottleneck and therefore will often have waste built into their work. This can manifest itself by short wait times while the upstream operators wait for the downstream operators to catch up. Inventory can also hide problems, for example unreliable equipment or long setup times. All of these factors contribute to more waste and inflexibility in your supply chain.

Learn About Overproduction – The Worst Form of Waste

What is in the Bin?
Stick your head in the waste bin and see what is in there. It can often be surprising. In some processes end of run production is just thrown away when it will not fit on the pallet. Often in-process quality issues go unreported and the affected product is quietly thrown away. Alternatively setups can be a source of large amounts of startup waste. Material is usually your largest cost, so using structured problem solving techniques to find the root cause of why product ends up in the bin can have a large impact on profit.
Also take note of the amount of packaging in the bin. Again you will probably be staggered by how much packaging is used for the materials you use. Packaging cost will be built into the cost of the product you buy, and, as well, the removal, handling and disposal of waste packaging in your plant can be a significant source of waste. Investigate reducing packaging or using returnable packaging—you will help the environment and reduce cost and waste.
These are just a few areas where you can look for waste, but they will provide you a start. Then take a structured approach to identifying and eliminating waste by using Value Stream Mapping and Standard Work Analysis to quantify waste and develop future state action plans to eliminate it.

Contact TXM to Learn How we Can Eliminate Waste in Your Business.

Previously we have talked about steps for creating an action plan for real work improvement. We have covered the need for it to be well thought through with responsibilities, resources and a timeframe assigned. Now we want to improve team buy in and take your action plan to the next level by making it visual. We’ll go into what is a visual action plan, with examples and why it’s important for team buy in while rolling out the plan to achieve your goals.

What is a Visual Action Plan?

A visual action plan is an action plan the that been taken OUT of the computer system and put on displayed. It needs to show the key information in a format that can be read and understood from a distance. Colour coding and using simple red / green indications help turn a dull list of actions into a plan that clearly shows what needs to be done, who is going to do it and when it needs to be done by, as well as its current status.

Having a simple written list displayed is a good start.

Display your action list to improve buy in

Taking the action list to the next step, with red and greed magnets indicating which phase of implementation it’s up to. This also makes reviewing and updating the action plan much simpler and more efficient. We often hear that companies don’t have time to hold review meetings and then update the computer files with the review status. Effective review meetings can update the task status in real time during the meeting.

red and green status for an action plan

These action plans convey so much information, even to the casual observer. They tie the site map and the action together with pictures. This makes it much easier to share what is happening with your team. And an engage team is much more likely to get the actions completed. It also makes it simpler to convey the status of the project and to share this with other teams and management.

02a IPT Mission project A

benchmark action plans project overview

Why it is a Visual Action Plan Important?

There are many reasons why having a visual action plan is important. These include:

– engaging the team by making it more interesting

– making it easier to update in real-time

– improving the chance of success by keeping the key tasks front of mind

Transforming your Action Plan from Boring to Visual

1. On Display

01 Create a meeting place for visual controls

Start by taking what you have and displaying it in a meeting location or production board. Create a space if you don’t already have one

2. Engage your Team

03 get team involved_AgQuip_15

Encourage your team to get involved, creating and updating your action plan.

3. Review and Update

team review of visual action plan

Review upcoming tasks in your daily or weekly meetings. The frequency of review will depend on the maturity of your team and urgency of tasks. Keep them front of mind and help keep the important actions from getting lost among the urgent, daily tasks.

In conclusion

We have outlined the important reasons for having a visual action plan and how it improves buy in, with the three easy steps to take your action plan from boring to visual. If you need any help to get started, then call your TXM consultant today

Developing an Action Plan for Real World Improvements

This article was written by Robert Chittenden.

When I was much younger, I was impressed with the organisational structure and teamwork of the Scouts movement. We spent several years having fun and always doing activities and camps. The constant message of “Be Prepare” was repeated time and time again. To this day, the “Be Prepared” approach has set my thinking patterns to always have “Have a plan!” Now I realise, after working with many different companies, the importance of knowing how to write an effective action plan that has a clear outline of how to achieve a goal. You can have the very best, most creative and innovative ideas, but without a written action plan to outline the steps you need to achieve your goal, you are most likely to be running nowhere, fast.

steps for a good action plan

Here we will look at the steps I use to take a team through the process of developing an action plan to implement the tasks needed to achieve a goal. This is done after the Future State Mapping activities. The aim of the action plan is to capture the details and outline what needs to be done, who is doing it, when does it need to be completed by and any further information to support the team.

Create the Action Plan

Step 1 – Write out the goal you are working towards. For more information about writing a clear goal, see the article on Defining the Problem. The same principles apply.

Step 2 – List all the step by step actions needed to achieve the goal. Clearly identify which actions will work towards remedying the problem or which will eliminate the problem altogether. It is helpful to review the pros and cons for various results of actions before implementing your solutions.

Step 3 – Refine the action list. Once a full list of actions has been outlined, consider the key actions and delegate the “nice to haves” as sub tasks.

Step 4 – Plan what resources will be required and how they will be obtained. This needs to include all resources such as the people to complete those tasks, the time it will take, and any budget or expenses needed to complete the actions successfully.

Step 5 – Review if additional education or training needed. This needs to cover both the actions to achieve the stated goal and any backfilling of people as they move into a project team and others are covering their day to day activities.

Step 6 – Plan to build commitment. Consider how you will communicate to all of the people who will be affected by changes; internal teams and external suppliers and customers. We often see failure to achieve a goal come from not sharing the plans with people who we initially see as “don’t need to know”. EVERYONE in an organisation is part of the team and has a vested interest in what is going on, so everyone needs to know!

Step 7 – Identify how you will measure the effects of the actions as they are implemented. Define your performance indicators to measure the impact of your actions that were identified in step 2.

Also, consider how you will measure the actions that have been completed. Develop a tracking system for measuring changes in the action plan and performance indicators (for example, include a graph for recording data collected.) Develop a system for monitoring actions against the implementation plan (A check sheet or the measurement plan can work well)

Example –
Goal – reduce water damage to cartons during shipping.
Performance indicator – the percentage of cartons per shipment with damage.
Target by 5% in 2017.

Step 8 Assign responsibilities and due dates for every action.

Step 9 Communicate and share the plan. The more accountability you have with your team and company, the more likely you are to complete the actions and stick to a plan! Display the action plan using the Action Planning worksheet, a tree diagram, a timeline or A3 Plan.

Finally make sure your action plan is complete, clear, and current. Does your draft list all of the action steps necessary to reach your goal? Are the steps clear to all parties involved in the business? Are the actions according to the latest rules, regulations, and technology?

Your action plan will be a breathing, living document, so be open to many changes along the way. With any plan that you have, it is important that you stay motivated throughout the process so that you will have enough energy and motivation to see the plan through to the finish.

Creating a true A3 Plan

Implementing the Action Plan.

This is where the team implements the action plan and tracks actions relative to the plan.

Step 1 – Regularly review the action plan to ensure that everyone clearly understands what is to be done, by whom, and when. Check to be sure you have methods and resources in place for:
• Educating and training involved employees.
• Building the commitment of all involved
• Tracking completion actions

Step 2 – DO the actions.

We often feel like we can’t repeat this enough – DO THE ACTIONS. Don’t make excuse, put them off or try to be perfect to the point that nothing gets started! Get started, take the first step and DO THE ACTION!

There is more and more research around how to implement any type of change to the status quo, we need to act our way to a new way of thinking, not thinking our way to a new way of acting.

Step 3 – Track each action in the action plan. Verify that it was followed and identify the results. Record what was actually done.

Step 4 – Do the troubleshooting as needed to support the implementation of the actions. Take any remedial steps necessary to remove roadblocks and deal with unanticipated negative side effects of the change efforts.

Step 5 – Display completed actions versus planned actions as a record of your implementation.

It is critical that the team record exactly what actions are taken, as this will help you analyse the success of your action plan later.

Checking Results

When the goal has been achieved and the change is in place, the team can now examine the data collected to analyse how the expected results were obtained.

Step 1 – Compare the results against your performance indicators. Display the data.

Step 2 – Analyse the results, noting any effects observed, whether they were good or bad. Translate the improvements into dollar values that are relevant to the business, if possible.

Step 3 – Document any side effects observed (positive or negative) results.

Step 4 – If you did not achieve that targeted results assess:

  • Was the plan adequate?
  • Was the solution to your plan complete and appropriate?
  • Was the analysis of the problem correct?

At this point, the goal is to understand as much as possible about what happened. Even wildly surpassing your goals is meaningless if you do not understand why or how you did it.



This article is to remind you of the importance of thinking through the creation of an action plan, making sure your plan is as good as it can be with the time and information you have at the time, and then GETTING IT DONE! And then remember to review and make changes as you need to, to achieve your goal. Good luck!