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Gwendolyn Galsworth


Visual Scheduling: A Problem-Solving Mechanism

Seeing is believing

Published: Monday, May 23, 2016 - 13:09

Visual scheduling is a plain, two-dimensional format that maps out which products, parts, or subassemblies need to be produced, and when, in what quantity, and in what order. Nothing could be simpler.

In companies where schedules aren't published in a single, centralized location for all to see and know, the effect of a visual schedule can be revolutionary. Core information is no longer one of the company's best-kept secrets known only by a chosen few (i.e., the planner and a handful of supervisors). Operators won't have to ask, and ask again: "What am I supposed to make now, boss?" They know what that boss knows: the production schedule. In fact, put in a visual/physical format, everyone can access the schedule at will because it's both visual and physical. No longer is it insider information.

Truth be told, in most organizations, withholding production information is not intentional. It doesn't occur to managers to make the schedule widely and simultaneously known. More times than not, the production schedule is on a computer, which in the minds of many managers and planners is the same as universally available. To them computer-based schedules are convenient, make sense, and allow for easy updates. Who would argue with that as a best-case practice? I would.

Convenience and ease of editing are not the core organizing factors in why we choose to make the production schedule visual; if they are, they have missed the point. Visual scheduling boards are first and foremost problem-solving formats. For example, we may think we've organized a fixed schedule, but the passage of time may show us otherwise. Oops. The published schedule reveals a gap between believing we have a stable, coherent schedule and the truth: the schedule has problems.

As soon as we put that schedule in a central location, writ large on a white board (for example), we can witness the vagaries—the hiccups—in our production approach. There's no place to hide. But more than that, we become eager to solve the layers of problems that surface in a single production day. How well I remember the planning team members of a Toronto-based trailer manufacturer declaiming the stability of its daily production schedule: "It is fixed and firm."

The plant manager, Tom Wiseman, suspected otherwise and decided to probe for proof. "OK, let's test that claim," he said. "Let's derive a simple metric from the production scheduling board: Note any element on the board that changes during a given day. Just count those changes and post the cumulative number for the day. For example: 1, 2, 5, and 6."

They did, only the number of daily edits looked more like 16, 12, 23, and 19. "Fixed and firm" became fiction, and the visual scheduling board (as seen below) became an anchor for scientific investigation in which planners and the full management team were engaged. Testing the fixed-and-firm claim was a window to the truth as problem after problem surfaced and was scrutinized.

I have no problem with computer-based scheduling or LCD scheduling displays. They're handsome and have a place in your operational system. But because both are passive mediums, it's hard to learn from them. Said another way, one of the factors that makes a physical scheduling board powerful is the requirement for tactile engagement: You have to touch it to change it. Never discount that humans learn about and change through the medium of our senses. We are sense-based beings. Our senses are a major nexus of learning and growth.

Visual scheduling boards provide an important opportunity to engage the full gamut of senses while making improvement contributions to the corporate good.

Let the workplace speak.

This trailer manufacturer tests its belief that its production schedule is fixed and firm. It posts the five-day schedule in this long hallway, noting each time the schedule changes. The hallway soon becomes a hot bed of discussion.

First published April 13, 2016, in The Visual Thinker newsletter.


About The Author

Gwendolyn Galsworth’s picture

Gwendolyn Galsworth

Gwendolyn Galsworth, Ph.D., has been implementing visuality for more than 30 years. She’s focused on codifying the visual workplace concepts, principles, and technologies into a single, coherent sustainable framework of knowledge. Galsworth founded Visual Thinking Inc. in 1991, and in 2005 she launched The Visual-Lean Institute where in-house trainers and external consultants are trained and certified in the Institute’s nine core visual workplace methods. Two of the seven books Galsworth has written received the Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award.