This week I’ve heard a person describing visual management like “putting our Excel spreadsheet on the wall”. Sadly visual management tools are many times just an illusion and consist in a simple copy of previous management systems (spreadsheets, agendas, calendars…) made with paper or magnets hanging somewhere.
Yes, visual management must be “visual” (in graphic form) and “public” (everyone can see it) but that’s not really the point of it. Visual management must follow these principles to have the right to use that name:
- Defines the standard condition
- Highlights problems
- Creates alignment
- Drives action & learning
Defining the standard condition means that visual management is a prediction of how things will go on. We base the prediction on our standards. Visual management helps everybody understand what is expected to happen. Then we check how things go and a) celebrate that our prediction was right or b) discover that our prediction was wrong. In the second case, we have found a problem (assuming that our standards are correct. If they are not, the problem is that our standards are inaccurate). Visual tools make sure that information is shared and aligns team members. Then the team decides what to do to understand the problem and learn, find out the root cause of the problem and put solutions in place.
Visual management can be summarized as: “We see together, we know together, we act together” (see Al Norval’s post at Lean Pathways blog: link )
Don’t forget that Visual Management can’t work alone. It needs Leader Standard Work and Standard Accountability Processes to run properly.
Our brain works in a way that helps us understand the world quickly. We are good at finding patterns, applying proved solutions and learning from experience. Our brain and the way it thinks is an evolutionary advantage that has made us progress. However, sometimes the way it functions is a problem. Innovation is one of those moments. Let’s see an example:
In this picture we find two very different tasks from our brain’s point of view:
- The left column shows a task our brain LOVES doing: finding a pattern in mispelled words. Past experience and known solutions work great here, piece of cake for our brain.
- The right column shows a task our brain HATES: reading the word’s color instead of reading the written word. Past experience does not work here; even worse, past experience is a wrong solution. Our brain has to do things differently, which is tiring and frustrating. Unfortunately, innovation work must be disruptive and, therefore, looks pretty much like this type of task.
Our brain likes “doing the same things the way we have always done them”. This is called psychological inertia. Innovation needs disruptive thinking, which does not get along well with psychological inertia. This mental inertia prevents us from seeing unconventional solutions and is a great obstacle for breakthrough results. It is a wall between business as usual and innovation.
Experts define 3 main types of mental presumptions:
- Functional fixedness: Tendency to perceive an object as having a specific function, leading to inability to imagine new possibilities (e.g. a brick is used for building houses, but it can’t be used as a flower pot)
- Structural fixedness: Tendency to view objects as a whole. It makes difficult to imagine how the product could be reorganized differently (e.g. a regular bike vs. a folding bike)
- Relational fixedness: Tendency to view relationships and dependencies of a product or situation as static and permanent. One overlooks the possibilities of changing these dependencies to create new configurations (e.g. a rain umbrella used as a beach umbrella)
Combined with “Ideal Final Result” techniques (learn more here), innovation work benefits incredibly if we actively try to overcome the psychological inertia of our development team. The typical process is:
- Discuss the innovation challenge with the team.
- As a team, list the assumptions about the product of service that the team is analyzing (e.g. bricks are for building houses, cars need a park place…). This will create consciousness about our presumptions and prejudices.
- Challenge assumptions: think how can I eliminate the barriers, contradictions and limitations. Choose a “HCI” (how can I) or “WI” (what if) question and think how to eliminate the problem (e.g. how can I use bricks if building a house is not an option? How can I eliminate the need of a park place?)
This mental exercise can be very powerful. It opens our mind making obvious our assumptions and prejudices, and prepares our brain for the fight against standard solutions. Maybe, who knows, you will never look at your product / service in the same way.
Picture from: www.psychologyconcepts.com
Innovation is more important than you think, even if you are a well-established Fortune 500 company. According to Eric Ries (The Lean Startup) “creating an innovation factory, a group of people who create disruptive innovation on a continuous basis, is probably the only sustainable path to long-term growth”.
Clayton Christensen (The innovator’s dilemma) has described 2 types of innovation:
- Sustaining innovation: incremental improvement to existing products and serving existing customers.
- Disruptive innovation: breakthrough new products.
Yes, only disruptive innovation generates new sources of growth. Bad news is that many big companies are great at sustaining innovation but poor performers at disruptive innovation. That’s why 60% of the companies fail jumping into the next generation and disappear after the first technology revolution (learn more here).
Innovation needs a) a management process and b) the correct environment. The innovation management process must focus on learning and is very different from general management techniques, which focus on execution (i. e. doing things on time and on budget). Facilitating and cultivating a learning environment is the responsibility of senior management (learn more here)
If both things are present (correct management processes and a great environment) more ideas are tested, learning cycles are shorter and the probability of innovation increases exponentially. Using Scott Cook’s words, we convert politicians into entrepreneurs:
When you have only one test, you don’t have entrepreneurs, you have politicians, because you have to sell. Out of a hundred good ideas, you have to sell your idea. So you build up a society of politicians and salespeople. When you have five hundred tests you are running, then everybody’s ideas can run. And then you create entrepreneurs who run and learn and can retest and relearn as opposed to a society of politicians.
Scott Cook, Intuit chairman, via The Lean Startup
The Lean recipe for success:
- 10% tools and tecniques
- 30% people
- 60% enjoy hard work
Keep it in mind!