The Trap of Managing by Computer Screens

One of the things that I notice when I go to offices in the US is walls everywhere and a computer screen at each desk. I recently lead a group of clients to Japan to visit a Toyota group company office that had taken the principles of Lean and applied it their sales / management operations.
The things that struck me were:
1) The management of the business was done by magnetic boards and other charts posted around the office, and
2) There were no walls in the office at all.
A lot of the businesses that I go to consult are run by computers. Everything that happens in the business cycle goes into the computer. Do we have a sales prospect? In the computer! What options do they want? In the computer! Were they not happy with what they got? In the computer! By working this way, a manager has no choice but to be stuck to his 17-inch computer screen going through data to manage the business.
In kaizen we talk about Visual Management. I have often come across a claim that the eyes absorb 83% of information that is out there (compared to very little information that is absorbed by the sense of taste).
When you consider the vast bandwidth that each person has with their eyes, it really is a misuse of the tool to relegate them to staring at a 17-inch screen. It is where the process itself is wasteful which is one of the 7 wastes.
Just going through a quick estimate of the amount of time spent figuring out what is going on, trying to recover from missed opportunities (dropped balls), and status meetings, it sure makes sense to take away the walls that stifle visual communication and manage the business via boards and charts all along a wall than it does a computer screen. Let the computer do what it does best – crunch numbers, and let people do what they do best – view the surrounding scenery and make decisions about how to take out waste find kaizen opportunities.

2 Comments

  1. Viki

    December 2, 2006 - 6:46 pm

    Jon…at first let me apologise for posting a comment on a post that is over two years old …its just that two things have happened recently . One, my role in the company changed and as a result now am deeply interested in process + efficiency and the other, I ‘found’ your absolutely fascinating blog just yesterday. Ok, so now back to the business at hand … I disagree with you on a few counts…
    1.Rremember there is a move towards de-clutter, simplify and in general a paperless office culture. Now that implies finding a means of storage that means not killing millions of trees and/ or looking for many square feet of office space for filing cabinets.
    2. A lot of data is crunched on computers ( what their sole purpose should be ) and also re-presented in an intelligent or simpler visual manner by means of charts or tables ..which then are stored digitally and filed ( hopefully ) intelligently.
    That said , I completely agree with the fact that there is no better manner of first time imbibing information other than go to gemba and use your visual bandwidth …Law of 2 feet and 2 eyes !

  2. Jon Miller

    December 2, 2006 - 7:45 pm

    No problem at all Viki. I agree with you. Data storage is another valuable function of computers as well as number crunching.
    A lot of the activity of gathering data, analyzing data, creating charts and storing this data is “after the fact” by the time it arrives on a computer screen. Even if it is “real time” it is not “real place” – or gemba. If it is not real time and real place, it is not as actionable.
    If it is not as actionable, the act of creating and review this data could be considered waste.
    The point of this post was that there should be live, local management by fact (on-site and visual) not management through data and reports on a computer screen.