Lean Office

Lean Government Example: Defect Display Board

By Jon Miller Updated on September 26th, 2022

Here is a photo I took while on a hike through a state park with some family members one summer. Whether through an individual initiative by a park ranger or as part of a lean government initiative by Washington State, it is a great example of a defect display board.

Why are these items defects? They were samples of items left behind by park visitors. A state park is meant to be enjoyed by all in its natural condition. Only one of the items displayed on this board appears in nature. These items represent deviations from the standard condition of nature in this park.

A Visual Story

The board tells a story through actual samples of defects found in the state park in a much more powerful way than words on a sign saying “please don’t litter” ever could. The addition of the data on the time it takes for each item to decompose is also an effective visual to remind people of the impact of their decisions: a legacy of trash that remains in the park from a few months to hundreds of years.

Not pictured, there was a large plastic trash bin filled with rocks, driftwood, and walking sticks placed strategically at the end of the path up from the beach. This was a reminder to leave behind anything we might be tempted to carry home from the park as a souvenir. Once again, a more powerful visual reminder invites the park visitor to interact with the message and do the right thing rather than ignore the imploring message on the sign.

Make it Personal

Defect displays are often found in high-traffic areas of factories practicing lean thinking.

Examples of recent defects are lined up in neat rows on a small table. Team meetings are held at these display tables to review quality problems. The problems, importantly, are not hidden. The term in Japanese for this type of defect display is sarashi kubi which means “exposed decapitated head”. In medieval times Japanese bandits or vile traitors to their lord would be decapitated and have their heads displayed on a table in a high-traffic part of town. This served as a practical reminder of forbidden actions and their consequences.

What these two examples of visual controls have in common is that they personalize the defect or problem in a much more powerful way than two-dimensional warning signs, charts or tables ever could. Personalizing a problem creates motivation to be part of the solution (or at least to not be part of the consequence) because it touches us on an emotional rather than rational level. It is much easier to forget or ignore what we know, and much harder to do so for what we feel.

How can you personalize shared problems in your workplace or community?


  1. John Santomer

    September 4, 2011 - 2:26 am
    Reply

    Dear Jon,
    You are right! It hits you where the message needs to make a mark. It’s informative too and makes you own responsibility for your subsequent actions after you’ve gone through and processed the information.
    I’d hate to see heads roll and be set as an example for “sarashi kubi”. But then again, all things have levels of impact different for everyone. Clearly demarcates the line between deterrent and precaution. Probably why we still have debates on capital punishment between lethal injection or life imprisonment.

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.