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There’s Value in Simple, Visual and Manual Systems

By Steve Kane Updated on September 22nd, 2017

The advancement of technology of the years has put the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips.  We can look up pretty much anything we want to know in a matter of seconds.  Data systems have enabled us to see details of our businesses that we might not have researched in the past.  We’re able to see and respond to changing conditions more quickly than ever before.

Technology Changes Behaviors

The ability to react quickly to changing conditions will always be important.  The habit of reacting can create a response cycle that gets more and more out of control with each input.  In aviation, this is called a pilot induced oscillation.  The pilot sees the aircraft is losing a little bit of altitude and pulls up on the stick to correct the situation to back to straight and level flight.  The aircraft begins to climb, but goes a little above the desired altitude, so the pilot pushes forward on the stick.  Again, the aircraft starts to lose altitude, and this time loses more than the first time.  Again the pilot pulls back on the stick and climbs faster and higher than the previous cycle.  The cycle repeats and the pilot gets more and more out of control with each cycle.

Stop Reacting

It’s very easy to fall into the same trap with data.  An automated report shows at a glance a particular aspect of the business is in the green.  No action needed.  Sooner or later, the report shows we’re in the yellow, so we react to get things back into the green.  Once we’re in the green we say “Well done” and focus on other things.  Later the system tells us we’re in the red, so we rally the troops and implement countermeasures to get back into the green.  When we’re back in the green, we think our countermeasures worked, but have we really understood the problem?

Data Management Systems Aren’t Autopilot

The pilot induced oscillation in both scenarios occurred because no one was focused on the very small and subtle inputs to maintain straight and level flight.  Such inputs require continuous understanding of the every changing current state.  Sophisticated data systems can make it very easy to fall behind the curve.

Simple, Visual, Manual 

Data management systems are incredibly valuable and I wouldn’t want to give mine up.  At the same time, I could manage the business without it.  Granted, business process would be slower and take more people.  The important thing is that it could be done.

In my days in the police service, we’d practice the loss of the computer aided dispatch system (the ERP of the police world).  The CAD would be shut off a few times per year to make sure we were proficient in exchanging information and providing services without technology.

At Gemba Academy, we don’t shut the system off, but we do manually manage transactions in order to gain a deeper understanding of our ever-changing current state.  Our data management systems is the primary source of truth.  From there we hand write transactional information onto our visual management board.  The act of writing just a few words and figures presents some questions and answers others.  It reveals what was otherwise unknown and allows us to take appropriate action before unwanted conditions present themselves.

Be Proactive Rather Than Reactive

In short, this helps us focus on the right things and think ahead of problems rather than simply responding to problems.  It stops the pilot induced oscillation.

  1. Francisco Pulgar-Vidal

    September 22, 2017 - 9:00 am

    Steve, great article which I plan to send to a couple of people. However, I think you missed the opportunity to make the link from visual data recording to analyzing it with the use of control charts. This type of charts show transactional data variation over time, just like the oscillation and pilot over-compensation you describe so clearly. Many lean teams can benefit from simple, visual representation of data in a control chart that leads to avoid over-reacting to a yellow signal while at the same type noticing the trends even while we are in the green zone.

    • Steve Kane

      September 22, 2017 - 9:25 am

      Thanks, Francisco. Great comment! You make a good point and I appreciate the feedback.

  2. Mark Boland

    December 18, 2020 - 8:44 am

    That was a good read Steve, whilst i was reflecting on it i though on how people can have data overload – what we capture really needs to be meaningful. Simple, Visaul and Manual really resonates with me and where my company is in terms of the lean journey. Simple data captured which leads to performance management rather than perfoprmance tracking.

  3. Steve Kane

    December 18, 2020 - 10:18 am

    Thanks very much, Mark. I agree. When the work is meaningful, people have purpose.

  4. Ann Hamon

    May 21, 2021 - 11:52 am

    Great article ! People learn differently so, I believe simple visual displaces are the best in learning.

  5. Patrick G Taylor

    March 29, 2022 - 3:39 pm

    I just think using the visual manual controls allows everyone to feel they can understand and physically be a part of the system, especially as we begin the Lean Journey. They will support what they help build. Good article.

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