When I first saw people using post-its to track their progress on a wall, I thought the idea ignorant or naïve. Come on, I thought. We live in the 21st century. Are we not aware of task tracking applications? Have we really reverted to pieces of paper stuck to the wall? It looks like children are running the place!
I’ve run into this attitude quite a few times since I’ve become a believer in the power of visual management. I sometimes forget I had this attitude at one time.
I’ve often been asked why I just don’t use Excel instead of using a board. One guy yelled across the room at me, “You’ve made a mess!” When consultants for our software department suggested a team use Kanban, management met them with a solid, “No. It doesn’t look professional.” (I guess they thought the same thing about my wall!).
I once had a part time job at a cafe at a local museum. The cafe just opened and leadership was very proud of it. It was built in an old WWII jeep garage and had brand new granite counters, rustic sheet metal facing, and exhibits on life during WWII. The museum had great plans for it. My first morning, another employee and I were looking all through the cabinets for coffee and other items. We just couldn’t find anything. There were over 50 drawers and cabinets in the cafe—all white.
After several attempts of rummaging through drawers and cabinets trying to find things, I decided to put labels on them. Something simple and temporary— the top of post it notes. I had a feeling management wouldn’t approve, but hey—it was helping me with my job! At the least, I could show a proof of concept and it could be easily taken down if not approved.
Sure enough, a manager came in and asked who put up the labels. I said I did. I was told to remove them. I explained it was difficult to find anything. I was told I would soon memorize where things were. Further, I was told it was important that the cafe look nice for visitors (and labels look bad). He related a story on how the last cafe manager had put labels all over the cabinets and it didn’t look good. I asked why he thought the last manager did that. He said she was trying to organize things (but he didn’t like the way it looked). I asked if we could perhaps create labels with WWII style fonts. He said no. At that point, I decided I couldn’t win and because I had just started and didn’t want to get the reputation for being difficult, I removed the labels.
In retrospect, I may have had a better chance of convincing him if I had gotten others to come along with the idea (though I doubt it. Another employee told me they didn’t offer ideas because they wouldn’t be adopted. They just did what they were told to do).
Regardless, between these two jobs, I have greatly underestimated how some will value aesthetics over efficiency. I’m not sure how one bridges this gap, especially when one doesn’t have any position of power and has little influence. For me, I made the transition when someone asked me to make a Kanban board for the team. Once I did it, I was hooked and haven’t looked back. But how does one get someone to even try?
What obstacles have you encountered in trying to get an organization to adopt visual management? Has anyone brought up the issue of aesthetics?