Challenges and opportunities with digital Lean boards
I have seen several attempts to digitize Lean boards such as improvement and daily management. These attempts have aimed to make the board available online so that you can work with it when you’re out of the office also. Being able to store all data and make analyzes on it also seems to be the common reasons for running the board digitally.
The risk that a digital Lean board will not be visual
Excel is a popular tool for building board-like spreadsheets with charts and an action list. The advantage is that it is quick to get started. However, I do not think such solutions are particularly good. I attempted to create a digital improvements board at our sister company Metodio before MEVISIO was started, but it became too harsh and unstable. Plus, it felt boring to work on, see picture.
The following are some of the issues with making a Lean board with Excel or similar tools:
- The board is made in a file that is stored on the network, which can be difficult to find. So if the idea of a visualization board is that it should just be visual, Excel will drop away immediately. Compare with a physical board that is screwed onto a wall where everyone passes by—you will always know where it is, and it is visible immediately if a meeting is ongoing by the board.
- Also, a file cannot be considered accessible to all. Have you tried to open a file that someone else is already in? Then you would know that it usually does not work, as you have to wait until the person who has the file open closes it. Imagine if it was the same with a physical board—there could only be one person at a time at it.? Online versions of office tools work better, but there are more challenges.
- How do you know that a Lean board in a file is safe? Secondly, such solutions are unstable to maintain, and links between different files cease to work because someone has made a change. It's also a bit too easy to delete formulas and data accidentally.
- Another thing to consider is that a file can end up in the wrong hands. Consider the consequences of the data showing how the daily operations work ending up with a competitor. It may be unlikely that a competitor should hack a network and find the file for daily management, but one of your key employees may end his employment and start working with a competitor. And that person may take along a copy of his working documents even if it’s not allowed.
- After all, Excel is actually a program for making spreadsheets in.
New technology that makes digital visualization better
When we (Marcus and I) started sketching on MEVISIO, the solution to the above problems was a basic requirement, and we have solved them in a good way.
We also saw several opportunities that a new modern solution based on the latest technology could add. One technology we find a lot of benefits in is touch. Just like on an iPad, you can handle everything with your fingers right on the screen. Touch screens (a big flat screen TV with touch surface) have now become an affordable alternative to projectors and can be found in any size up to about 100 inches.
Being able to point and drag the items on a screen with your fingers instead of a mouse makes it more easy to use. Another positive benefit that this development entails is the elimination of menus with lots of small buttons and menu options and their replacement with simple navigation and inviting interfaces. I have understood that this is what creates so much interest in MEVISIO. Users find that such natural interaction makes the digital board feel like a whiteboard.
The advantages of a digital board compared to a whiteboard
For you to believe this comparison is unbiased, I must first state that I really like physical boards for their simplicity or as I usually say, “Everyone knows how a whiteboard marker works.” Visualization itself is, of course, always an advantage regardless of tools, but it gets better when it’s digital:
- Even though a physical board is usually placed in the middle of the office, it is usually too far away to get the information close to hand when working at your workplace. A digital board is just a click away via the computer.
- MEVISIO also offers an app where you can, for example, submit suggestions for improvements and deviations via your phone.
- MEVISIO can display data from other systems. You do not have to print reports or set up or spend time keeping an analog board updated.
- As all the data in a digital board is stored, it is much easier to get statistics that can be analyzed to find even more improvement opportunities.
- It's not good to have secret information on physical boards that visitors may see, but it is often the information needed for the daily meeting to be good. With a digital board, you can avoid that by controlling authentication privileges.
- Whiteboards take up a lot of space. A wall-mounted (or on wheels) touchscreen can be used to display various departments’ different boards. MEVISIO also comes with a built-in function that displays the boards in a loop in, for example, 10 seconds intervals.
- A whiteboard is always visible, but a digital board on a touchscreen will definitely draw attention and look modern, which may represent the preferred image of the company better.
Some claim that it is easier to remember and feel more involved if you can move physical notes and magnets with your hands. Rather, I think, it's the setup of the daily meeting itself and the fact that you discuss issues and solutions together that improve the effectiveness of the meeting.
You can run digital boards regardless of whether you already have a Lean board. Just start with one if you are interested in visualization for other purposes. Some think it's easier to start with a physical to get going with the concept and make changes to a physical board. We have established this in the development of the platform, making it extremely flexible, so that it is often faster to replace, for example, a couple of modules in MEVISIO than to tape a new grid on a physical board.
Earn time and money to digitize the Lean board
The big profit with a Lean board, whether it's digital or whiteboard-based, comes thanks to the concept itself with visualization and daily meetings. By visualizing deviations, risks, and opportunities and having short meetings every day, problems and improvements can be solved quickly and efficiently.
If a team has a problem they can not solve and that another team has already solved, it is time-consuming or physically impossible to get information about that if you have to go through all the different boards. With MEVISIO, you can easily get all the improvements that concern the problem through search and filtering features.
It takes a lot of work with physical boards. To stripe a board takes about 1–2 hours. Therefore, if each team has its board, it will take a lot of time even if it is the same design on the board. In MEVISIO, you can reuse the same design for all teams and can also spread it globally because since it can handle multiple languages.
Whether you are working in a large company with the need for standardization and efficient distribution of the boards or in a bit smaller company where only a few different boards are needed to manage the daily operations and improvements, accessibility is something that is important to everyone. Having daily meetings where all key people can participate, whether traveling or working from home, can save a lot of time and money.