Any idiot can take a simple task and make it complicated, but it's the rare person that can simplify a complicated one.
It's been a little more than two years since I wrote about it, but I am still impressed with an idea put forth by EvolvingExcellence blogger Keith Meyer, for a simple ERP system that largely involved mapping out workflows and posting them on a whiteboard for everyone to see. It works, said Meyer, because it's "simple, visible, and ... owned by everyone on the floor." He wrote:
Visual systems have been around for a long time. But sometimes we need a reminder to take a step back and think about what we want to accomplish. Many of us, especially engineers like myself, can become so enamored with technology that we forget to think about whether it's really the best solution.
Fast forward to today and a post with the intriguing title Management by Colorforms on The Effective CIO blog. Author Chuck Musciano confesses that he prefers a whiteboard over more sophisticated tracking and monitoring tools for gaining insight into project progress.
He uses vinyl squares similar to those found in Colorform sets to show how he feels about a project, with red expressing "grave concern," yellow for some doubt and green indicating everything seems fine. Each project gets a purple dot when Musciano comes in. When he's updated about a project's status, the dot is erased. Too many dots, and he knows he needs to track down a team member for an update.
The board helps him quickly and easily keep track of multiple projects. More important, the board gets his employees talking and lets them see which projects he deems most important. Folks have suggested he aim a Webcam at the board, a step mentioned by Meyer in his blog about the ERP system. But Musciano thinks more conversation is generated when people physically go to the board. He notes:
In spite of all of our fancy tools and systems, simple things often work best.
An emphasis on personal contact can easily get lost in today's offices, where folks rely on e-mail and IM to reach out to colleagues. Yet many folks agree with Musciano that there's often no substitute for real conversation. Google executives have said they'll never stop paying for employees' meals because much valuable collaboration occurs in the lunch room.