Lack of visibility can be the bottleneck

Making targets and their associated metrics more visible can be the most important factor in achieving those targets. That’s the message behind the agile notion of Information Radiators or Big Visible Charts: the visibility itself is a critical component of their success. Today Shawn Callahan tells an anecdote in which it seems the increased visibility of a target and its metric served to dramatically change employee behaviour. He relates a story from Pfeffer and Sutton in Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense in which a shipping company wished to save money by bundling small orders into bigger boxes. The policy wasn’t being followed, so:

“So the company announced a new program that provided rewards such as praise—not financial rewards—for improvement. On the first day, the proportion of packages placed in the larger containers increased to 95 percent in about 70 percent of the company’s offices. The speed of this overwhelming improvement suggests that a change in performance derived not just from the rewards that were offered, but also from the information provided that the current performance level was poor and this action—consolidating shipments—was important to the company.”

As Jack Vinson suggests, the relative invisibility of the target behaviour and its measures could well have been the constraint on that business at that time. The anecdote is from the 1970s, too early for the business to have used the ToC thinking tools to diagnose the situation, or for the metric’s increased visibility to have been the result of applying the five focusing steps (identify, exploit, subordinate, elevate, repeat).

For me, the lesson from this story is that the constraint is as likely to be in knowledge management or communication as anywhere…

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