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Creating a Process of Ongoing Improvement: Visibility

A truly effective process of ongoing improvement (POOGI) in any system (read: a company, a not-for-profit organization, or even a department or function) must begin with visibility.

By visibility, we might apply any number of definitions:

  • The condition or fact of being visible
  • The relative ability to be seen under given conditions or circumstances
  • Having the ability to provide a relatively large range of unobstructed vision.

Managers and executives frequently think they have visibility

If you ask most managers and executives, they will tell you two contrary things—if they are being honest:

  1. They will say that they know and understand what is going on in their organization, their industry and their markets
  2. They will say that they need "greater visibility" into their organizations, their industry and their markets

Unfortunately, when most of these executives and managers talk about their need for "greater visibility," they all too frequently are thinking they need more reports, more dashboards, and more technology—maybe even, big data.


But reports and dashboards, at best, provide data about what happened. Reports and dashboards cannot give executives and managers clear visibility into how things happened or why things happened. That is one very sound reason that the Toyota way of managing includes a method that can be translated from the Japanese as "go for yourself and see."

Visibility into Your Current Reality

Real visibility comes from making things that are presently obscured, obstructed or even opaque to management visible. Real visibility means finding a way to make that, which presently is very hard to see, come into clear view despite the circumstances or conditions that exist. Real visibility means extending the view of management past reports, dashboards and meetings so that everyone becomes clear as to what is working—and failing to work—all across the organization.

Real visibility means taking all of the apparent complexity within the organization and capturing it in visual formats that allow what is known about how the system (read: the whole enterprise) works—or fails to work—can be reviewed, analyzed, prioritized, communicated, talked about and monitored in clear, unmistakable terms.

In the Toyota Production System (or, what has become known as "Lean"), the visual formats that are used are several, but a leading method is referred to a "value-stream mapping." This approach is intended to capture in a visual format how the system (read: the organization, the supply chain, or other) works in producing value for the customer. It also captures, in a visual format, where things are being done that do not add value for the customer.

The value of the visual format is that it becomes a common language by which everyone from the executive up to the line worker on the shop floor can talk about, analyze, review and communicate what adds value and what results in waste and inefficiencies.

When we work with clients, we use a different method to achieve this visibility—a method that has long proven its effectiveness and has been used in a vast array of industries and organizations ranging from mom-and-pop donut shops to major players in the aerospace industry. Instead of value-stream maps, we use the logical trees found in the Thinking Processes [PDF] (rooted in the Theory of Constraints).

Steps Toward Creating a POOGI

While the Lean approach, as referenced in typical Hoshin Kanri practice, uses different terminology from that used by Theory of Constraints practitioners (like us), the essence of the process involved in producing a process of ongoing improvement (POOGI) is amazingly similar.

Hoshin Kanri Creation Sequence Theory of Constraints Approach
Clarify the organization's mission Identify the goal of the system
Complete a situation appraisal Identify the system's constraint and the system's current reality (Current Reality Tree)
Create a vision of the desired future state Beginning from the Current Reality Tree, create a vision of the future reality (Future Reality Tree)
Develop organizational goals to achieve the future state Determine what must change from the Current Reality to create the Future Reality (Transition Tree)
Establish metrics for the goals Change metrics from those seeking local (departmental or functional) improvement to metrics for improvement of the whole system's performance
Prioritize breakthroughs Prioritize changes to be made based on simple, clear metrics based on Throughput, Investment and Operating Expenses
Identify strategies to achieve goals Identify strategies for a "viable vision"—the ever-improving and growing organization
Capture goals and strategies in a visual format Capture strategies and underlying tactics in a visual format (Strategies and Tactics Tree)


We believe that these strong similarities merely lend credence to their effectiveness. These methods can be applied to any system—even systems that extend outside the four walls of a single enterprise—such as a supply chain.

We would like to hear your thoughts on these concepts. Please leave your comments below.

Richard Cushing

Written by Richard Cushing

Richard is a Senior Solutions Architect at RKL eSolutions LLC. He is a Certified Demand Driven Planner (CDDP) as recognized by the ISCEA. He also holds various certifications including Sage Certified Consultant on Sage 500 ERP. Richard has over 25 years of practical experience with a variety of information systems, project management, business consulting, enterprise application integration design and deployment.