More on White Boards: The Devil's in the Details

Last week I presented a standardized approach to white boards that we have developed in the Henry Ford Production System.

Some of us had the opportunity recently to tour a very efficient furniture manufacturing facility in Western Michigan that has been perfecting its approach to Lean production ala the Toyota philosophy and methods for the past 14 years. Their track record of customer satisfaction, zero defects, increased efficiency, throughput and human development (core measures of success) were nothing short of outstanding. Most of you are probably using or sitting on their office products now.

And what was present at each workstation for workers to provide input from the shop floor to make abnormalities visible so they could be fixed in order that no defect was passed further down the line?


White boards are a critical tool to help the individual worker and the team build in quality as the product or service is being produced.

Remember that white boards are only fully functional as visual workplace tools when leaders have created the enlightened culture that encourages blameless identification of mistakes, provides an organizational structure and reporting relationships that incentivize empowered workers to contribute to daily defect resolution. This is the essence of Lean- a continual improvement loop with a 'shop floor' focus by employees who know the nature of their work best.

Above is a photo of one of those white boards at this plant, shown so that you might appreciate the level of detailed and standardized communication between fellow workers and Team Leaders.

The elements captured on these white boards are the following:

  • Date
  • Problem
  • Who identified
  • Action- short term (our rapid fixes)
  • Action- long term (our A3 based improvements)
  • Responder/Comments
  • Estimate % complete (visual using a circle with quadrants filled in)

See if this example of an Issues List White Board from the manufacturing world helps you think about how to best to use your own white boards to clarify the defects that arise in your work station and facilitate your team's subsequent resolution.

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