Show direction on your wall, not your workflow


Engineers are smart and self-motivated. Give them a problem, they’ll solve it. But don’t give them context, chances are that they’ll remove their difficulties by changing things around – sometimes touching stuff they should have been careful with. Problem solving requires context to bring understanding – just as understanding requires knowledge to come up with wise solutions.

Engineers need to work on very detailed, specific issues to do any good – problem or process difficulties never solve themselves by generalities. We can help them keep the context in mind by showing them the direction the overall product should take – not specific solutions, that’s their job, but an understanding of the outcome of all the designs put together a one product or one service performing in customers’ hands.

People who use drills like drills, humans love objects, but what they’re really after are holes.

On this Obeya walls, the engineering group has posted the performance improvement topics for new products to keep in mind and discuss what they seek, rather than what they currently have:

Obeya product performance

Too often, when they hear about “visual management,” managers post their team’s workflow on the wall to make sure every one does their job on time – straight out of what is in their computer. Certainly, a delivery plan (deliver on time at the next step) helps to get everyone clear on when the full job is due, but displaying workflows on walls is nothing else than added pressure on output – rather than creating thinking space for outcome.

By putting up workflows on the wall, the manager is trying to make his or her job easier, not help engineers or developers become better at what they do.

Walls are great tools to show the direction and create space for everyone to think and discuss, and clarify mutual understanding of what we are doing and what are each other’s contraints. Don’t waste that essential tool of challenge and teamwork and turn it into more management daily control. As an engineer, when I look up from my desk, I should be reminded of what this product or service will do for our customers, and do better than competing products, brands or technologies.


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