Tricks of the Trade: Visual Tools

Supply Pipeline

There are simple visual tools and complex ones: ones for recording observations, for clarifying data, and ones to help us improve, by theory and testing. Not using them? You are flying blind!

Charles "Chuck" Green Tap Dancer
Charles Green Half of Tap Dance Phenoms Chuck and Chuckles

Ain't no maps on my taps!

I have already posted three in my weekly tricks of the trade posts, the flow chart, the concept map and the traffic map. When mapping while SimplyLooking™, you need to relax! The maps you will make are representational only: they record what we see. Hold your horses, you are not analyzing yet. Kind of dumb to analyze until you know what you are looking at? You may influence your maps by asking yourself questions, but analysis comes after knowing the real question to answer.

But, the same visual tools can have different uses: some work to organize data to be able to analyze it, others work to help find the meaning in a wad of data. You need to realize what you are doing in the moment and choose the "map" that fits.

Since you don't know what you will see and don't want to miss something, don't analyze or look for meaning when simplylooking™, only after, when you are digesting what you saw, and talking with others and there are other visual tools to help you do that as well. 

Maps for Recording What is Observed:

  1. Flow Chart
  2. Traffic Map (like in the forklift example from last week.)
  3. ​Doodles done while SimplyLooking™

Visual Diagrams for Organizing Observations to Help Analyze

  1. Fishbone
  2. Concept Map
  3. Matrix
  4. Affinity Diagram
  5. Mind Maps​
  6. Logical Trees
  7. Hierarchical or Org Charts
  8. A3 Visual Reporting

Visuals done to help understand the meaning hidden in data

  1. Process Behavior Charts
  2. Pareto Charts​
  3. Fever Charts
  4. Run Charts
  5. Scatter Diagrams

There are others, but I really don't use them. Why?

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Portrait of Dr Walter Shewhart, father of process control
Walter ShewhartFather of SPC

First Rule for Presenting Data Visually

Data should always be presented in a way that preserves the evidence in the data.

Fancy charts like bubble charts, and 3-D with lots of colors, are complex visualizations that can hide the evidence, or worse, make you see connections that look good, but aren't really there in the thing you observed or are trying to analyze and understand. 

Keep visual tools simple, only enough to reveal context. Visuals are models, if they look good, but inaccurately model, they are useless for understanding, or worse.

Portrait of Dashiell Hammett
Dashiell Hammett Author of The Maltese Falcon

The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.

(or in my version, the cheaper the cook the gaudier the platter, or to the point, the fancier the visual, the less likely it models reality.)

All of these are visual tools people use to make work better, and everyone I have used personally, for my work, and with others. I will be featuring each in a coming post. But I wanted to touch this week on the most basic qualities of visuals: after all, if you can find a better way for you, that is wonderful, and to do so, understanding some basics will help.

An Example from a Kitchen

The cooks were not able to get their work done. Management suggested hiring another cook, which is costly.​ We did a session of SimplyLooking™ with the Chef, Sous Chef and General Manager. The "map" they drew didn't need to be in 3D, and was simple, though not as easy to read as this one. They took it to the full crew to discuss.

What came out was that there were 6 cooks, each of whom got their own supplies from the walk in refrigerator, cut on the work tables surrounding the room, and then went to the stoves to cook. It was a mess, though a mess everyone was so useful they didn't see how silly it was until they saw the simple drawing.​ The top was a doodle, or if you want to sound fancy, a traffic map done to show what was observed. Then used to analyze, and the bottom one was used to explain a solution that was arrived at mutually, in conversation with the people who were doing the work.​

Examples of both analytic and representational mapping

One of the cooks, on looking at the top version, asked why everyone had to get their own supplies, so the idea of having one person work in rotation, just getting what people needed from the refrigerator came up.

Then one of the other cooks mentioned the lack of space on the stove when so many were working it, so management proposed taking another person, on a rotating basis, and having them work the stoves with one supplying the raw material and 4 doing the cutting.

They tried it and production went up by 20%, without having to hire anyone, and each person had more time to focus on the quality of what they were doing, rather than running around, so mistakes went down as well.

​All from 20 minutes of SimplyLooking™, some simple mapping and a good discussion with everyone involved in the process involved.​

Dig a Little Deeper

For a little deeper background, and some ideas listed on how to use visual tools in good thinking to make things better, see this post on Flavors of Thinking

Other Suggested Resources:

For a great resource on how to doodle draw, get The Back of the Napkin, by Dan Roam: made for people who don't know how to draw as well as those who do.​

Dan Roam Back of the Napkin

About the Author

Dan Strongin works with medium to small companies, helping them master the art and science of managing.