Making knowledge work visible: political edition.

As I've written about many times before, one of the principles of lean manufacturing is making work visible. Of course, on a production line it's easy to see the toaster go past your station. It's not always so easy for the knowledge worker, whose work goes by in a blast of bits and bytes. But it's no less important. Seeing the flow of the value stream enables you to plan your work, spot places where things are going awry, and focus more clearly on the ultimate goal. This point was made abundantly clear in a recent profile of Steve Schmidt, who recently took charge of John McCain's presidential campaign.

The Wall Street Journal describes Schmidt as a hard-driving, intense man (Sgt. Schmidt is his nickname), who makes everything visible:

Mr. Schmidt loves keeping track of details, arguing that success at small things leads to success at large things. A map in his office shows, with cutout photos, where the two candidates are each day. A list of daily political surrogates delivering the campaign's message is posted in his office. And white boards now hang throughout headquarters counting down the number of days until Nov. 4. Mr. Schmidt told staffers that if they can't manage to update the countdown every day, how can they win the White House?
Now, you might think that everyone knows when election day is. (Well, anyone working on a campaign, anyway.) But *knowing* it and *seeing* it are two different things. There's a visceral impact that comes from seeing the deadline in large letters everywhere.

If you take a look at most people's calendars, however, you don't see their work. You see their meetings. And that's not good enough. Where is the visible reminder of the work they're supposed to do and the next milestone they have to meet? Where is the indication that they have to spend four hours this week analyzing competitors' product line in preparation for the overhaul of their own product pricing? Where is the prep time for the first draft of the market research survey?

Your week will never go precisely according to your schedule, of course. But that's no reason not to plan the week as though it would, and then adjusting your calendar as needed. To paraphrase Schmidt, if you can't manage to update your schedule every day, how can you win your White House?

2 Responses

  1. RoundSparrow says:

    RE: But *knowing* it and *seeing* it are two different things.

    I agree this is a huge issue that we have with current information overload. I call it “tripping over the obvious”.

    With the economy I see that is what is happening and nobody seems to see it. What goes up most go down? We, the USA, have had a great time since the end of the Great Depression and World War II. We earned a lot of good will throughout the world. The strong USD $ was backed by faith in the USA.

    Now that faith has shifted to Asia. First Japan in the 1980′s then they had economic issues, but now Vietnam, Taiwan, China are the golden stars of the world.

    Do we really think we can make $60,000 a year income when the average pay in the world is $5,000 a year? A lot of hungry people looking to become ‘middle class’ outside the USA. The USA is LESS THAN 5% of the world population, can’t people _see the obvious_ that eventually it will balance out?

    Freedom, education measurements, and open markets have all been in decline for decades. Our government only seems to know how to grow, get bigger, new rules, new laws. Who removes the broken and defective laws? Who cuts the fat in the spending?

    If people think that these (July 2008) are bad economic times, they haven’t seen ANYTHING yet!

    Great post. Don’t trip over the obvious ;)

  2. dan says:

    You're in a pessimistic mood, eh?

    Your comment about cutting the fat in spending is spot on, of course. Waste in any form — whether it's governmental outlays or personal time squandered on useless nonsense — is a bane to personal, social, and economic growth and development. (Unless, of course, you happen to be paid by that part of the government.) 

Leave a Comment