Irish Rail (IR), the national rail system for Ireland, was recently recognized by the European Rail Congress (ERC) for their accomplishments in lean.  IR prepared a position paper accompanied by an employee video and responded to ERC inquiries to support the submittal. IR was one of only ten shortlisted for an ERC award from numerous submittals for public and private rail/ rail related projects or rail organizations.  The shortlisting was a major achievement, not just simply because of the intense competition, but more importantly because of the significant challenges facing IR.  Not obvious in the submittal is their success in the face of decreasing revenues and slashed budgets while maintaining a safe a reliable railway system.  Also hidden in the submittal is that IR has chosen to focus on changing behaviors, the culture, to effect results and not too just simply implement tools.  This approach is not easy even in the best of times and even more difficult given the economic pressure of getting immediate and significant results.

Lean Learning Center has been working with IR since 2010 and as often the case we learn from our engagements with clients.  IR has implemented what they call “Control Rooms”.  This is a series of white boards that visual communicates information needed by employees to make informed decision about their work today and weeks going forward. You may call them communication rooms or scoreboards populated by a variety of measurements.  I am a huge fan of measurements; they are way to keep score and help manage work so I have always been of the impression that there must be measures at every level of an organization.  What I have learned from IR is that it is possible that measurements are not necessarily needed at certain levels.  All that is needed in some cases is a visual representation of what happened today, has to happen tomorrow, and what the work plan going forward from today.  I am not suggesting that measures can’t and aren’t a means to tell you what’s happening today; hourly production measures are a good example.  What I am suggesting is that they are not always the best or certainly the only means to manage work.  The IR track and train maintenance crews do not have measurements in their control rooms.  Their work is managed by green, yellow and red status indicators on action boards.  No graphs, trend charts, or Pareto charts.  Simply; what are we doing (safety, quality, production, delivery); what should we do tomorrow or next shift; and how are we going to do it?  Some simple examples used at IR are: work planning, repeat defects, resource availability, action plans and daily performance boards.   What I learned from IR is that the control’s rooms are designed to satisfy one objective and answer one question; do I have all the information I need to make informed and effective decisions going forward today?  I’m not suggesting you discard what you are currently doing.  When looking at your communication rooms or scoreboards, particularly on the shop floor (office areas have a “shop floor”), simply ask yourself; do they serve the purpose of easily and visually providing information for effective day-to-day decision making at the point-of activity?  If not—change something.