We applaud any steps that an organization makes to ensure that every day involves efforts related to continuous improvement. One approach is the “huddle” - a quick, daily, peer-to-peer group discussion. Huddles typically last about 5-10 minutes in front of a huddle board on which the team list problems and ideas for improvements and tracks activity and results.
This method has a lot going for it. The fact that it is daily keeps the idea of improvement front and center. It is also great that it is interactive and everyone gets involved. That said, it does have some limitations that should give leaders pause. Here are the drawbacks.
Proximity is Required
Because the huddle board is a physical object, only people in the immediate vicinity have any visibility into the improvements the team is making. This is particularly problematic if you have a distributed team or if the work requires cross-functional collaboration.
The Spread of Ideas is Limited
Because huddle boards essentially create silos of improvement, a great idea from one team isn’t easily found and duplicated by another. Likewise, the ideas that don’t result in positive change might be tried by group after group, wasting time and resources.
It’s Hard to Tabulate Benefits
Huddle boards might be great for brain storming or tracking simple, quick improvements, but they are not ideal for tracking the results of improvement over the long run. Sometimes improvements pay off over months or even years. The cumulative benefit of the improvement is not easily tracked on a card.
There is no Dashboard for Leaders
It is important for senior leaders to have a way to identify areas of the organization that are struggling with improvement work and need help. Huddle boards don’t provide leadership with a way to identify red flags, or to recognize where extraordinary work is being done.
It’s not Not Good for Historical Record Keeping
Huddle boards might be effective for tracking the 5-10 active improvement projects within a team, but what happens over the long run when teams have completed hundreds of improvement projects? The huddle board would have to become a wall or a room. Why does it matter? As we said before, understanding what has been done in the past is crucial to deciding what to do in the future. Also, leaders need to be able to recognize trends in the number and types of improvements that are implemented over time so that they can track positive or negative trends in improvement.
Balance is Difficult
Huddle boards do not offer a way to ensure that improvement work is aligned with corporate goals and that the right balance between tactical needs and long term strategy is achieved. It is easy to get distracted and focus on the annoyances of today while losing sight of the long game.
These challenges are leading many organizations to move away from physical huddle boards and instead select improvement software that is available anywhere, contains active workflow capabilities, creates a repository of improvement knowledge and tracks the results over time. We’re big fans of the spirit behind the huddle board, but these days it makes sense to move it off of the wall and into the cloud.