One of the fundamental principles of continuous improvement is that positive change is the responsibility of every employee. Embracing that idea is far easier than making it a day-to-day reality.
One powerful tool for keeping improvement work top-of-mind is the daily huddle. Whether your team works together in person or includes remote workers, daily huddles can help structure the effort to improve and standardize process operations.
What is a Daily Huddle Meeting?
A daily huddle meeting is a short team meeting for discussing the current status of improvement activities, the day's action plan, and the ongoing problem-solving work to address known issues. These meetings are usually held first thing in the morning or following a shift change.
The daily huddle meeting can be structured according to the specific needs of your organization or team. One common approach is to talk about improvement projects that are new, in progress, and completed.
The term "huddle" is used because teams usually gather around a physical visual management tool called a huddle board to structure and support the discussion and track project status. For a number of reasons, modern teams have turned to digital huddle boards.
Huddle Meeting Best Practices
Because the use of huddle meetings is so widespread, a number of best practices have been developed to make them most effective.
Limit the meeting to 10-15 minutes. The purpose of the meeting is to update everyone on the status of each improvement effort (such as A3s, projects, or events). If the meeting goes too long or gets into the weeds of any particular effort, it will become a drag on time and people might stop attending long huddles.
Appoint a facilitator. Someone needs to manage the meeting, but that person can be someone other than the team's supervisor. Many organizations rotate the meeting facilitator to give everyone a chance to develop leadership skills.
Encourage broad participation. On most teams, there will be a few folks who are very vocal and some who are reluctant to speak. Make sure that the facilitator encourages everyone to participate and draws out those who are less likely to share their ideas. If they aren't comfortable sharing ideas in front of others, try to get them to participate through other communication channels.
Start on time. Because the huddle meeting is something that is going to happen every day, it is essential that it starts on time so that everyone can get back to their other priorities. If team members are missing, start without them.
Celebrate success. Don't forget that the huddle meeting is the perfect time to celebrate successful improvements and recognize and reward those who are working hard to optimize processes and improve outcomes.
Huddle Board Structure
Your huddle board serves as the basis for discussion and a visual indicator of any blockers or excessive work in progress. It can be structured in any way that makes sense for your team. We see two typical setups that are used separately or together.
The most common way to display the movement of improvement projects is a set of columns with cards representing each opportunity for improvement. The cards move through column labeled:
- New Ideas
In addition to this method of visualizing the movement of work in progress, some teams also include key performance indicators on their huddle board. For example, the KPIs might include safety incidents, sales, calls to customer service, or cycle time.
Examples of industry-specific KPIs to consider include:
- Medication errors
- Patient wait time
- Safety incidents
- Equipment needs
- Sub-contractor schedules
- Change orders
- New projects
- Bug reports
- Support tickets
- QA backlog
- Feature requests
- Student census
- Staffing needs
- Supply requirements
The Case for Digital Huddle Boards
While teams have been using physical huddle boards for decades, the use of digital boards has taken the approach to the next level. The advantages are significant.
Remote and traveling employees can participate. Remote work was on the rise even before the COVID-19 pandemic made it even more necessary. Digital huddle boards mean that everyone can participate no matter where they happen to be. Video meeting services make the huddle even more effective.
The history of improvement is preserved. One of the drawbacks of physical boards is that they only represent a snapshot in time. Digital boards, on the other hand, become a repository for the history of each improvement effort. In addition to the current status, the digital board is the perfect home for any related documents, images, or other artifacts.
Leaders can manage multiple boards. Moving your boards to the cloud makes it easy for leaders to keep tabs on what is going on with each department and team. For example, key performance indicators can be rolled up into a single huddle board that represents the state of improvement throughout the organization.
The huddle board becomes a repository of knowledge. Digital huddle boards make it possible for team members or even employees from other parts of the organization to search for past improvement projects and build on what was learned. As a result, the organization's tribal knowledge grows with each effort.
Team members receive alerts and notifications. One drawback of a physical huddle board is that it is passive. Folks only interact with it when they are standing right there. On the other hand, software-based huddle boards can include alerts and notifications to let people know when a new idea is submitted for review, when a task is assigned to them, or when something is due.
Other Tools that Support Improvement
As mentioned, the huddle meeting is a chance to discuss the status of improvement work. However, the actual effort and problem-solving occur outside the huddle meeting. There are a few widely used tools for supporting the actions beyond the huddle.
PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Adjust): PDSA is a popular improvement cycle. A project is planned with a specific goal and hypothesis about what will solve the problem (Plan). Then, an experiment is launched to implement the improvement idea (Do). The results are compared with past performance and expected improvement (Study). If the modification is successful, it becomes part of the standard for the process or operation. If not, a new hypothesis is tried (Adjust).
The 5-Whys: The "5 Whys" is a simple yet effective method for finding the root cause of a problem or issue. The team states the problem and then digs deeper into why it is happening until the root cause is revealed. Usually, five times will do the trick.
A3 Reports: The A3 report is a method for implementing and documenting the PDSA cycle. A single sheet of paper (or, better yet, a single screen in the improvement management system) contains the problem statement, improvement plan, key performance indicators, involved participants, and results of the improvement experiments.
The daily huddle, supported by huddle boards, is an effective improvement management method. When well executed, it helps improve collaboration, keeps leaders apprised of improvement projects, collects useful knowledge, and forms a sense of unified purpose.