Public Housing Process Improvement: Use Visual Management to Improve Performance

It’s been a while since I posted here but my lean activity at work has been off the charts.  We are going through a lean transformation and one of the first things we started working with is visual management.  What is visual management?  In reality it is something that helps guide you through your day to day life.  Think about driving to work and seeing speed limit signs, traffic lights that stop you when they are green, and move you ahead when they are green.  How about the auto you are driving?  The dashboard lets you know how fast you are going, if you have enough gas and hopefully gives you warning when something is going wrong with your car.  In short, you get useful information that can help you make good decisions throughout your day.

Now apply that idea to the public housing authority world.  Why would we not make the important work that we do visual?  Displaying this information for all to see can help bring attention to issues before they get out of control.  They can help us identify problems and address them as needed.  Whether you are trying to lease vouchers, complete unit turns, finish project based voucher contracts or keep a warehouse stocked, visual management can be a powerful tool to help you.

My first caution to anyone starting out is to keep it simple.  There is a tendency to overdue it and that can make updating the board a pain in the ass.  Once it is a pain in the ass, you stop doing.  So, keep it simple.  Besides that, here are some tips:

  1. Easy to understand by all
    We often say at our work 15 feet and 15 seconds.  That means a stranger should be able to walk up and get the main point from 15 feet away and within 15 seconds.
  2. Contain Important Metrics: Each department and sub-area might have different metrics.  A policy department is different from a maintenance division.  What are your key objectives and how can you visually show and measure them.  Some examples are:
    a.You can put down metrics about staff like who is at work, have there been any accidents ect.
    b. Defects and Quality:  If you are processing new admissions for a voucher program, how many packets came in and of those how many were 100% correct?  If it is not 100% it is a defect.  Despite what we might be used to in the PHA world a defect is a problem and it should be addressed.
    c. Timeliness:  I visited the King County Housing Authority recently and they have a great board for project based voucher contracts that need to be renewed.   It shows clearly what is coming up and if they are meeting their deadlines.

But What About The Modern World?:

This is a hard one for all of my data mining friends to get their heads wrapped around.  Why would we go back to the stone age and write stuff on paper when we have Tableau and fancy reports?  The answer is someone has to open those reports and look at them for it to mean something.  When an important metric is front and center you have the daily opportunity to see how you are doing.  Everyone on the team can see what is going on, not just supervisors and managers.  It can create a sense of team and purpose in achieving a goal.

Allow for Problem Solving:

Another benefit of using visual management boards is the opportunity to find problems within your work. When problems/gaps in performance are discovered, you now have the opportunity to problem solve and use true process improvement to close the gap and get the team back on track.

At our agency, we are working with the state of Washington to get visual management up and running and base problem solving on it.  I included an example of one for monitoring voucher issuance’s.  Simple, direct and to the point.


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