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?

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