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Improving Performance Management in Government Through Visual Data

Improving Performance Management in Government Through Visual Data

A project board for King County's Finance and Business Operations Division (FBOD). All photos courtesy of Ingrid de la Jara.

King County and its various departments have been working on performance improvement and monitoring for more than a decade. In the process, the county has received national praise for innovative application of Lean-based practices and the county’s Finance and Business Operations Division (FBOD) currently offers monthly Lean tours.

In this blog post, I will describe some of the tools FBOD uses to support their Lean culture, with an emphasis on the use of visual controls.

Goal: Continuous Improvement

In 2015, after years of experimenting with various Lean tools, FBOD solidified its approach with a 2-day, Leader Standard Work training that identified six performance-management tools the division would employ, including:

  • A3 Use and Coaching — application of the A3 management process for problem solving
  • Huddles — regular and/or impromptu group meetings that allow team members to provide progress reports and discuss challenges
  • Process Roundings — regular visits of FPOD leaders to different departments to understand specific, department-related work processes, challenges, and successes
  • Tier Boards — a whiteboard containing metrics that track performance measures at the executive, division, department, section, and unit levels
  • Visual Controls — a publicly visible board that documents workflow, organizational goals, or other measures

Visual Management Boards

A visual management board, quite simply, is a large board containing various performance metrics that have been informed by the organization’s operational and strategic goals. These boards offer a visual representation of organizational workflow with a focus on achieving continuous improvement by identifying bottlenecks and developing strategies to tackle them. Visual management boards offer the following benefits:

  • Shows where a team stands against its goal for the month or in relation to a specific campaign;
  • Saves time in not having to read, prepare, and deliver status reports and progress updates in ad-hoc manner;
  • Improves communication and collaboration between and within teams; and
  • Speeds up problem solving and boosts accountability by calling attention to roadblocks.

FBOD's process improvement board

The measurements featured on King County’s tier boards (a type of visual management board) have changed over time and moved from a focus on the project to a focus on the service: What is the desired outcome in providing a particular service and what processes are followed when providing it to the customer? Tier boards and visual controls serve to make organizational processes, workflow, and measurements of success visible and public, while A3 use and coaching, huddles, and process roundings support the development of an organizational culture committed to continuous improvement.

Roundings and Huddles

The standard agenda for a FBOD tier process rounding covers four broad items, as shown in the Tier Board Rounding Worksheet:

  1. Setting the Context — The lead staff asks if there are any follow-ups to the group’s last process rounding
  2. Reviewing the Visuals — Using the tier board, the group checks on performance improvement projects, asks questions to assess the department's progress, reviews support provided by the management team, and discusses the division's priorities in light of new challenges or opportunities 
  3. Reflection — The group celebrates past successes, identifies current challenges, and discusses possible countermeasures
  4. Wrap Up — The group identifies and assigns action items to team members and reviews the meeting 

Between the process roundings, department leaders are expected to conduct review huddles with their teams and update department and section tier boards, track progress, manage and improve processes, and share strategic direction and priorities. Whether it’s a rounding or a huddle, the focus of the meeting is to create a collegiate atmosphere in which performance challenges are seen as opportunities for improvement.

Best Practices

In writing about King County’s Lean journey for Government Finance Review, authors Michael Jacobsen and Shayne Kavanaugh talk about the dynamic relationship between the various Lean tools used:

(The) county has found that holding the roundings and huddles within each department’s own physical location and looking at data on the wall helps to honor the work of the departments and improves the department’s ownership of the measures and data. As departments hold their own huddles and rounding on their tier boards with division and section staff, performance monitoring and management is becoming more deeply embedded in the culture at King County.


FBOD's quarterly roadmap for Q1 2018 to Q3 2019

These observations echo a variety of best practices that experts note when discussing proper use of visual management boards. Visual controls work best when:

The board is populated with data that is up-to-date, useful, and not too overwhelming.

Too much information, and you risk the board becoming background noise; Too little and the team members may have a difficult time making informed decisions. Teams must identify the critical success factors in reaching organizational goals and then select the best process measurements to help track progress toward those goals.

The board is “owned” by the team and offers information that is user specific.

Visual boards should be used as a reference point for discussions around team performance and should reflect team priorities and issues. Thus, each team’s board will be slightly different from another team depending on what processes are being documented/acted on.

The board is supported by an organizational culture that values continuous improvement.

Visual management boards should measure critical metrics that reflect a jurisdiction's ability to deliver the products and services its constituents desire. Equally important, the information presented should be used to drive process improvement (not to assign blame) and, when possible, to celebrate small successes. Ideally, employees should be able to speak to the items listed on the board and understand why these metrics are being measured.


Several organizations in the Seattle area host tours to demonstrate how they apply Lean principles at their worksites, including:

Questions? Comments?

Does your organization use visual controls or offer tours of your Lean worksite? If so, please comment below or email me. If you have questions about this or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

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About Leah LaCivita

Leah joined MRSC as a Communications Coordinator in the fall of 2016 and manages MRSC’s blog and webinar training program, in addition to developing website content.