Visual Management of Focused Teams using a Whiteboard

Visual Management is an important tool in your organization’s quest for Operational Excellence. I mentioned in my last post a great way to create action using a whiteboard for cross functional teams. Today I want to present a whiteboard layout that I have used for well over a year with a focused team (such as an engineering support team). This particular layout is suitable for teams of individuals who generally work on similar tasks, but tend to work individually (or as team members on other teams).

It can be very challenging to maintain focus on one’s highest priority task. We often face a constant supply of distractions and other “fires” that may interrupt working on “the #1 priority.” In addition, I believe many people tend to procrastinate tasks they find stressful, difficult, or simply feel ill prepared to work on. How do you deal with that?

I believe there are three components to break work down to maintain progress on the highest priority work.

1. Focus – Maintain visual focus on what is the #1 priority. This simple task is critical. Having daily meetings with one’s team and the team leader or manager is where the #1 priority is clearly communicated. This is not a “command and control” mechanism – this allows each team member to communicate with their team what is their top priority. A whiteboard is a critical component to this communication system.

2. Disciplined Thought – Inevitably other issues and questions arise during the day which interrupt one’s work. This is where disciplined thought comes into play. Everyone must be able to prioritize their work individually. Sometimes higher priority issues do arise, and we need to exercise our professional judgment to go ahead and switch gears. At other times, we’ll need to embrace the issue and have the discipline to set it aside and continue working on the previous (#1) priority.

3. Disciplined Action – “Work is work” as I say. Our work is challenging, isn’t it?! Embrace that. Enjoy the challenge of becoming a master. This takes practice to continue working on your priority task through distractions that arise. Consider the important concept of “pulling work” not “pushing it.” Do not begin work on your next action until your first priority is complete. Agree with yourself and your team what your priority is and maintain laser focus on that item until completion.


This whiteboard layout uses a grid pattern and “super sticky” Post-It Notes. The tasks or projects (actions) are written on the stickies and placed in the appropriate region on the board. The top two rows are for the top two priorities for each person. The “Interruptions” area is to communicate what interruptions have taken away from the priority items. During the daily meeting, the interruptions can be discussed and prioritized accordingly. Below this row is an area of queued items to be worked on next. There is an “On Hold” area near the bottom of the board for tasks that needed to be halted or stalled for some reason. And at the bottom there is an area for completed tasks. This area can be cleaned out every week or two as appropriate.

Another important note is that it is very helpful for each individual to meet with the team leader or manager periodically (every week or two) to re-prioritize tasks in the queue and discuss progress and needed feedback.