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Motivated By Data: Visualizing Improvement.

Using Visual Management to Improve My Workouts

December 30, 2022

MoreSteam President Peg Pennington shares her thoughts on the importance of putting your data on display, both inside and outside of the workplace.

My son Chad and numerous friends from my running group had been pestering me to join Strava, a social media app for athletes. Strava allows you to post your athletic activities (running, swimming, biking, etc.) and share the activities with your friends. Besides the fact that I don't participate much on social media, I'm slow. Like, really slow. I think, “Who cares if I'm out there running 10+ minute miles?”

Chad proceeded to change my mind. He explained how motivating it is to see other friends working out, especially Dean. The 'Dean' he is referring to happens to be 67 years young and an amazing cyclist.

Chad lamented, “When I come home from work, and I see that Dean rode 20 miles on his bike, I know I can get out there to train today!”

Getting Lean Through Lean Management

For those unfamiliar, the Lean Management System is a business management strategy focusing on maximizing customer value while minimizing waste.

It's based on lean manufacturing principles, initially developed by the Toyota Production System and later adopted by many other companies in various industries.

Author Peg Pennington, President of MoreSteam

The goal is to identify and eliminate waste in all business areas, including inventory, time, and resources. Exercising a Lean Management System helps a company to become more efficient, reduce costs, and improve the quality of its products or services.

Four elements make up the Lean Management System:

  • Leader Standard Work
  • Visual Controls
  • Daily Accountability Process
  • Leadership Discipline

As a practitioner of the Lean Management System, I know that visual management is a critical element to help recognize trends, spot problems, and set targets to continuously improve.

Besides, I can always use a little extra motivation to work out. I relented and joined Strava.

Let's Run The Experiment

Remember, dashboards should contain relevant information to the process and communicate in an “easy to use and practical” way. The goal is to understand the current condition of the process and then adjust accordingly. We should also use the dashboard to test and learn about our process.

Looking at my data highlighted a couple of immediate problems. Apparently, I don't like to work out on Friday! I also noticed that when I travel, I'm not the most diligent in keeping to a routine.

An example dashboard in Strava displaying 3 weeks of workouts with Fridays and a traveling week outlined.

Of course, these highlight opportunities for improvement.

  • Could I do a yoga class on Friday?
  • What can I do to be more diligent when I travel?
  • All hotels have gyms, so that's not an excuse.

I was surprised by my apprehension about publicizing this data to my four followers. In addition to the fear of sharing my rather slow running times, sharing it with my friends brings in the element of accountability.

Peg with a few MoreSteam employees preparing to run a marathon for Brew City Marathon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Gearing up for the Brew City Marathon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a few of the MoreSteam crew.

My thinking changed when I realized it's motivating to post the results, even bad ones. I now think of my Strava friends as my daily huddle. They motivate me with kudos on a good run or message me if there is a long absence.

At the MoreSteam office, we ask, “what can we do better today than yesterday?” Repeating this motto establishes a constant focus on continuously improving.

That question was going through my head on a recent run. More specifically I was thinking, “Tim's going to see this on Strava; can I get just a little better today?”

Yes, 6.2 miles at a 9:59 pace!

The Bottom Line

Visual management is imperative for daily accountability. And as much as I didn't initially want to put my running times on display for all to see, the visualization makes my improvement all the more satisfying.

As we enter the new year, it seems as good a time as any to become accountable and determine how to make progress on our 2023 goals. Incorporate a visual element into the conversations if you are leading a team (or family discussion) around goals this year. Within a work context, when discussing a new strategy or highlighting new expectations for customer engagement, think about how to create a visual representation of this new reality and include it with your text.

There is one tiny downside to all this information sharing, though. On a recent trip to San Diego, Chad and I had several runs along Pacific Beach. His friends, noting his splits were a bit slower than usual, asked him, “are you running with your mom?”