Visual Management systems, the technique of using visual cues to communicate information, are common place within many organizations. Whilst years ago this was traditionally in the realms of manufacturing organizations the technique has spread far and wide and is now utilized from office environments, healthcare and manufacturing environments.

The visual management system and lean

Lean as a methodology aims to highlight and remove waste from processes. Techniques such as the seven wastes can be utilized to highlight the different categories of waste within a business and then improvement teams can then set about projects that irradiate it.

Visual Management systems fit in by way of highlighting standards and deviation from standards. These visual cues can be used in conjunction with continuous improvement to facilitate the adoption of standard processes and addressing abnormal results highlighting things that are out of tolerance.

Visual management can be a very effective technique. We all see it in our daily lives whether that’s through signs in the places we work, through to shops/malls or even out and about in our towns and cities. Visual management systems will usually comprise of a number of elements including

• Signage
• Performance Management display boards
• Production Display boards
• etc

Visual signals MUST serve a purpose

It’s tempting to look at a system such as this and apply a scatter gun approach hoping that some of it will hit home and improve things. However like any project its success is determined at the planning stage.

You must carefully consider what you hope to achieve through your visual management system deployment. When it’s up and running what will be different? For example:

• Do you have existing problems that you will fix through using the technique
• What information will the workforce find useful
• Is the information readily available
• How will it be maintained and updated?

Different business environments may benefit from differing approaches for example manufacturing processes are often straightforward and have been constructed with flow in mind. This may not be true of office processes which may be more complicated and difficult to track against a standard production style schedule. They will, in all probability not been built with factory best practice in mind and so the application of visual cues may need tailoring.

The important thing to remember is “Think through your deployment – what are you trying to achieve?”

Continuous improvement is not a sign!

Remember that visual management merely acts as a conduit for information to be communicated through. Its benefits in that the spread of information can be quicker and simpler is all well and good but where the business fails to achieve standard/performance as expected this will still need to be addressed in the usual fashion. The technique merely acts as a rapid indicator for things going wrong.

Follow up

That’s a key point – effective visual management relies on buy in from the community that will use it. If there are issues with the deployment i.e. issues that get highlighted through the visual management system and then are not fixed – resistance will quickly build up through the user community. Management must realize that this is only one part of the continuous improvement toolkit – it serves its purpose (and is good at it) but it won’t do everything.

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