Whilst we all know the virtues of visual management techniques in communicating information to your workforce one of the key issues of achieving consistent benefits is sustaining the activity.

I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of factories with production control boards that display outdated information or status’s that are not representative of reality or worse where action lists show target dates of TBA (To be advised).

Visual Management that takes too much effort to maintain will fail

Its a harsh reality but a truism that if something is complicated and time-consuming to maintain the chances are that it will quickly fall out of favour with staff finding a work around.

Production control boards are great. They can, when deployed correctly be the hub of the work cell – but as is often case, they require cross functional support (for example supply chain) the “sell” of visual management needs to be made to the whole business not just the production team.

A common use for a production control board is to capture issues and track activity – one of the common ones is often material shortages. This requires a number of inputs
• Attendance from the supply chain team
• Accurate updates

Fail in either of these and your visual management deployment – in particular your production control board can rapidly fall into disarray. And let’s face it this issue is not functionally aimed at supply chain – wherever a cross functional team is required without the right inputs and follow ups disaster will strike.

So what is the countermeasure to this? For one when your deploying your visual management ensure that you involve the whole organization – secondly if your rolling out routine production control meetings (or “drum beats” as they are often termed) ensure you have senior management backing and don’t be afraid of voicing your objections if you fail to get the right attendance.

Remember that your visual management is there to monitor the standard output and to scream where something irregular happens. Consider your schedule – you place your schedule on your production control board for two reasons

1/ To communicate your plan to the workforce
2/ If you move off-plan you consider remedying the situation

Consider this upfront – what do I want to happen if my visual management tells me “x”. For example – if your falling short of your production schedule you are actioned with catching the schedule up – you may choose to do this in a variety of ways (more shifts, more material) but the action is the same – you are reacting to the visual stimulus of being informed your off plan.

When considering the sustainment activity – you have to fight vigorously to prevent the “that’s great to know, so what” attitude creeping in.

As with any deployment the early days of visual management / production control boards can be a heady mix of excitement at a new process combined with finding out the source of key issues – however 12 months down the line if people fail to see actions being launched to counter non-standard results then you will fail.

Complexity is not king

Make your visual management easy to update and even easier to understand. Complex visual management does not exist in this dojo! Visual management is there so that people with minimal training can understand the status of the work cell / department.

If you make something that is complex to produce and at worse requires complex time consuming data gathering – expect people to switch off quickly.

Focus on ease of use and ease of deployment – if it becomes difficult – consider different ways of gathering information – or alternative methods of displaying it.

Plan – do – check – Act

Good old PDCA – this works for visual management too – once you’ve deployed your solution periodically assess its effectiveness. All businesses change overtime with differing targets and processes. Your visual management solution from 3 years ago may not be delivering the same return than it was at first deployment – what’s changed within the business – what needs to change on your production board? Ask the workforce if its still meaningful/useful – what could be done to improve it. Gather information on non-conforming processes – does the visual management being used still tackle these issues or are amendments required?

Summary

Visual management is a really powerful tool. However, do not consider that you can deploy and forget – it still requires routine review in order to sustain its effectiveness and a close eye is still required on the business to ensure that its requirements continue to be met.

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