Visual management techniques are everywhere. People often associate these tools with factory environments but the fact is that gone are the days when this particular tool was the secret weapon of the manufacturing team with its production display boards. In fact even this is a misnomer, visual management is not just a business tool but affects us all in our everyday lives (consider the application of visual management the next time you see the flashing lights of an ambulance.)

Within a business context visual management has almost limitless possibilities whilst the purpose of the technique remains the same.

Visual management is primarily used to communicate information in a simple and effective manner in that someone that has little training can assess and understand the status of the business/department in minimal time. The key to visual management is that it is not merely there to passively pass on information about status but it is there to highlight what is non-standard and to generate a response.

All processes will typically be constructed in a similar fashion i.e input – activity – output and in that way there are similarities between manufacturing cells and offices – the resultant product may be vastly different but both take a raw material, process it and deliver something. Given that, it’s unsurprising to see visual management being used in offices.

A good example is that of the call centre. While the manufacturing cell has its production control board that focus on the build schedule and key issues affecting production – the call centre and its processes often focus on the customer –

• How long did it take to answer the call
• How many customers are waiting and how long have they been waiting
• How many calls did we take today
• Number of receptionists idle

If you walk into a call centre its not uncommon to see some form of visual management cues presenting this information.

For another example – take a look at the average purchasing office most of which will use visual management cues to pass on information about the departmental performance – for example supplier delivery performance, DPPM/Quality or cost. Visual management performance boards are often used to collate KPI’s and present them to the departmental team in such a way that improvement actions where necessary can be launched (much in the same way a factory may react when falling off schedule)

The key to much of this remains that the deployment of visual management is looking for a reaction to non-conformity. The process isn’t functioning as expected so what will we do about it.

Office processes can be a bit more complex and mysterious than traditional manufacturing processes but that doesn’t mean that they cant be measured and the results cant be used as visual cues to prompt performance improvement.

Summary

Visual management can be equally applied to offices and services as well as manufacturing environments – what remains key is that the output should be simple, effective and clear. Take time to understand the processes – how they can be measured and what targets can be applied then use traditional visual management techniques to display this information and drive the required change.

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