What exactly is visual management?
Simply put it is a Lean technique which is used extensively to allow anyone entering a work environment (be them trained in the area, or not) to immediately understand the current state of said area. It should be clear what is in control, and what is out of control.
Visual management (sometimes known as visual control) usually consists of pictures, diagrams, charts or other visual representations of ongoing processes. These charts can quickly portray how the processes are running in that area/workstation, and therefore act upon any instances of processes deviating from “the norm”. Many types of VM techniques exist, it is the ability to use the correct ones for each situation which is key. Here are some examples of VM techniques:
- Colour coding parts/sections
- Kanban cards (to be discussed in upcoming post)
- Border outlines
- Area performance boards (Andon)
Visual management, when implemented correctly, is extremely useful in supporting other Lean efforts. Here are some of the ways in which VM is useful:
- Clearly shows correct way of working (thus helping standardisation)
- Reduces the amount of training needed for tasks
- Often identifies errors earlier than working without VM
- Shows performance on monthly, weekly, or daily basis
- Enables both managers and workers to see TRUE figures
- Assists in the process being carried out safely
- Highlights abnormalities in a process
- Employee happiness, as they clearly understand what is expected of them
- Increased efficiency due to speed of information transfer
Almost all places of work have some form of VM, although it may not go by that name. Examples are: no smoking signs, on-site in-out boards etc. We are more likely to notice these visual charts compared to extensive wordy explanations of correct working practices.
We must be careful to keep these VM techniques clear and concise, as too much irrelevant information can discourage workers from reading them. This is clearly not ideal.
When using VM it is good practice to involve those within the work area, as they are often the most skilled and can provide the best insight into what VM tools will work best. Within visual management there are two different categories, controls and displays.
Visual controls guide, or control the way in which an action or process is carried out. Items such as STOP signs, No smoking, are good examples of visual controls.
Visual Displays are more to do with notifying workers of current states or performance figures. Often shown graphically, or in charts, as this serves the information quickly and concisely.
In summary, VM is a good way to instigate standardised ways of working, in a way which would otherwise require extensive, tedious, or complicated training. The usage of VM is almost limitless, and as most companies already unknowingly use some form of VM, they are pre-conditioned to understand the way in which it works. As stated above, there are many reasons for the use of VM in the workplace, namely the benefits to the efficiency of data transfer. The faster information can be accessed and dispersed, the quicker preventative, or fool proofing actions can be initiated.