We have all heard the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” That is the best way to sum up visual management. The purpose is to make it easy to access and understand performance. In Creating a Lean Culture, David Mann compares visual management to the transmission of an automobile. The transmission is vital to making the car run, just as visual management is a principle element in a lean management system.
There is no one way to do visual management. In fact, there are many different types or varieties of visual management and each organization or team should choose what works best for their needs. No matter what design visual management takes, there are some common benefits visual management provides:
Makes it Easy to Quickly Understand Information
If visual management is used correctly it should present information in a way that is quick and easy to understand. It should be easy to tell if we are winning or losing from five feet away, in five seconds. It is common to see the colors red and green to signify missing and meeting targets or arrows up or down.
One example of visual management that makes information easy to quickly understand is a work/wait board. This visual shows the team what they are working on and what they have coming up. They can also easily see the items they have completed. With clear information accessible to the team, this may even eliminate some regular meetings.
Keeps Things Running as Designed
Use of visual management keeps things running as they are designed. For example, visual management may be used to track the outcome of a specific process that has been adjusted as part of continuous improvement efforts. A pareto chart may be used to see if the process is being performed according to standard, or to document instances when a defect is produced from this new process. This will allow you to see whether a process is producing the intended result and whether the improvement is sustaining.
Often you will see signs stating where a line should start or where one should enter and exit. This is an example of visual management at work helping the flow run as designed.
Prevents Mistakes or Improves Safety
Visual management can be used for error-proofing (or poka-yoke) by making it easy to do the right thing, or even impossible to do the wrong thing.
One example of visual management improving safety is a flashing crosswalk light. This makes it very clear to drivers that they must stop. The driver may or may not see a pedestrian coming, but the lights alert them to their presence.
Teams can often reduce miscommunication by using forms of visual management. By determining what information people need to know and making it visual in the simplest way possible, teams know that the information is shared and interpreted in the way it was intended. It can particularly be helpful to communicate between shifts or groups that have little regular contact.
At the Catalysis office we had a visual queue to let us know whether the office door was locked or unlocked. There was a card in a clear pocket placed on the door near the handle; on one side it was green and read “unlocked” and the other was red and said “locked.” It was important to know if the doors had been locked for the day because they would unlock if a person turned the handle to exit, leaving the doors unlocked for the evening and our office unsecured.
Improve Employee Involvement and Morale
Implementing visual management allows everyone to see how the team is performing and how their work is impacting results, which often helps staff feel more connected to the work. When information is transparent and easy to understand it helps employees do their job and everyone wins.
One example of this is an Area Improvement Center that displays the unit’s metrics and how they are performing to them. Especially when tied to an improvement huddle process, this will help staff connect their work and ideas to the performance and success of the team.
Visual management helps to support culture transformation by turning data into information that can help tell the story about the business. In her book, Beyond Heroes, Kim Barnas acknowledges that the idea of publicly displaying defects is hard for some healthcare leaders to accept and responds by saying, “patients and family know our faults and trouble spots already. Our defects are not news to them.” The only way an organization can improve or prevent defects is to be aware of them.
Please share how visual management has helped you in the comments section below.
Related Blogs: Why a Lean Management System, Simple Steps for Creating a Status Sheet, Dos and Dont’s of Implementing a Daily Huddle , Dos and Don’ts of Implementing Process Observation, Four Questions to Consider When Creating Leader Standard Work
Creating a Lean Management System workshop
Beyond Heroes by Kim Barnas