Visual Management

What is Visual Management?

Visual management is a lean methodology that enables people to communicate quickly and effectively through the use of visual cues and directions. For this reason, it is no surprise that visual management is used by various companies to give their employees fast and accurate snapshots of information.

Road signs, traffic lights, and lane markers are perfect examples of how visual images can convey complex yet intuitive information without the need for explicit textual or verbal instructions.

Other common examples of visual management include color-coded systems, visually displayed rules/SOPs, markings on walls, floors, and racks, labels, performance metrics, and visual work instructions.

Above all, visual management needs to possess the following three characteristics:

  1. Intuitive: Workers should be able to quickly identify the visual cues.
  2. Instant: Information should be appropriate to the situation at hand.
  3. Decisive: All visual management should produce a corresponding action to be useful.

Key Takeaways

  • Visual management is a lean methodology that visually conveys information to workers.

  • Benefits of visual management include increased comprehension consistency, accountability, and transparency.

  • Visual management cues should be self-evident, intuitive, and accessible.

  • Through a visual framework, employees require less training.

The Purpose of Visual Management

The main goal of visual management is to communicate important information in real time. The practice essentially provides workers with intuitive visual cues, such as signs, alerts, and displays, that help them identify the current needs of the organization or work environment.

digital display

As a result, visual management provides companies with increased process comprehension, procedural consistency, accountability, and transparency.

The purpose of visual management can be summed up into 5 categories.

1. Share Information

First and foremost, visual management is implemented to share information. For example, think of bathroom signs at an airport: Despite the myriad of varying languages within an airport at any given moment, everyone can understand the bathroom symbol of a toilet or stick person.

2. Communicate Standards

While sharing information is paramount, not all methods of sharing information are equal. People tend to interpret information differently and this contributes to inconsistencies in work. However, visual methods often come out on top, enabling organizations to communicate standards more efficiently.

There’s a popular lean exercise where participants are given standardized textual instructions on how to draw a pig. Since each person has the same instructions, you would think all the participants' pigs would look the same. Well no, not even close.

However, you can achieve higher levels of consistency and communicate standards more easily through visual cues and presenting what the final pig should look like.

In this way, workers can discern knowledge from both information and visual standards.

Lightbulb Pro Tip

Pro Tip

A key feature of any visual management plan is that visual cues should always be self-evident and intuitive. If workers are unsure of the meaning behind signs, markings, or digital displays, then the practice is not working to its fullest potential.

3. Highlight Problems

andon light

Visual management also enables people to quickly identify problems. Think about how we humans instinctively know that green is good, yellow is caution, and red is bad. This green/yellow/red system is often used in spreadsheets, alarms, and pretty much everywhere else.

Automated systems that facilitate Andon procedures are perfect examples of how visual cues and this basic color system help teams identify problems and tend to them as soon as they occur. As soon as the red Andon light is activated, supervisors and workers know where the problem is located.

4. Solve & Prevent Issues

When issues occur on the shop floor, manufacturers need to react quickly to ensure those problems don’t snowball or affect any other areas of production. At the same time, leaders and teams need to provide measures that prevent the issue from happening again.

For instance, if an employee misses a step and spills a high volume of water on the floor, management can employ three levels of solutions to mitigate the issue while preventing future similar accidents.

  1. Place signs cautioning employees in the area that the floor is wet and slippery.
  2. Perform a root cause analysis of the problem.
  3. Once the area is cleaned, paint the step yellow to ensure workers see the step and do not trip when taking a step.

5. Reduce Training

The less an operation is intuitive, the more training employees will need. Visual management seeks to use intuitive symbols, such as arrows placed on the floor and visual SOPs, to direct and guide all employees. This level of ever-present instruction means that tasks are straightforward.

While visual management does not replace training, visual cues and instructions placed in key areas allow workers to intuitively know where to go, what to do, and in which direction work should flow.

4 Types of Visual Management Types in Manufacturing

Visual Management Type 1: Factory Layout

Visual Management is all about location, location, location. Since we humans heavily rely on our eyesight to navigate and understand our surroundings, the location of work areas and assembly lines directly contributes to how easily workers understand the flow of work.

When planning the layout of your factory, manufacturers should prioritize an intuitive layout that workers can easily navigate and understand. Within assembly lines, place markers and visual indicators at critical points to convey crucial information and ensure work always flows from start to finish. Similarly, organizations can place arrows on the ground to indicate the next step or work cell within the production.

Visual Management Type 2: Tools & Parts

Within 5S lean methodology, everything has a place. This helps keep the workspace tidy while also mitigating time wasted looking for out-of-place items. Manufacturers can use visual management to strengthen the cleanliness and organization of their tools and parts.

shadow board

Examples of this type of visual management are Shadow Boards and Kaizen Foams that outline tool placement on walls or in tool drawers. Instead of workers throwing loose tools or parts within a drawer, there is a specified place for every item. This level of visual organization helps workers know where tools go, creating a standardized placement of all tools, while also helping workers quickly identify when a tool is missing or out of place.

Visual Management Type 3: Markings

Markings help workers visually identify specific areas of the shop floor such as forklift lanes, machine labels, and specific areas for foot traffic. Most often, visual management markings are used to ensure safety. This can include high voltage signs as well as be used to indicate areas dedicated to welding or other dangerous actions.

Markings are always present on the shop floor since they identify information that always needs to be on display.

Visual Management Type 4: Digital displays

Unlike the previous three types of visual management, digital displays show employees dynamic information that is ever-changing.

Digital displays can be used in two key ways.

  1. Display key metrics: Here, the digital displays can show workers real-time key performance indicators so that teams understand if production is falling behind. An example of this would be displaying the current metrics from a DMS (Daily Management System). Often these key metrics will be color-coded so that workers can look at the display and quickly identify if there is a problem. The displays are placed up high so that all users can see the information on one screen.

  2. Display work instructions: Digital displays guide workers with specific visual instructions and/or present the appropriate SOPs. In this case, workers often have their own screen which they can interact with to visually and intuitively understand the specific requirements of their job.

digital display

Lightbulb Pro Tip

Pro Tip

Work instruction software uses pictures, videos, and annotations to visually and comprehensively display the precise actions workers need to take.

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