A picture speaks a thousand words and in any language you speak, which is why Visual Management as a communication technique is essential, even if we don’t notice it every day.
Visual management is a technique to help communicate expectations, performance, warnings and required standards across six categories. There is little learning needed to interpret, making it an easy to implement tool.
Those six categories of Visual management – to share information, to share standards, to build in standards, to warn about abnormalities, stop abnormalities once they occur and prevent abnormalities. A number of tools are used to make the technique effective.
The most commonly used type of Visual Management that can be found in everyday lives and in workplaces. A simple notice board, sharing details of projects, meetings, reports, and team accomplishments. Developing on from this is a Kanban system that provides details on where in a project a team currently is, and who is managing what aspects.
Boards can be large TV screens above the workstations in a factory that alert to any abnormalities or just track the progress of a product as it travels through the production line. Combined with flashing lights/alert screens when an abnormality occurs the floor supervisor can quickly see where on the factory floor it has happened, and which piece of equipment, stopping it remotely if needed before sending necessary staff to go and repair it. Take McDonald’s as an example of it being used in a food industry, a new order is inputted and pop’s up on the screen for everyone to see, the food is prepped and when completed it is moved from the ‘prepare’ screen to the ‘deliver’ screen, once collected it is wiped from the screens.
More often seen in supermarkets and other shops, these racks allow staff to see the inventory level of products stacked in racks, replacing them when they visually get low. They are also popular in manufacturing, cutting back on space when used in work cells with tugger routes to deliver the necessary components to operators based on Kanban minimum levels.
Another simple format is a Standards Operating Procedures poster, usually seen in coffee or sandwich shops clearly identifying each component that goes into the end product for new staff to learn from. It can also help customers understand what is included far easier than paragraphs of text per product.
For cleaning staff this can be a color chart identifying the specific equipment for each area. Blue buckets and mops for kitchen and food prep areas, while red buckets and mops are used for bathroom areas.
In manufacturing visual aids are useful for maintaining measurement variations, with pictures of acceptable variations that can be measured against to compare. They can also be tools used in Poka-Yoke, like the clear keyboard Motorola used to ensure keyboard keys were inputted correctly.
Manage Visual Management Correctly
A big downside to Visual Management is when it is taken overboard, and suddenly there are posters everywhere, so many different lights flashing and so many screens to check that staff are confused as to which one to pay attention to, and what they all actually mean.
If the tools require staff input, such as a production analysis board tracking errors found, remember not everyone is willing to admit they have a problem and so it may appear unsuccessful due to minimal input from staff fearing they will be held responsible for faults, rather than an understanding that knowing what the problems are will help improve the process they are involved in to reduce the problems.
Visual Management only works if it is clear, and the message can be identified quickly. When creating a Visual Management tool consider what the purpose is, who it is for and how often it will be used. This way the correct tool, and correct usage of the tool, can be determined to prevent overwhelm and misunderstanding.