Visual Management - it only works if you use it!

The photo you can see below is a simple, inexpensive and effective visual management solution for one of my client's previously ongoing business issues - their heating system switching itself off (because it has run out of fuel!).

effective visual management system
Simple visual management system example

A heating system might not be your most gripping business issue, but the point of this post is the big issue behind visual management systems...

Visual management approaches don't work if the staff of a business don't look at the information being presented. The above window is only effective if the people who can refill the hopper regularly look at it in order to make a decision. If everyone walks past the window and does nothing then the window is pointless.

Clearly having a window is better than having no window (they used to have open the hatch to look in). But not looking at the window makes having a window redundant.

So, let's extend this point past this example:

  • Visual operator maintenance systems (as part of a wider TPM approach) not being reviewed / addressed.
  • Production cell graphs being updated but not looked at, for guidance.
  • Action lists, not being looked at and acted upon.
  • Shadowboards not being used to reinforce disciplines and return tools.
  • Key Performance Indicator charts not being used to drive decision making.
I'm sure that you get the gist. Having a visual management tool (or any management tool for that matter) that you don't look at and use is a waste of effort and time.

A good visual management tool will help you to instantly understand the current state of affairs without having to translate any information. This is why graphs, indicators and Kamishibai Boards offer such a great management tool to businesses. If you couple these tools with clear markers of 'what good looks like' then you have a potentially effective management tool.

Do you walk past your visual management tools, or are you actively using them?

As a closing point about the photo above, we also put an email reminder into their shared calendar once a week to make sure that the window was checked every Monday morning. This might be seen as a wasteful action - but life can get in the way of stopping and looking at your indicators, and having a back stop to ensure that the tool is used correctly is worth its weight in gold if the the right actions are taken at the right time.

Enjoy reviewing the effectiveness of your visual management systems,


About the author Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes. Giles is also the author of Business Process Re-Engineering and creator of the 'Making It Happen' continuous improvement toolkit.

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