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The 5 Keys to Great Visual Management

Imagine you are in the Scottish Highlands in the late 1500's between you and your extended family or Clan as we call them, you have a bit of land and around 600 cattle and sheep. Now imagine that another clan have decided that for what ever reason to have a bit of a battle. Typically, these battles were comprised of hundreds of people all on foot with large swords trying their best to get ride of the opposition. As you can imagine making sure you only attack the opposition is important so how do you make sure that out of the 800 people around you, you only swing the sword at the opposition. Well, it's obvious, if they are not wearing a kilt from your clan then they are fair game. So what has a fight between Scottish clans in the 1500's got to do with Lean, surprisingly there is quite a bit, but for this example, let's talk Visual Management.  

Rapid Visual Management 

If you have ever been to a true Scottish Wedding you'll see that there is a host of different tartans on display and it's a great sight, they stand apart very easily. Some are red bases, some are green, yellow, they have broad bands of colour intertwined with thinner bands of other colours, no two tartans can be the same. You don't have to spend very long at all to know that the person wearing a read tartan and the one wearing the green tartan are in different clans and that was the point. The aim was to be able to identify very quickly the information you needed. This visual management approach to being able to see quickly who is who was critical in the 1500's but it hasn't changed today.

In a recent rugby match between France and Wales, visual management was employed again. Obviously the two teams have vastly different tops, the French with their blue and the welsh with the red, but they both wear red socks. As you can imaging in a scrum or a ruck where you have a large number of players the only sign you may see of an infringement may well be the colour of the socks, so Wales donned their dark green socks to ensure that they could be told apart when the pressure was on.

The key to both of these examples is pressure, when things aren't going as smooth as you want having a very quick and simple method of knowing the information you need is critical and that's where visual management comes into play.

Visual Simplicity 

The whole point of visual management is that it becomes completely obvious quickly what the answer to the question is, because there is a myriad of questions then there is a myriad of options on how to present the information, the thread for them all however needs to be simplicity. You should never have to work out what something means, you don't for example stop at a set of traffic lights to work out if that green light means you should carry on. In factories walkways are typically denoted by yellow lines, keep clear areas around fire extinguishers are with squares with red diagonal lines so you know not to block them and so on. You can look and you can know quickly. Part of that simplicity is continuity, your visual management system should mean the same throughout the entire organsiaiton and not just within 1 small area.

Knowing where to put the output from your process when delivering the next process should be equally clear (and close). When you look at work within your area / cell / desk anyone should be able to understand the status of that work quickly, has it started, is it on hold, complete or not yet done.

Obviously the same applies to your metrics and score boards, these needs to be clear, you shouldn't have to figure out if you are winning or losing, it needs to be completely obvious at 1st glance. You should be able to see what is normal from abnormal quickly.

When working with lean clients I talk about the 3meter 3 second Rule, you should be able tell within 3 seconds, 3 meters away exactly what the status of anything you are looking at is. Have you got good product or not, are you on track with the plan, or not, is the building empty after an evacuation, or not and of course should I make more product, or not? That means you need to focus on making things simple to understand.

Understand the Process 

We've explained that visual management is about creating the environment where you can make a rapid observation on the status of your process and that visual simplicity is key to making it a success. There is a third key element to great visual management, understanding the process.

If you don't truly understand what is going on within the process and what the key information that needs to be communicated is then it's going to be a struggle to get it right. Part of the process then, when setting up a visual management system, is to think about what you need to communicate and who you will communicate it too. Are using charts, Kanban boards or cards, are you marking floors or hanging signs from the roof to indicate positions. One of the challenges that comes up is the overabundance of information and the inability to trim that back to the real information that genuinely runs your organisation, that's only possible if you take time to understand the operation correctly. The best way of course to really understand the process is to ask questions and to observe what's going on for a time and to questions of those doing the job, understand what is important to them and their customers and build your visual management system around that.

Keys to Great Visual Management 

When you start on your visual management implementation think of these key elements to help you on your way to a great system:

  1. You need to start by really understand the process
  2. It should provide clarity even when people are under pressure
  3. It should be simple and consistent within the organisation.
  4. It should be 100% applicable to those doing the process
  5. Test your visual management tool with the 3 meter, 3 second rule

Get In Touch

If you need any support in developing or improving your visual management systems then click here to make an appointment and find out how we can help you Make Things, Better

You can also call John on 0211649739 to set up a meeting 


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Sunday, 31 May 2020

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