You may not have considered Visual Management until now but it will soon be apparent that it exists in both our work and personal lives, unquestioned and unnoticed. By the end of this post, we have no doubt you will be seeing examples of Visual Management everywhere.
So what is Visual Management?
Well, put simply it allows us to convey an array of things like warnings, responsibilities, performance, company standards and expectations. The advantage of using visual aids rather than just relying on words should come as no surprise; we interpret the things we see much faster. We also require little or no training, no extensive vocabulary or advanced I.T. skills to understand most visuals.
It is essential in many organisations and can be thought of as the link between data and people. When integrated into the workplace expertly, anyone should be able to walk in and navigate their own way around whilst seeing how the team is performing against targets. Visual Management is a primary factor in employee engagement and influences teams to get invested, take ownership and strive towards goals. This also fosters a culture of continuous improvement.
Why Implement Visual Management?
The benefits alone make the use of visual aids compelling.
- Creates a new way of thinking
- Improves productivity
- Reduces errors and defects.
- Fosters a stronger culture of teamwork and continuous improvement
- Standardised workflows
- Safer environment
- Everyone pulls in one direction
Visual management can be used in a number of ways. In the context of a manufacturing plant, it begins with the representation of facts and builds up to the use of visual controls to prevent errors reoccurring.
You see this everywhere. Most of us will have come across a noticeboard in the workplace and will be able to recall the different uses of visual management. Different coloured post-it notes, graphs and charts of performance, surveys, positive team photos and even task lists for the upcoming quarter. Some of these we even use at home, such as different coloured post-it notes to signify urgency or importance. Post-it notes work particularly well because the significance of traffic lights are practically universal, so everyone can immediately understand without explanation. In this digital age, many of us use project management tools like Trello or Asana to plan everything from weddings to holidays.
Imagine you are the regional head for a large restaurant chain. Head office wants each menu, stand and window decoration to be standardised so that whether you live in the UK or elsewhere, when walking into the restaurant you are met with the same environment and atmosphere. This could be communicated with words, sure, but how much more effective would a photograph or diagram be. One of the greatest examples of this is McDonald’s, wherever you go in the world all McDonald’s look and feel the same.
Sharing standards is one thing, enforcing them is another. Visual Management tools can discourage people from deviating from the established standards. Think about the Word document template that comes with the letterhead prefilled or the web page editor that only allows you to change the text in a page, not it’s colour and formatting. Almost any project management tool will come with the option of assigning priority tasks to specific people in a specific order.
We have all seen the orange warning lights in our cars that let us know something is wrong. These strong visual cues are understood in any language. In the workplace many opt to use some variation of the traffic light system to prompt people to take action or proceed with caution or alternatively, an Andon system that tells us immediately the status of a machine or production line. Shadow boards are used in the home and workplace alike. Think of the tool rack with a darkened section in the shape of the tool that is hung there. Without explanation, a shadow in the shape of a hammer clearly shows that the tool may be unaccounted for. You can imagine how important Visual Management is for workplaces that involve potential, if not explicit tooling.
Similar to warnings, visual aids that signify errors as they occur help direct attention where it is needed and remove bottlenecks everywhere from shop floors to assembly lines. Have you ever used a self checkout at the supermarket? If so, think of the green, amber and red lights that draw the attention of staff when the machine hasn’t detected the weight of that bag of marshmallows.
We can reduce the number of abnormalities occurring by using Visual Management as well. Picture yourself in a car. You shut the door, put on your seatbelt, start the engine and then notice that the interior light is on. We know this isn’t right instinctively and spend a few seconds looking around before we realise the door isn’t shut properly.