Category Archives: Visual Management

Visual Management “Status” Tools

As noted in prior posts, visual management is a powerful communication tool that lets people know quickly and effectively exactly the right thing to do (or NOT to do) in various situations by way of an agreed upon use of signals.

There are two primary types of visual management tools:

  1. Action Aids: visual management tools that focus on actions, as summarized in our previous post
  2. Management Aids: visual management tools that focus on the status or progress of a process

The second group of visual management tools helps people manage processes more easily by making process performance information clearly visible in real-time.  When the process is going according to the standard, everyone knows; but the visual management tool also quickly communicates when there is a variation to the standard. These variations might include defects, mistakes or an excessive backlog.

A well-constructed visual management tool will alert the team immediately so they can adjust accordingly.

Here are a few real examples of “management aid” visual management tools:

  • Visibility to the number of calls waiting helps a call center
    moderate talk time to reduce the number of abandoned calls.
  • Stop lights — red, yellow, or green — are used within a manufacturing plant to indicate whether performance is
    on target, merits caution, or needs urgent attention.
  • Visual real-time posting of backlog data enables people to
    move easily to where they are most needed without specific
    supervisor instruction.
  • One organization uses color coded letters that instantly show
    people how the group is doing on important metrics. For
    example a poster with a large letter ‘P’ is colored green,
    yellow, or red each day of the month, depending on how
    production volume met the standard. A letter ‘Q’ is used to
    communicate how well the team is meeting the quality

Regardless of type, visual management tools are a simple and effective way of communicating what must be done, when,
and how.

These tools or techniques often seems so simple that, in retrospect, one cannot always understand why it had not been thought of before! People are much more effective and happy when there is
clear and timely information about what is the best action to take and they are empowered to act.

Visual Management Tools for Taking Action (Or Not!)

5-S Shadow Board

In our previous post we defined and discussed the topic of visual management,   which is a powerful communication tool that quickly lets people know exactly the right thing to do, or NOT to do, in various situations by way of an agreed upon use of signals.

Some visual management tools focus on process performance or status, and others focus on actions to take or not to take; this latter type of tool is the focus of today’s post.

The power of each of these “action” visual management tools is that the person who NEEDS to take action (or not!) can instantly see
exactly what action to take.  The information is in the right place at the right time. No direct supervisory instructions are required.

Some examples of these “action” type of visual management tools include:

  • A manufacturer uses color-coded grease, where the color of the grease container must match the color painted onto the machine,  to make sure that only the correct grease is used on a machine. This greatly reduces the chance of a maintenance error.
  • A grocery store improved compliance with the placement of aisle displays by using pre-measured floor markings at the right places. Previously, store personnel had to measure every time they set up a new aisle display to ensure it was placed with proper clearance.
  • A nuclear power plant reduced by 83% the time required to push the 48 non-sequential buttons in the sequence required in emergency situations to shut down the reactor by color coding the buttons to flag the sequence.
  • Shadow boards are used by nearly everyone.  A common ‘5-S’ tool, they use outlines (or “shadows”) that indicate exactly what must be on the board and where it must be. Shadow boards have drastically reduced the frequency with which items are missing as well as the time that is consumed looking for the item.
    • The office equivalent of a shadow board is “conditional formatting,” which is used on forms so that if key data is missing it stands out with a highlighted “fill” message. Users are not allowed to submit a form with any spaces still highlighted.


The 2-Second Rule, and 2 Categories of Visual Management

As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words!” Thus the value of visual management.

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, it was suggested that to be effective, any attempt at visual management must enable an observer to grasp the situation within two-seconds.

An admirable goal, for sure!

As you are most likely aware, visual management can be a powerful communication tool if, as noted above, it lets people know quickly and effectively exactly the right thing to do in each situation by way of an agreed upon use of signals.

Because visual management highlights the critical information in ways that can’t be ignored, it enables a person to assess the status of the situation at a glance. Consequently, people can get far more done, more quickly, with fewer errors and without the need of additional instruction.

It is also important to recognize that there are two types of visual management tools:

  1. Tools that indicate quickly and reliably what actions to take and not to take in order to maintain process control
  2. Teamwork tools that communicate how a process is performing compared to an agreed upon standard or goal, so the people doing the work easily spot and implement the needed adjustments or improvements

We will take a closer look at each category of visual management in upcoming posts.