What Is Lean Visual Management?

For companies looking to implement lean processes, visual management will be an essential part of the process. Here’s how lean visual management can help your company excel.

Originally designed for use on the manufacturing floor, visual management has been implemented in many industries today. This innovative lean process takes many forms depending on the application, but it always involves the use of a clear, organized visual environment to boost quality, reduce waste, and bring employees up to speed on all the work that needs to be done. It’s an indispensable part of lean management strategies and relies on proven process improvement principles to raise the standard in the workplace. 

Ready to see what visual management entails and how you can put it to work for your company? Read on to find out!

What Is Lean Visual Management?

According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, although there is certainly a clear body of principles governing proper visual management, there is no formal definition of what visual management actually is — and that could be seen as one of its advantages.

Work environments are diverse, and the exact visual management tools used in one workplace may not necessarily apply in another. For example, a factory floor may be marked with lines or arrows dictating which areas are off-limits, whereas a hospital may use whiteboards or call lights to give information about the status of its units. While the tools used are different, both environments are using visual management.

Visual Management: Principles and Purpose

Despite its disparate applications, there are several key principles that can guide an organization as it implements visual management into its lean process stack. They are:

  • Provide maximum transparency into a workflow or environment so that employees will know exactly what work needs to be done.
  • Clearly deliver all necessary information. The average employee should be able to stand at least 10 feet away from a visual improvement tool and glean all they need to know within 30 seconds.
  • Improve collaboration and organization among all team members, as each employee will know exactly where each project component stands.
  • Simplify visual cues so that minimal time needs to be spent on understanding the content of the visual management tool.

Intertwined closely with 5S — sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain — visual management combines these and other lean strategies to achieve the following purposes:

  • Sharing: Parameters like output, inventory status, and progress rate are not always clear to every team member without quality visual management. By creating a concise, transparent workplace environment with open visual cues, teams can communicate the status of a project and share their insights with ease.
  • Standardizing: Sometimes, workflows and processes lack a homogenized standard — which can reduce productivity. By creating a uniform standard for all team members to abide by, visual management tools give the cues that prompt all employees to complete their tasks uniformly.
  • Streamlining: Whether it’s reporting to coworkers during a shift change or training new employees on the job, interruptions often occur in the standard workflow. Visual management removes this turbulence, streamlining performance in the process.
  • Searching: When teams fail to meet their KPIs, it’s important to find out why. Visual management tools give managers insights into which phases of their project are falling short, helping them search out any cause for concern.
  • Solving: Visual management tools not only help managers identify areas of improvement but also help them track progress and come up with solutions faster. Visual management makes problem-solving simpler.

Visual management has several additional purposes, but all of them tie back to the ultimate goal of all things lean: quality. Every lean project aims to minimize waste, optimize productivity, and make the most of every resource that an organization has on hand. Visual management is just one more tool that lean management uses to achieve that end — and an essential one at that.

Lean Visual Management Tools

Visual management tools can be as diverse as the industries that use them. Dashboards,  A3s, floor paths, and signs all constitute some form of visual management, and they may take a digital or physical form. However, some types of visual management tools are used more than others, so consider integrating these into your lean process development framework.

Process Control Charts

One of the most important lean tools is the  process control chart. Used to determine how the status of a project changes over time, process control charts plot the completion rate as a function of time and show both variance (deviation from the mean) and the completion rate (how fast your project is progressing). With this knowledge, your team can see when it’s on track, and when the process is spiraling out of control.

Kanban Boards

The Japanese term for signboards,  Kanban boards are often used in agile project management to help teams visualize their workflows. Some are as simple as a whiteboard or corkboard with sticky notes or pens, while others are digital with greater functionality. Whatever form it takes, a Kanban board should have, at least, these features:

  • Cards, which represent each task and give the status of each one 
  • Columns, which represent each stage of your workflow, through which the cards will pass as tasks near completion
  • Commitment points, which give a green light for a card to move into the workflow
  • Swimlanes, which flow horizontally across the bottom of the board to help you classify activities, departments, and other components of your work 
  • Work-in-progress (WIP) limits, which cap the number of cards in each column, keeping teams focused on the task at hand
  • Delivery points, which mark tasks as done 

Concise, thorough, and clear, a Kanban board is an excellent process improvement tool that helps teams keep track of their work — and that’s what visual management is all about.

Andon Lights

Similar to stoplights on the road, Andon lights direct workers’ attention to the status of their project. Consisting of multiple colored lights that activate to signal a change in status, Andon lights can convey different meanings in a variety of industry settings. For example, a call light in a hospital may signal to a nurse that their patient is in distress, while an Andon light in a manufacturing facility could change colors from green to red if a machine changes its status from operational to offline. No matter the setting, Andon lights enable process improvement by showing employees when an important change has occurred.

Incito Consulting Group: Offering Visual Management Tools for All Your Process Improvement Needs

Today’s organizations are compelled to get more out of their resources than ever before. They must continually strive to maximize quality, minimize waste, and optimize their process efficiency — and that means going lean. Visual management tools create the organized, streamlined environment that every workplace needs if it hopes to enjoy the benefits of the lean methodology. 

Incito’s consultants are experts in all things lean, so we understand how visual management tools will improve your business processes. If you would like to see how our visual management tools can help, contact us today, and we’ll show you how.

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