What is Visual Management?

We all have accepted Visual Management as one of the essential elements of our work and home lives, but may not have even noticed. With a proper understanding of what is meant by visual management – and what it includes – it will be visible everywhere!

In Visual management, we communicate expectations, performance, standards or warnings visually. This may include instructions which require little or no prior training to interpret. This is well known term in the context of the workplace, mainly factories, but it can be used in all sorts of everyday scenarios.

What is visual management?

The following categories of visual management allows increasing control of standards, performance and quality. The first step is communicating facts and works up to using visual controls to prevent errors occurring.

  • To share information

Sharing information is a first category/step in Visual management process. This is something we all witness regularly at our workplaces and a common example is a simple notice board.

Examples of visual management, an informative board which includes graphs detailing monthly performance summaries, the results of customer surveys, key team achievements and perhaps a list of suggestions from the team.

Another example, is colour coding. The most common system is the traffic signal system in which red symbolizes stop warning, yellow means to be alert and green means good to go. The key thing here is that everyone must understand what information is being communicated by the colours, without having to ask. Definitions must be clear. If it’s not self explanatory, then its not visual management.

  • To share standards

Next is sharing standards. The main concept is to communicate information, just the same way as above, but here it is something done regularly and must meet a certain standard.

Imagine yourself working in a shop selling flowers and responsible for creating a window display. Head office wants the window displays in the windows of every store up and down the country to look identical, so they’d send written instructions but – and more importantly – photographs or drawings of what it should look like.

In this case, a picture literally paints thousand words.

  • To build in standards

The third step is sharing standards, that is to make it difficult to deviate from those standards. In visual management it is done by building in the standards. For examples at work could include templates that you could use for creating Microsoft Word or PowerPoint documents.

A visual scheduling tool, also known as a Heijunka Box, basically it indicates  visually about what tasks or jobs should be completed when, by who and in what order.  The advantage is no confusion as to what the priorities are, and everyone can get on with what they need to.

  • To warn about abnormalities

Shadow boards are one of the most famous visual management tools to warn about any abnormalities. When people think about “what is visual management?”, shadow boards should come to mind. These boards are really simple, visual way to indicate where something should go, without prior communication. They warn if something is missing, as there is a shadow where the item should be.

However, they are one of the form of visual management that provides a warning. Other basic and commonly found examples include the fuel light in your car and the low battery icon on your phone – both warn you about a problem that will occur if immediate action is not taken.

  • To eliminate abnormalities once they occur

Visual management can be used where an error, abnormality or problem has occurred in order to provide a warning and eliminate the issue from continuing.

This can be manual, such as when the cashier at the checkout turns on the light above her counter in order to ask for help from a superior. An automated system can be a red light flashing if your train ticket has not been accepted as you attempt to exit the train station through the barrier (often accompanied by a failure of the barrier to open).

This element of visual management is accompanied by other mistake proofing (Poka-Yoke) measures as Six Sigma.

  • To prevent abnormalities altogether

The last category of visual management is considered as step for mistake proofing. And some of them are so simple you’ll be surprised you never thought of them. This step stops any problem from occurring, rather than just providing information or a warning about it to act on.

A day-to-day life example is the window envelope. These envelopes use the name and address printed on the letter itself, preventing the wrong address being written on the outside of the envelope. This ensures that letter to goes to the intended recipient, because there is a clear visual indication of who the correct addressee is, and no other alternatives.

Another example is in aeroplane lavatory toilets: The light will not come on in the cubicle until the door has been locked, forcing users to lock the door and stopping other passengers from opening the door while it’s occupied. All this is achieved by preventing a light from turning on.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best!

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