Visual management: Why metrics matter in a digital world

Have you ever wondered why avid sports fans glance at the scoreboard every so often when all the action is clearly on the field? The answer is simple: The scoreboard generates and maintains interest. It provides unambiguous feedback about performance and answers important questions about the status of the game. Similarly, visual management in a modern production system shares real-time information and feedback about the status of your operation.


Is Lean still relevant in the digital era?

In today’s digital era that demands speed, adaptability, flexibility and a willingness to evolve, the fundamentals of Lean and continuous improvement (CI) are still highly relevant. Modern manufacturing organizations are focused on improving day-to-day operations using advanced analytics and digital tools, while also working on improving overall operational efficiency through continuous improvement initiatives.

As organizations implement their digital operating systems (DOS) and work toward achieving digital maturity – a solid Lean foundation will help accelerate results and sustain improvements.


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The value of visual management

One of the first principles of Lean is to directly observe the work as activities, connections and flows. When the work is visual and clear – for example, through information displays, visual controls, labels and signs, color-coding and other markings – it becomes much easier for someone to directly observe the work and know what’s going on. Visual management is therefore a fundamental aspect of Lean, as it helps the Lean principles come to life. Just as an eloquent and well-delivered speech can move people to action, the skillful and judicious application of visual management techniques can move the business practices to a higher level of realization and efficiency.

In the factory of the future, real-time data gets extracted from the production line or machine using digital tools. When the data is visually displayed on a digital dashboard, it becomes extremely valuable offering real-time information that is easily accessible to all stakeholders for further analysis.

Visual management has multiple benefits, including the following:

  • Driving quick decision-making, problem-solving and focused improvement, with the specific aim of reducing response time and providing teams with the information they need to eliminate waste and other problems such as poor quality
  • Empowering employees and creating a sense of ownership: By providing teams with feedback, they are given the responsibility and accountability for their actions
  • Leading the drive to make the operation more transparent and, therefore, more efficient
  • Quickly identifying in control and out-of-control situations, high levels of variability, and trends using advanced analytics


Integrating visual management throughout the organization

A critical, often overlooked element of visual management is the fact that it should be integrated with the wider organization’s management system. Once visual displays have been created, and teams and employees at all levels have visual access to key information, visual management should extend to setting up daily, weekly and monthly routines around visual or digital boards.

Key areas where visual management can be integrated into your organization include:


  • Daily management system

A daily management system (DMS) is a set of standard procedures that gives teams the structure they need to evaluate and continuously improve their day-to-day work through effective decision-making. A daily or weekly performance review meeting forms part of this DMS and should take place at the situational level. Team participants will typically include team leaders and a cross-functional team comprising representatives from functions such as quality, maintenance and production planning. Depending on the KPI, people from HR, EHS, Training and Finance may be required to attend. The visual display of the agreed KPIs during these meetings allows for quick and easy interpretation: What’s going well and what’s off track? These KPIs should show actual performance versus a displayed target or goal.


  • Systemic and strategic level reviews

Systemic level reviews should also be held around visual boards at a time that suits the environment, for example, weekly or fortnightly. More strategic initiatives are to be reviewed at senior management level monthly, with key measures reviewed daily and weekly.


  • Standard work and leader standard work

Similar to the DMS, the Lean principles of standard work and leader standard work (LSW) set clear standards and enable a systematic approach to daily tasks. Standard work is enhanced through visual tools such as digital boards (displayed in or close to where the work is done, or in a general meeting area) in that it becomes highly visible and interactive, and drives discipline and accountability throughout the organization. Tools such as lineside systems can provide the data, analytics and dashboards for generating digital visual graphics of line performance and improvement actions, for example. Looking at the data and communicating its meaning and insights also builds digital skills in the organization.


  • Gemba walks

Displaying real-time data on digital boards helps leaders during gemba walks to quickly gather information and understand processes carried out daily. They can then use these insights to explore opportunities for continuous improvement, the real objective of Lean.

Visual management is a company-wide “nervous system”, enhanced through digital technology to provide more visibility and transparency into an operation’s overall performance. Operators as well as management can work collaboratively using this continuous improvement tool and key ingredient of an operation’s digital transition.


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