When metrics matter – why you need visual management
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. And by analogy, true visual management shares real-time information and feedback about the status of your operation.
The most important reason for implementing visual management is to drive 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. Visual management is also a fundamental part of empowerment and ownership. By providing teams with feedback, they are given the responsibility and accountability for their actions. It also leads the drive to make the operation more transparent and, therefore, more efficient.
Helping lean principles ‘come to life’
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 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.
When visual management is performed well, it becomes easy to see and understand the flow of work and how it is progressing. It helps to:
- identify in control and out-of-control situations
- identify high levels of variability
- identify trends which are positive or negative
The diagram below reflects the practice of visual management in a human interaction context:
A visual workplace is one that is easier to manage over time. With techniques that make performance more visible, less time will be needed to identify problems and performance-related issues. And most importantly, visual management makes it easier to drive continuous improvement, the real objective of Lean.
Making it part of your organization’s wider management system
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 these scoreboards.
A daily or weekly review should take place at the situational level. Systemic level reviews should also be held around departmental boards at a time that suits the environment (i.e. weekly, two weekly).
More strategic initiatives are to be reviewed at senior management level on a monthly basis, with key measures reviewed daily and weekly.
In its truest sense, visual management is a company-wide ‘nervous system’ that allows all employees to understand how they affect the operation’s overall performance. It allows people to align their actions and decisions with the overall strategic direction of the company. And it provides an open window to plant or factory performance, making the same unbiased information available to owner, manager, operator, and even visitor.