The concept of visual management is often misunderstood, yet it is quite an important topic.
I found a great post by Mark Graban entitled Moving from “Visuals” to “Visual Management” and to Broader Lean Thinking.
He points out that visuals are not necessarily followed by an action, and not all visuals qualify as elements of visual management.
If the “visual” isn’t helping accomplish that goal, it’s probably not visual management. Visual management has two parts – the visual (something you see) and the management (the action you take based on the visual).
The key is to show a gap between expectation (targets) and reality in real or near-real time.
Factories and hospitals normally have some form of charts and metrics on the wall. That doesn’t mean they are practicing Lean and those charts aren’t necessarily visual management. If the charts show monthly averages that lag a month or two behind, does that help you see the difference between normal and abnormal right now? Probably not.
As charts and metrics get closer to being real time (daily or hourly metrics), they get closer to being visual management. But, the best visual management gives a visual signal that unmistakable and immediate.
Look at a Toyota plant (or any modern car factory). They have painted lines on the floor of the assembly line that indicate if the job cycle has fallen behind (or is running too far ahead, which might be bad, as well).
The lines can also show if there’s certain work that should be completed by the 30-second mark, the visual position of the vehicle can show you there’s a problem… the work has fallen behind. It’s abnormal. You see it immediately (if you’re looking).
Supervisors and the team don’t have to wait for some sort of hourly or daily metric to be updated.
If you have been to many Chinese factories, you know these issues are quite widespread:
- Most problems are hidden, and not shown to higher levels.
- Supervisors and team leaders are consumed with “pushing production” and solving daily problems… rather than thinking “how to make our processes more predictable”?
- Managers and the boss seldom walk on the factory floor.
Should managers walk around more often and ask for more data? Not necessarily. The opposite extreme is also not a good thing, as Deming wrote:
‘Management by walking around’ is hardly ever effective. The reason is that someone in management, walking around, has little idea about what questions to ask, and usually does not pause long enough at any spot to get the right answer.
Improvements in production need to come from team/group leaders and supervisors. Which means they need to be trained, and they need to see the current state before they try to improve upon it.
The key word in “Visual Management” is “Management”. A local leader or manager has to look at visuals, understand what process(es) led to the information displayed, and act to get closer to target. Hopefully all operators can see and interpret the visuals too, and their leader doesn’t have to spend much time explaining the situation and getting their buy-in.
What about internal auditors? In traditional organizations, they have to dig and find issues. They have to study records and wonder if they are fake. They have to cross-check several documents (e.g. the incoming arrivals log of the warehouse, the incoming QC check records, and invoices to suppliers) to have confidence in their findings.
In a company that practices good visual management, internal auditors spend much less time looking for information and verifying it, since that information is nicely presented. They can spend more time checking if the proper procedures were consistently followed and if they make sense. But again, if local leaders do their work properly, this is also nicely taken care of.
Make issues visible to all and act on them as a team. This is a revolution for many Chinese manufacturers, and it can take a long time to get to that level. But once they are at that level, they are head and shoulders over their competition!