My Ode to Visual Management
As we go through Visual Management week here at Beyond Lean, I was asked to kick it off. I haven’t been able to see the other posts, so I hope I don’t step on any material coming later.
Looking at the Lean ‘Toolkit’, I think that Visual Management concepts are fundamentally the most important. That’s pretty easy for me to say when you could bucket almost all of the tools in some way or another under a visual workplace umbrella. But, I think my affinity for it comes from a more altruistic place. The underlying keys to effectively utilizing Visual Management are built on things like trust, respect, and honesty. As a shop floor operator (or your workplace equivalent), there needs to be a trust that what you are responding to, what you are reporting, and what you are following will be used productively by “the management” and not as a bigger hammer to hit you with. As a “manager” effectively utilizing the tools means you have to treat people with respect, dignity and honesty in order for the data to mean anything past the initial kick off. As business leaders, we have to be willing to share an honesty and transparency and trust with our suppliers, customers, managers, and front line workers.
(Case in point on the last one… Last week I toured a factory that I am a customer of. In a WIP queuing area, they had skids of product that they charge premium prices for labeled as “OVERSTOCK”. I couldn’t even be mad because they were so honest about how their product flow worked that they were willing to show anybody that walked in the door what was going on and how they viewed their operations.)
Pretty much anybody who has worked in a continuous improvement situation can point out failures of visual management tools. But when they are working well, they are a clear signal of a different kind of workplace. The openness, honesty, and trust that they reflect are the difference between workplaces where people trade their time for money and workplaces that are built on something more. That something more is a collaborative spirit where all of the parties build something greater than they could separately.
So, as we read through the thoughts of some really bright people this week, I hope we can all pick up some great ideas we can take back to our own workplaces. I hope that in the long term we can also use these to help build and/or strengthen the cultural differences that make a Lean workplace truly special and unique.