Visual Management is Critical to Lean

Visual management is a concept that is a part of lean.  In my opinion, it is one of the top 2 or 3 concepts of lean.  Visual management is a concept that allows the lean principles to come to life more easily.  So, what is visual management?

Visual management is a workplace that is a self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating and self-improving environment where what is suppose to happen does, on time, every time because of visual solutions.

From Gwendolyn Galsworth’s book Visual Workplace, Visual Thining.

Lets dive deeper into the definition.

Self-ordering means the environment or system continues to be in good order or orderly.  It is organized in such a way as to enable rapid absorption of information.

Self-explaining refers to the ability to answer questions such as “What is my next job?” or “How much work do we have?” or “What Waste do I see?”

Self-improving occurs when an out of standard situation is immediately obvious through use of visual indicators and people are able to correct it quickly. We all have a responsibility to keep improving.

How does visual management help bring the lean principles 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 is going on.  They should be able to understand if there is too much inventory in an area or if the work is being done under normal or abnormal conditions.  When visual management is done well, it becomes easy to see and understand the flow of work and how it is progressing.

Two other principles of lean are the systematic elimination of waste and systematic problem solving.  During the direction observation in a visual workplace a person will be able to see extra inventory or rework that is occurring or work stopping because of some problem.  When the waste or problem can be seen quickly and easily it can be fixed before it causes too big of a problem.

A fourth principle of lean is to establish high agreement on both the what and how (or standardization).  You can’t have a good visual management system without using this principle.  Our road systems are a great example.  All directional signs (in the U.S.) are on green signs while visitor site information is on brown signs and speed information is on a white sign outlined in black.  Everyone understands these visual standards which makes getting the information needed easier.

The final lean principle is create a learning organization.  If you can’t see something, you can’t learn about it.  Whether it is a process, data or anything else the best way to learn about it is to make it visual and to see it come to life.

Visual management can be used in many different ways for many different things like understanding the capacity of a project team, knowing the progress of a  major project, what is the status of a machine, do I have too much inventory and the list can go on and on.  When people can understand what is going on without having to dig and ask questions, they get engaged.  The employees gain an understanding and therefore can engage in the problem solving easier.

Understanding visual management and applying it can go a long way to kick starting or restarting your lean efforts.

Posted on September 20, 2012, in Engagment, Principles, Tools, Waste and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi Mike, I like your blog. Innovative and wide-ranging. And being who I am, I especially like your strong interest in visuality. But I would like to probe your definition of visual management, especially since you quote my work. May I send you my article on that so you can consider this further? Or call. It would be my pleasure. And keep up the good work. Gwendolyn Galsworth ( (503-233-1784)

  1. Pingback: Visual Management is Critical to Lean | Amélioration Continue (Coffre d'outils -- Toolbox) |

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