Value Stream Mapping

How Visual Management Cuts Waste

Visual management is an important tool in lean but its use generally stops short of its intended purpose. If you are not prepared to fix the problems it uncovers then you are not ready for it.

Jeffrey Liker author of the Toyota Way suggests that you try the following exercise, ask a colleague to find specific document. Watch to see if he can locate it on the first try. The amount of time it takes and their frustration level will tell you at a glance whether his workplace is visually organised. This is a very small example what sort of multiplier would we need to use to determine the time lost on this sort of activity in a medium to large sized organisation.

The two main purposes of visual management are:
  1. Status assessment at a glance - You should be able to assess the status of situation at a glance, whether it is production output, which product to be made next or locating the right tool for the job.
  2. If there is a deviation from the normal status, it allows a decision to be made quickly and resources to be deployed too rectify the problem.
    • Examples of status at a glance:
  • Output tracking simply by filling out an output tracking sheet you are practicing visual management. A simple example is shown here to the right. It should be designed in such a way that anyone who walks by should be able to determine whether the situation is above or below target. If it below target then there is an opportunity to solve a problem.
  • Kanban – is a visual inventory control system. It is a simple system that lets the operator know the current inventory level and when it needs to be replenished.

2. Make problems visible

Toyota guru, Taiichi Ohno said “you must clean up everything so that you can see the problems”. Ohno would complain if he could not look and see and tell is there was a problem.

Examples of making problems visible:
  • 5S – Japanese factories have a reputation for being so clean “you could eat off the floor”. Not only does this create a pleasant work environment but it also highlights problems. In this situation a hydraulic oil leak would quickly be discovered and rectified. On the other hand, in a messy and cluttered workshop you don’t know that the angle grinder has been “borrowed” by someone until you start searching for it.
  • Shadow Board – in this example from the Kaon workshop it is obvious to operator that the side cutters are missing. This may allow them to be found before it becomes a problem.
  • Andon lights – this is a multi-coloured light system that allows operators to flag problems at their workstations. The light system is visible to the entire factory floor. When there is a problem at a workstation everyone knows about it.

Visual management must be seen as a tool to improve the performance of the operation, not an end goal in itself. You must be prepared to rectify the problems that it uncovers.

Visual Management - Output Tracking
Simple Output Tracking Sheet


Shadow Board - Visual Management
Shadow Board - You can see which tool is missing