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Visual Management: Enhancing Transparency In Lean Operations

Updated: Nov 15


Man at a computer reading Enhancing Transparency In Lean Operations

Visual management (VM) is a method that combines visual cues with managerial practices to boost efficiency and productivity within businesses – and it’s integral to advancing Lean operations. The interplay between visual management and Lean tools ensures a transparent work culture to foster operational control and employee engagement.


Visual management - The basics


Visual management holds together various facets of operational management by making the flow of work visible. It reinforces ease of understanding, communication, and operation within an organisation. At the heart of visual management is the idea that seeing processes unfold in real time can trigger more informed decision-making, faster problem-solving, and a higher degree of work transparency.


Visual management uses visual cues – graphs, charts, or even digital dashboards that convey information effortlessly. Whether it’s a colour-coded status update or a simple progress bar, it aims to provide a clear, unambiguous view of operations at a glance. It’s like having a dialogue with your operational process without engaging in a verbal discussion.


Tools and techniques for visual control


Transitioning to a visual control paradigm requires a blend of tools and techniques to amplify operational transparency. Lean tools like Kanban boards, 5S System, and Andon are essential to facilitate a seamless transition from traditional to visual management.


Kanban boards


A Kanban board is a classic example of a visual tool that tracks the workflow, highlights bottlenecks, and promotes smooth operational flow. It epitomes how simplicity, when married to functionality, can create powerful operational control.

Let’s look at an example to better understand the practical application of Kanban boards


Imagine you are managing a small software development team. Your projects typically go through three primary stages: ‘To Do’, ‘In Progress’, and ‘Done’. To better manage your projects, you decide to introduce a Kanban board into your daily operations.


  1. You create a physical Kanban board on a large whiteboard in your office or a digital version (like Trello or Jira). The board is divided into three columns corresponding to the three stages of your workflow.

  2. Each task or project initially gets a card in the ‘To Do’ column, containing key information about the task – including the description, deadline, and the assigned team member.

  3. As tasks move through the workflow, the corresponding cards are moved across the board to the relevant columns to visually represent the project’s progress to the entire team.

  4. You notice that multiple cards pile up in the ‘In Progress’ column, indicating a bottleneck, and you identify that certain tasks take longer than expected. Delving into the issue, you increase resources to meet deadlines.

  5. Once the bottleneck is addressed, cards move smoothly from ‘To Do’ to ‘In Progress’ and ‘Done’. This visual journey not only keeps everyone updated on the project’s status but also promotes a sense of achievement.

  6. Your team holds retrospective meetings to discuss how to further improve the process, using the Kanban board as a reference point. Its visual nature aids in understanding workflow patterns and identifying areas for improvement.


The Kanban board serves as a simple yet powerful tool to visually manage the workflow, highlight bottlenecks, and promote operational efficiency. It fosters better communication, teamwork, and Continuous Improvement. Through the practice of visual management, your team is now well-positioned to manage projects more effectively and efficiently, leading to better outcomes and a more satisfying work environment.


5S system


The 5S system means organising the workspace for efficiency and effectiveness by identifying and storing items, maintaining the area and items, and sustaining the new order. The 5S philosophy emphasises using visuals to achieve consistency and standardisation.


Suppose you are the floor manager at a manufacturing facility that produces automotive parts. Over time, the floor has become cluttered, tools are often misplaced, and the overall efficiency has started to dwindle. So, you decide to implement the 5S system…


  1. Sort (Seiri): You sort through all the tools, materials, and equipment on the floor. Items that are no longer useful or are obsolete are either discarded or kept aside for recycling.

  2. Set in order (Seiton): After sorting, you designate specific places for each item. Frequently used tools are placed near the workstations, while less used items are stored away (but easily accessible). Visual cues like colour coding, labels, and floor markings indicate where items belong.

  3. Shine (Seiso): Clean the work area thoroughly, ensuring that machines are maintained and in working order. This is not a one-time cleaning spree but cultivates a ‘clean-as-you-go’ culture.

  4. Standardise (Seiketsu): You develop a set of procedures and schedules – for instance, a cleaning routine at the end of each shift and a layout map for tool placement. These standard operating procedures are displayed visually at key points on the floor to ensure everyone is aware of and adheres to them.

  5. Sustain (Shitsuke): Lastly, the key to longevity is to sustain the new standards. Regular audits, reviews, and training are conducted. You encourage employees to take ownership and pride in their workspace to sustain the 5S system.


As such, your manufacturing floor is not just visually appealing, but there’s a noticeable surge in operational efficiency. Finding tools is quicker, there are fewer accidents, and the overall workflow is smoother. The visual nature of the 5S System makes it easy to understand the order of things – and promptly spot any deviations from the standard, making corrective actions swift and effective.


The 5S system creates a disciplined, productive, and efficient work environment. Its visual aspect ensures a clear, communicative medium, making adherence to standards uncomplicated and almost intuitive.


Andon


An Andon system provides real-time feedback about the operational process by using visual cues like lights to indicate the status of operations. It’s an instant call to action whenever a discrepancy arises, promoting immediate problem-solving.


Imagine you’re a supervisor in an automotive manufacturing plant where different components form the finished product in your assembly line. To identify and rectify any issues swiftly, you implement an Andon system…


  1. First, you install Andon lights at critical points along the assembly line – each has three colours:

  • Green: Indicates that the operation is running smoothly.

  • Yellow: Signals a minor issue that needs attention but doesn’t halt production.

  • Red: Denotes a serious issue that has stopped the production.

  1. You continuously monitor the Andon lights – they provide a visual representation of the assembly line’s status so everyone can see the operational flow in real time.

  2. On a particular morning, a critical machine malfunctions, and the corresponding Andon light turns red – immediately signalling a problem to the floor supervisor and the team.

  3. The red light activates a protocol that halts the assembly line to prevent further potential defects. A quick response team congregates to diagnose the problem, finding that a component of the machine has worn out and needs replacement.

  4. The faulty component is swiftly replaced, and the machine is back up and running. The Andon light reverts to green, signalling the resolution of the issue and the resumption of the production line.

  5. After the incident, an analysis is conducted to understand the cause of the malfunction and to devise strategies to prevent future occurrences. The insights enhance the preventative maintenance schedule.


The Andon system, in this scenario, played a crucial role in ensuring that a potentially costly and time-consuming problem was swiftly identified and resolved. By providing real-time visual feedback, the team could act promptly to minimise downtime and ensure the quality of the product remained uncompromised.


This example underscores how the simplicity of visual signals can foster a culture of immediate problem-solving, teamwork, and Continuous Improvement.


Benefits of a transparent work environment


A transparent work environment seeds trust, collaboration, and innovation. When information flows freely and the status of ongoing projects is visible to all, it creates a culture of accountability and shared responsibility.



person pressing a benefits of transparent work environment button

  • Improved decision-making: When the operational realities are visible to all stakeholders, decision-making becomes data-driven, timely, and far more accurate.

  • Enhanced employee engagement: Transparency propels a sense of ownership and engagement among employees as they can see the impact of their contributions in real time.

  • Operational Excellence: By reducing ambiguities and promoting clarity, visual management identifies waste, reduces process variations, and optimises resource utilisation.


Visual management with Manufacturers Network


Visual management is not just a tool but a philosophy. It’s about creating a workspace where transparency is the norm – not the exception. In a highly competitive market, it can provide the critical edge to outshine competitors.


To further explore, understand, and implement visual management to achieve operational excellence and foster Continuous Improvement, get in touch with our team today.


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