Visual management, sometimes called visual control, is the technique of communicating information using visual signals rather than text or written instruction. People process visual images much more quickly than text, so the approach is an excellent way to achieve efficiency and clarity of communications. We often think of huddle boards or Kanban cards when we think about visual management, but it can take many forms. For example, some organizations have different colored uniforms for different teams, others use visual cues to mark where tools should be placed when not in use.
The advantages of visual management are easy to imagine, but there are a few common mistakes that keep organizations from getting the most out of the approach. Here are a few that you can avoid.
Out of Date Information
People will respond to visualized information as long as it is useful, but they will quickly tune it out when it fails to provide value. A common cause of this failure is information that is not kept up to date. If your Kaizen board hasn’t been changed in a couple of weeks, it’s a safe bet that no one is paying much attention to it. Visual management isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. The best way to avoid this problem is to make the tool you use for visual management part of everyday work. Virtual systems make this easy by providing alerts and notifications to keep tasks moving and provide real-time information on the status of improvement work across the organization.
Poor Alignment with Strategic Objectives
If it is applied to everything, visual management can easily become overwhelming and too difficult to maintain. That’s why it should be applied to business processes and projects that are important to the strategic goals and objectives of the organization. Aligning improvement tools and measurements with the most important overall objectives gives them meaning and context and helps employees understand how the work they do will move the organization toward success. This is especially effective if employees are involved in developing the strategic goals and have a say in how progress is visualized for them.
Visual management is a useful and powerful tool, but it is not the panacea for a disordered workplace or lack of improvement progress. To be effective, it must be deployed within a culture that values improvement, welcomes employee feedback, and rewards success. Leaders must be willing to talk the talk and walk the walk. Employees should see their managers interacting with the visualized information and using it to make decisions, recognize small problems before they become big, and share key information.
It is easy to see why so many organizations leverage one or more visual management techniques. Doing so effectively can support continuous improvement, ensure workplace organization, reduce waste, and improve quality.