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You’re not lean until you’re visual

Youll likely hear all kinds of terms that generally mean the same thing. Visual control, visual management, make it visual etc. And like so many principles that we learn from the Japanese manufacturing sector there tends to be a surface meaning, then a much broader and more powerful underlying principle.

On the surface when we think of making things visual the first thing that pops to  mind is labels. Typically as we begin Our lean journeys getting everything organized and labelled.  Whether its office supplies, shop supplies Or the critical to operations, bathroom supplies.  And wow,  it sure feels good to see where things are supposed to go and more importantly where are you can find them again eliminating that wasteful searching activity.

So now that everything is labelled does that mean we have a visual factory? Unfortunately no not by a long shot. Lets continue to peel the onion.



Next were probably gonna want to look at all our tools. Now this could be pens highlighters staplers keyboards etc. in the office environment or it could be an assortment of hand tools on the shop floor or tools required To adjust machinery if youre a machine operator.  This is where we put to use exciting visual controls such as shadow boards and Kaizen form.  Getting your critical tools at the point of use its so important, a personal favourite of mine is magnets sticking tools right where they need to be!  If you had to apply one overarching rule to organizing tools in your workstation my personal favourite is I want to know if I have all the tools I need from 10 feet away. Theres nothing worse than being midway through a job and having to stop to look for tools.

So fast forward a couple of months and all your shelves and supplies are labeled, all of your tools are displayed neatly on shadow boards or in kaizen foam largely eliminating the searching for what you need when you need it. You may think at this point I have a visual factory. More accurately I would say youre on your way to a visual factory, But youre not there yet.

What about your team? What visual controls do you have in place to let them know whether theyre on track or need help? If you can visually answer the question am I doing a good job today in real time this is very powerful in motivating the shop floor and allowing your team leads to no where to help and when.

Most of ushave a team leaderor plant manager, typically a smart guy or gal.  And theyre usually the ones running around the plant with their hair on fire trying to keep everybody busy get customers answers theyre looking for and maintain the workflow in the shop.  Not to mention train people, set up machines and make process improvements.  Needless to say I think we can all agree that person is usually very busy.  Heres were making the factory visual really kicks into high gear.

When you can start helping the decision making process with visual aids that immediately transfer the right information with no thinking required.  In its simplest form, think of a traffic light nobody has to think about what to do.  Its not up to the driver to assess the traffic around them and make a judgement call. its clear concise and simple.

So lets get back to that plant manager. They are responsible for making decisions all day long what visual controls can we put in place that would allow them to make the right decision at the right time with little or no analysis?  Hey, dont roll your eyes I didnt say it was gonna be easy!  And everybodys situation is unique so its hard to make a suggestion as to what to do.  But some amazing places to start would be to help them stay a few hours ahead of the factory. So a visual control on a work cell or departments Workload would really help them see if someone is about to run out of work before they run out of work and come  asking.  See the video link in this article for one of the simple but effective visual controls we put in place at BEST DAMN DOORS for our engineers & team leads to balance work orders between 4 CNCs.   It was simple, cheap and extremely visual.    See video 

All too often were so worried about keeping people working that we forget its just as critical that they know when to stop working. We want to avoid over production not just on the shop floor, but in the office as well.  This is a wonderful visual control for your management team to work towards putting in place.  A great assignment for your whole factory is put the shop floor staff in charge of the Kanbans and lean labels, have the team leads establish production expectations and get the timers set up, and have the management team establish decision making visual controls.  And if you don’t have all those levels of management to help, I guess your going to be busy this Saturday!

If you need any help with setting this stuff up or perhaps ideas or just want to brain storm, were only a phone call away and love meeting fellow lean maniacs!