The 4 Pillars of Visual Management

by / Monday, 05 January 2015 / Published in Latest posts, Lean Management, VisualFactory
The 4 pillars of visual management YMB Consulting Sackville, Moncton, Halifax, Montreal, Boston, New York

Many companies struggle with the concept of lean management and how to manage in a lean manufacturing environment. Are you finding it difficult to see what types of problems your production floor is experiencing? Does it take a GPS to navigate through the confusion on your production floor? Implementing a visual management system will help you resolve all these issues and help you achieve the most important goal of any continuous improvement program, employee involvement. After all, if lean manufacturing is a process to systematically eliminate waste then shouldn’t you make that waste as visible as possible? I have found that visual management has 4 key pillars, these are:


1. Visual Flow:

It is very difficult to have a visual flow if your company uses a push system, therefore your first step should be to convert your push system into a pull system. If you are struggling to create a pull system that is linked to your ERP system, then I suggest you take a few minutes and read my previous blog article on how Push and Pull can work together. I won’t go into the details of what a pull system is and how to implement it in this blog post, but for lean management purposes it is important that once your pull system is in place, that each of your work centres are able to:

  • Visually show the amount of work available from it’s internal supplier(s):

    There are a variety of ways of making this visible, but the most commonly used is Kanban squares. Even if your work centres are far apart and you use Kanban cards, you should still visually indicate your Kanban limit on your in-rack by taping off locations and essentially creating Kanban squares. This gets a little more difficult if you work in a job shop and the size of your product varies, but there are still many other ways to visually show how many jobs are in your queue.

  • Visually show the amount of authorization available from it’s internal customer(s): 

    If excess inventory and overproduction are the 2 largest wastes that your company produces, then it is critical to ensure that you have good visual controls preventing these situations from occurring. As I stated in a previous blog, I am a big fan of simple Kanban squares when your work centres are close together; but when they are not, using Kanban cards with a Kanban board can be a very good and inexpensive visual indicator. See below for an example of a board that show a work centre’s authorization by pipeline. In this case, this work centre no longer has authorization to produce produce for 2 of it’s internal customers and is starting to run a little low on authorization for it’s other 2 internal customers. As a supervisor or an employee looking at this board, it indicates that it will soon be time to move your employees somewhere else on the line in order to avoid overproduction. In the case that you have multiple employees in this work centre, it would be time to move some of them to a bottleneck area of your production floor. You can see that this work centre is actually an office area and prepares drawing packages for production.  This shows that using visual management against overproduction can also be used in office areas just as much as the shop floor.


Kanban Board















What actions should I take based on these visual indicators?

When you setup these 2 important visual indicators for all your work centres, you will find that your supervisors are able to do much faster plant tours and move resources to address bottleneck issues. You should also make sure that you are posting Kanban rules in each work centre to tell your staff where you want them to move or what you want them to do when certain conditions are reached (i.e. running low on authorization or work). Although posting these rules will reduce the amount of work for your supervisors, they still need to walk the entire flow as some decisions can only be made with a view of the entire value stream. I recently implemented a playbook for Fuel Transfer Technologies to help the supervisor better manage the movement of production staff. In this example, the supervisor also looks at the position of the employees on the line as some line configurations are more efficient than others. These less efficient line configurations are sometimes necessary to resolve bottleneck or flow issues; however, employees should revert back to the ideal state as soon as the bottleneck is resolved. In many cases, employees stay in the less efficient configuration for too long, negatively affecting the output of the line. Using a playbook as a visual management tool, will help your team ensure that they use the proper line configuration at the proper time, which will improve your output and your flow.




















2. Performance to Targets

Is there anything more important to engage your staff than to give them targets? Lean manufacturing is about simplification and waste reduction, therefore be careful that you don’t overload your floor with too much paperwork or indicators. Having your staff not knowing how well they are doing is like playing a hockey game and not keeping the score. What’s the point? In my opinion, the 4 indicators that should be focused on are:

  • Cost: I am still surprised at how much hesitation there is for companies to post this information. Many are against it because they are concerned that it will highlight a poor quoting process, but if that’s the case shouldn’t it be highlighted? In order to keep this simple, use productivity or variance to standard charts. This indicator will push your employees to find better ways of doing their job.
  • Quality: This should be a 1 pager showing either a defect percentage by month or a tally of the amount of defects in the cell. There is also value in showing the cost of defects (i.e. rework hours and scrap material), having a dollar amount to your defect rate helps your employees better understand the importance of quality.
  • Delivery: As far as a day to day measurement, none are more important than the performance to target / delivery measurement. If you currently don’t have any indicators on your production floor, then start with this one. Simply posting realistic daily and weekly targets in each of your work centres will improve their performance. However, if your targets are too aggressive and cannot be attained, this will turn off your employees and cause major moral issues. One thing that you will need to make sure your employees understand is that in some cases the targets of a work centre cannot be obtained because of lack of internal customer authorization or simple lack of work from an internal supplier. In this case you cannot hold your resources accountable when you’ve moved them to another work centre.
  • Safety:  Safety is the most important metric to all your employees and should be for you as well. Measuring the number of hazards in an area and posting that information shows to your employees that you are serious about their safety.

 3. Defects

If you’ve read “The Goal Mine”, you’ve read about the red bins. In the case that your product is small enough, placing defective units in red bins can be a very powerful visual indicator in your lean management process. However, if you work with larger assemblies / machines, putting them in red bins can be a little hard. I use to work at a train rebuild shop, which used red ribbons to highlight defect (see picture below). In this case, we used red flagging tape to tag anything that had a defect and needed rework. We kept a log book at the end of the train with a list of all the open defects and wrote the defect number on the flagging tape. Once the defect was reworked, the worker would tie a knot in the flagging tape, which gave a visual indication to QA that they could reinspect and close the defect. It doesn’t need to be expensive, it just needs to be visual and it just needs to work.




















4. Problems

I know that a lot of people prefer to call these “Opportunities”, but to me they will always be problems. In lean manufacturing problems are everything preventing you from doing your job.  I find this statement sounds odd when you change the word problem with opportunities. Let’s compromise by saying that problems are opportunities for improvements, but regardless of what you call them, they need to be visible.

There are a few different processes that you can use for this.  One of which is the problem queue process. This process limits the amount of problems in an area and provides an escalation process as the amount of problems reaches it’s limit. Problem queues allow you to visually see problems in each cell that cannot be immediately resolved by the workers in that cell, since these problems typically need to be solved by support staff, making them visible will get them solved faster. Examples of these would be: missing parts, broken tool, need engineering info, etc. If you reach the maximum number of problems in a cell you need to shut it down.  Only the general manager can restart the work centre once he has been given an explanation on the number of problems. Using this process will give your support staff a sense of urgency and make them more visible to the employees on the floor.

The second popular method that helps make problems visible is the use of a Andon light.  Andon lights let you see the status of your work centres at a glance by using the following codes:

  • Green: This means that there are currently no problems in the work centre and everything is operating normally.
  • Yellow: Some problems occur, but the work centre is not shut down.
  • Red: Major problems, the work centre is shut down.

These systems are very impressive, but can be very costly to implement. They are also very limited in their use as you will need to go see what’s happening in the work centre before you know what the problems are: Is the work centre low in inventory? Is the equipment damaged? Did the area receive defective parts from it’s internal supplier?

If you implement Andon light systems you may need to use a complimentary process to visual show what type of problem the work centre is  experiencing.

















If you would like to take your visual management process to the next step,  VisualFactory  offers a module that will give you the same benefits as a traditional Andon module with these added benefits:

  • Provides live production status to any employee with access to the company’s intranet (see work centre status example below)
  • Documents the name of the person and the work centre that initiated the Andon call
  • Documents how long the Andon call took to answer and to resolve
  • Sends an e-mail to the service department responsible to answer the call
  • Visual displays the problem and the urgency (see example below)
  • Allows you to Pareto your problems to prioritize your continuous improvement program


Work Centre Status Example


Dashboard 2










 Andon Call Visual Display Example


Dashboard 1











Implementing these 4 pillars in your company will ensure that your supervisors, managers and employees are focusing on the right things to make your company successful. You will be amazed in how much your performance improves once these are put in place; however, you should not stop there as the 4 pillars is only the foundation of your lean management journey. If you need help implementing these tools and training your staff on how to use them, or would like to go beyond the 4 pillars contact me @

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