Leverage a sense of urgency to implement Visual Management

In all negative situations there are things to learn and opportunities for improvement. The sense of urgency is very high today so let’s use it to drive change starting with Visual Management. In many workshops it has already started as a means to apply physical distancing. Companies who implemented Visual Management efficiently followed three major steps. Let’s see how with an example!


As many other manufacturing consultants, all year long I am preaching for Visual Management. The first reaction is often “It’s good to have, the workshop will look good with colors and pictures, but we do not have much budget to allocate to this so let’s just do the basics”. It is certainly very important to have the right conditions for people to work in and nice environment, but this is only a tiny part of it. In 2002, R. Eugene Goodson published an article in The Harvard Business Review on how to read a plant fast. He created this methodology from his industrial experience and practiced it with his students and got remarkable results. One of my takeaways from it, is that most of his methodology only requires you to look and see the workshop. He even starts his article with;

“To the trained eye, even a quick plant tour can reveal a lot about a company.”
– R. Eugene Goodson

I strongly recommend reading the full article.

In all my factory tours I now use this methodology. So why is Visual Management telling us so much about a workshop? To put it in one sentence, I like to say;

“If it’s visual, you cannot avoid it.”

Visual Management is what makes it happen. Having the information is not enough because we are overwhelmed by information. Be it ERP, excel reports, PowerPoints, emails or collaboration platforms, the challenge today is to prioritize and select the right information. To illustrate my point here let’s go through a few situations you may have experienced;

  • How many times, to the question, “What is the trend of our main production KPIs?”, have you answered “No problem, I will create a custom report in the ERP and send it to you in 20 minutes”?
  • How many times have you seen people at a stand-up meeting taking notes on their own little notepad and yet, a few weeks later, nothing has happened?
  • How many times have you told to your people “Safety shoes are mandatory in the areas, X, Y and Z” and still some people continue to go there in sneakers?

Making KPIs, rules, actions, responsibilities and deadlines visible means you have prioritized and focused. If it is visual, you have chosen your battles and identified what will have the biggest impact on your production performance.

To implement efficient Visual Management, I recommend three steps:


You need to define what is your real driver, your hedgehog (as explained in the best seller Good To Great – Tim Collins). If you have 10 priority one goals and a dozen KPIs you are not focusing. Phrase your goal in a structured way with a start line, a finish line and a measurement of your result. No rocket science here. But what is often forgotten is the leading KPIs. The leading KPI measure if you are in the right direction and predicts if you will reach your goal. It is something you can directly influence.

Let’s take an example, weight loss. If you go on the scale once a week you are measuring the result i.e. a lagging KPI. Doing so, every week you might be scared of the result and you do not know if you will have achieved your goal. However, if you count the number of calories per day/week and the times you exercised in a week you know that you directly worked on your goal and you will not fear the scale.


A small A4 display pinned among 12 other A4 signs on the wall of coffee break room is not visual.

In a glimpse of on eye you should know what we talk about, and if you are on track or not. Make it big, display it where you have your meetings/rituals, don’t overdo it, color codes are good enough. No need to discuss the third decimal, the important thing is to get good enough info that is actionable.


Rituals give pace and rhythm to the factory. They align people on a common understanding. Make sure you implement thorough daily rituals. They should be short – max 30min, have a clear agenda, KPIs (leading and lagging), and a clear action plan with bite size actions that are well described, have a deadline and an owner.


In the first part we have seen that visual management is essential to production performance. Let’s look at the three steps of Visual Management though an example.


Focusing means prioritizing and pausing a few projects. Focusing means taking a decision that impacts the organization. Focusing means a new of working and therefore change management. So focusing is hard… except when it is obvious!

With the current sanitary crisis, the focus is obvious: protect your people, now. We could structure the goal as follows;

  1. Start line: Now
  2. Finish line: End of the pandemic
  3. Lagging measurement: Number of people infected
  4. Leading measurement:
    1. number of exposures – contact or less than 1-meter interaction between people in the company.
    2. Number of times people wash their hands.


General rules for all people in the company displayed everywhere

Visual management

Visual managementAccess restrictions

Yellow and black stripped tape on the floor shows where people should stand in a queue to access specific areas. This removes the subjective part in the evaluation of 1.5m between people.




People flow management in the workshopVisual management

One-way routes on the shop floor prevent people from crossing each other.







Visual Management

Containment area for shipment and delivery

Access limitation separation of shipment and delivery.





Visual Management

Gloves and hydro-alcoholic gel for delivery people. Instructions and rules visibly displayed.

Forbidden to have more than one person at a time in the area.







To maintain the practices you are implementing, you need to create standards out of them, audit them and include them in rituals. During your morning meeting, make sure it is on the agenda, and do not allow any deviation. Make it part of your daily tour and one of maintenance’s tasks to ensure it stays.

This crisis has negative impact on our lives, let’s make sure we can use it to learn and accelerate change, so our industry gets back on it’s feet faster.

If you have questions, please put them in comments and let’s discuss!