Saturday, May 23, 2009

You Won’t Get Lean, Until You Get Visual

Visual Factory (or Visual Management) refers to a lean tool that results in more than just a pretty workplace. 5S is the foundation for Visual Factory specifically in the areas of cleanliness, order, and discipline, but it doesn’t stop there. However, true Visual Factory goes beyond a clean, well organized factory; it’s a company-wide “nervous system” that allows all employees to understand how they affect the factory’s overall performance.

In the game of baseball why do fans repeatedly look at the scoreboard when the action is clearly on the field? The scoreboard answers important questions about the status of the game. It tells us how our team is doing in relation to the goal, to win the game! Visual Factory is the scoreboard for our business.

Visual Factory provides a clear and common understanding of goals and measures of the business. With this information employees are able to align their actions and decisions with the overall strategic direction of the company. It is also an open window to factory performance, and it provides the same unbiased information to everyone, whether owner, manager, operator, or visitor.

The goal in Visual Factory is to create a “status at a glance” in the workplace. This refers to an operating environment where anyone can enter the workplace and:
See the current situation (Self-explaining)
See the work process (Self-ordering)
See if you are ahead, behind or on schedule (Self-regulating) and
See when there is an abnormality (Self-improving)

Visual Factory techniques can be used in a variety of ways. This offers an unlimited number of opportunities creating a significant variation in the actual application of Visual Factory.

There is irrefutable evidence that a “shared vision” is critical to the success of today’s businesses. Visual Factory communicates the “shared vision” along with an understanding of how each individual should contribute toward that success.

Visual Factory is the language of the Lean production system. Without it we can’t see the wastes in our factory, which are the greatest source of potential improvements in customer service and business performance. Visuals ensure that what is supposed to happen happens on time, every time by everyone involved.


  1. Tim,

    Great article! Turning a plant into a Visual Factory is much more than window dressing. The visual factory clearly marks 5S locations and standards, highlights new learning and losses when done properly.


  2. Tim,

    I like your concept of the self-system. It makes me wonder about how to bring those four qualities to knowledge work, which is, of course, invisible and intangible.

  3. Chris, window dressing or wall paper is the easy part. Visual management takes a lot more effort. But once it is in place it is so much easier to tell if you are ahead or behind.

    Thanks Dan. You raise an interesting question. When it comes to knowledge there are some visual techniques that are commonly used. Standard work, training matrix, and single point lessons for example. But I am not sure these form a comprehensive knowledge system. The goal though is to reduce what I call Tribal Knowledge.