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Jon Miller

Jon Miller: Visual Management, Visual Control and Shop Floor Management?

By Jon Miller, - Last updated: Sunday, October 19, 2014 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

The question from an aeronautics COO is “How do you explain the difference between visual management and visual control and what is the role of shop floor management in it?”

I spent some years as a Japanese-English translator as well as interpreter. In some ways I feel it is my duty to go back through the entire vocabulary of lean and right the wrongs due to poor translation, for they are legion. For now that will have to be a labor of love undertaken piecemeal.

This question of visual management vs. visual control is another quirk of translation. In Japanese the word for “management” and “control” are the same – kanri – when referring to abstract or non-mechanical control. There are other words for political control / ruling, controlling or operating machines etc. Early use of visual control and visual management was interchangeable. The latter is preferred now due to management being a broader and better term for what we are trying to accomplish. Please, no unnecessary evolutions of this to visual leadership, visual empowerment, etc. It is visual management.

In the plural form, visual controls refer to the artifacts / tools of visual management such as 5S shadow boards, hour by hour charts, andon lamps, standard work documents posted at the entrance of work areas. The process of checking reality for deviations from the standards contained in these visuals is the first step of visual management.

Shop floor management, also called shop floor management development, gemba kanri, nichijo kanri, daily management, and so forth, incorporates visual management. It is essential but not enough. Also required are leaders who go see, natural teams who strive to follow and improve standards, escalation systems to call for help when they can’t, a problem solving process to bring them back to or advance the standard, and a process for converting improvements / countermeasures into visual and auditable standards. That is SFM to me in a nutshell.

This question raises for me a criticism of lean professionals and our use and invention of terminology. Buzzwords fragment us. Clarity and inclusion are not the goal of buzzwords; rather, possession and exclusion. Visual management is a good enough name, if we understand that like all of lean it is not a stand-alone activity but part of an ecosystem that requires gemba leaders, teams, abnormality response, PDCA and standards, among other things. Inadequate names and poor translations cause us to keep coming up with new names for variations of the same thing (agile-kanban, shop floor management, visual management) which is fine for segment-specific branding purposes but bad for providing clarity of what lean is all about.

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