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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Visual control as a technique and visual management as a system are essential to lean practice

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Saturday, November 8, 2014 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Overall, I suspect we collectively underestimated the importance of visual control. Back in the day, many of the questions I remember from Toyota sensei where about: is this situation normal or abnormal? How can we tell?

As a movement, I believe we have correctly spotted the emphasis on problem solving, but maybe not so much problem finding and problem facing – what Tracey told me Toyota calls problem awareness: how can we see we have a problem?

Visual control should probably be called visual autocontrol – visual signs so that all team members can see at one glance whether they’re doing ok or whether there’s trouble./ Doing ok in terms of:
1. Quality: the purpose of the work is satisfying customers so how can we tell at one glance whether the work is good or not? In the plant that would be red bins to start with, then visual autocontrol circuit for every part and a visualization of boundary conditions
2. Safety: are we working safely right now? This is a difficult one to visualize beyond wearing safety protections and is all about teaching the right work habits. Clever visuals will help, but are not easy to draw.
3. Pace: are we ahead or late? Production analysis boards help team members to see whether they’re with the plan or not. Kanban cards show how far we are from takt time and so on.
4. Flow: is the work flowing well enough? Are we maintaining standardized work? 5S, for instance, is a great method to visualize the physical layout needed to flow seamlessly. Every spot for every object should be visualized to see at one glance whether things are ok or not.
5. Problem solving: the flow of problems can be visually controlled as well by highlighting indicators, key problems and in-depth analysis and so on.
6. Kaizen: operator kaizens can be painted a different color to visualize how much input people have on their own lines, or visualizing the suggestion of the month and so on. Kaizen are painted green on this line:

Capture d’écran 2014-11-08 à 09.58.09
Visual control, as I understand it, is well, control and owned by the people themselves. They use it to see how well they’re doing and self-correct if they can or call out for management support.

Visual management is a looser word which I take to mean the system of visual control, the sum of the visual control points – which would include anything from the andon to the hoshin kanri in the obeya. Visual management conveys the need for management to step in when something is not right and challenge and support the problem solving:
Capture d’écran 2014-11-08 à 09.50.27

Visual control is an essential task for middle-management. One could argue the first responsibility of a group leader is to make sure the visual control is in place so that management can step in and point to specific problem solving tasks at all levels, from the team to the site manager.

Visual management as a system and visual control as specific techniques are both essential to practicing lean on the shop floor and reflect a look tradition of visualization which, it is clear now, we’re not sharing well enough or widely enough. Both visual management and visual control are essential elements of lean practice as a starting point to problem solving and the kaizen spirit.

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