All the Lean Manufacturing tools are powerful drivers of waste reduction and improved efficiency. The third building block of Lean manufacturing is the Visual Management / Visual Control tool. These are two similar tools. Visual Management deals with historic data, team photographs, productivity, efficiency, quality that was produced last week, last month or last year. It is a reference for improvement.
Visual control is what I want to concentrate on in this article. Visual control is the ability to enable everyone in the workplace to see in clear, simple and visual form:
- Indicators of the current situation
- Identification of normal conditions
- Identification of abnormal conditions
- Identification of the correct countermeasure to resolve abnormal condition
There is no digging into computers to retrieve reports, no waiting until the following day for managers to discover that there was a problem in operations. The process indicates its current state via displays, read outs, clocks, andon boards and good old fashioned operator completed plan vs. actual reports.
This tool allows problems to be shown in real time that then permits the correct people to be informed to go to the operation and solve the problem.
The tool is simple to understand and can be simple to employ. However, it is little understood and little used. Operators are, initially afraid to use it because they are being “scrutinised” and they think that there is a problem with their performance. Supervisors, who are not people managers, are reluctant to manage the process because it makes operators do more work, that as described, they do not want to do. If there is a culture of “fads” then it will go away anyway!
The power of this tool when it stops becoming a tool and becomes the normal way to work makes the company agile. Operators become aware that it is not a stick to be beaten with, but a tool to ask for help with their process, that also includes their performance. Supervisors know that it is helping them achieve their targets if the operators are performing at the required rate. Managers are there to solve the problems that the supervisors cannot on their own. If the operation is running Just in Time (J.I.T.) anyway, there is no luxury of Work In Progress (W.I.P.) to hide the problem, they have to be solved quickly, even if that is in the middle of the night shift.
So this tool helps in attaining schedules, keeping up efficiencies (O.E.E.), problem solving and flow through the company. So why is it used so little? Is it the fact that we love technology and prefer reading reports on computers at our leisure or like I have described in an earlier article that managers and supervisors are in positions that they are not qualified to do or is it the fact that managers have not heard of the tool or do not understand the power of Visual Control?
Think about the benefits of using Visual Management / Visual Control in your company.