The Main Components of an Effective Visual Management System

Visual Management
  • Also known as Visual Control. Visual Workplace, and Visual Factory.

    Visual management is a business management approach that communicates important information in a visual and real-time manner. It is a system of labels, signs, markings, information displays, and visual guides instead of written instructions. Lean organizations rely heavily on visual management to detect abnormalities, reinforce standards, and ensure stability and safety are maintained in the workplace. It is especially important during the early phase of Lean implementation.

    A good illustration of visual management are road signs, traffic lights and lane markers on the road. The messages they convey are so clear that when you see a traffic light for example, you know exactly what you should be doing. Research shows that people tend to learn and process information more visually. Our brains simply respond better and faster to colors, shapes, patterns, graphics and pictures. Just as road signs are easier to understand than written signs, workplace visuals are easier to understand than written instructions. Therefore, effective workplace visuals can have a positive impact on safety, productivity, quality, and on-time delivery.

    The aim of visual management is to enable anyone working in the workplace to be able to assess the current situation at a glance. This should bring the workplace to the point where all problems, abnormalities and waste to be immediately recognized. When problems and deviations are visible, immediate corrective action can be taken, and this will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the processes. Moreover, workplace visuals can play an important role in job training. Employees would need less supervision because they understand the standards, see the results, and know exactly what to do.

    Visual management includes a wide range of visual controls that help making all workplace elements and processes more visually apparent. Visual controls can be:

    1. Informative to show identity, directions, strategic goals, customer expectations and compliance requirements.
    2. Instructional to communicate SOPs, work-related information, and workplace organization and maintenance activities.
    3. Result-oriented to display the status of processes, projects, production, productivity and performance.
    Visual Management Types
    Many techniques and principles rely on visual management

    Safety Visuals

    Safety visuals are important to keep the facility safe and environmentally friendly. They play an important role in reducing injuries, incidents, near-misses and occupational diseases by reducing unsafe behaviors and conditions. It’s important to properly identify the locations of fire protection equipment, safety showers, eye wash stations, personal protective equipment, and first aid stations. Safety signs and markings often use bright coloring to attract attention.

    Safety visuals


    There are many types of signage that can be used within your facility. For example, wayfinding and directional signage help people find the way around and direct them from point to point within the facility. Warning signs, on the other hand, alert about certain activities such as do not enter and no-smoking signs.


    Proper marking of the different elements in the workplace is important to avoid mistakes and increase efficiency and safety. This involves marking of machines and production lines, marking of materials and finished goods, marking of offices, rooms, work cells and storage areas, marking of emergency lanes and exit routes, and marking of floors and pipelines.

    Machine Marking

    Floor marking is used to improve the layout of the workplace and mark critical safety and security areas. Pipe marking, on the other hand, communicates all the necessary information about the pipelines including the content, direction and flow rate. Arrows are used to indicate the flow direction while colors often indicate the nature of the content. You may also need to post the labels on the pipelines to provide more descriptive content.

    Floor Marking
    Floor Marking
    Pipe Marking
    Pipe marking – These colors are widely accepted and comply with international standards

    Posters and Banners

    Using of posters and banners can reinforce business goals and values, and promotes awareness of safety and wellbeing among employees.

    Work-Related Instructions and Standard Work

    A strong visual management system seeks to promote consistency and create process stability. Standard work visuals help minimize production errors and ensure activities are always performed by all in the most efficient and effective way. Visuals such as work-related instructions, process specifications, flowcharts, and standard operating procedures need to be posted at each machine or workstation where everyone can see it easily.

    Defect Detection
    Visuals of good and bad parts are used to improve defect detection

    Visual controls are often used in conjunction with color standards to enhance clarity and workplace communication. Remember also that the best visuals are those that include photos and drawings, and those that are placed at the point of need.


    The 5S methodology involves many visual management practices that can help creating a more organized workplace. For example, the second step of the 5S methodology ‘set-in-order’ promotes the use of colors and labels to clearly mark storage locations. 5S also promotes the use of many inventory management techniques to define inventory levels and reorder triggers. Posting photos about how an area should be organized to remind people of the standard is another example of using visual management to improve workplace organization.

    Mark storage locations


    TPM visuals can be effective in identifying and preventing abnormalities from turning into failures. Marking gauges, oil levels and lube points are examples of visual controls that enable employees to easily detect abnormalities and out-of-specification conditions. If something is not normal, we want to make that as apparent as possible. Another example is using colored sleeves to identify all the tools within a particular kit, team or area. This will help reducing the time spent looking for lost tools.

    Marking Gauges

    Area Information Boards

    An area information board is used to communicate operational status updates to ensure all employees are on the same page. Daily meetings can be conducted in front of the board to discuss the previous day’s issues and plan for the work ahead. These stand-up meetings can also be useful to facilitate handovers in multi-shift operations. All aspects of an operation can be discussed during these meetings, so information on boards should be fresh and up-to-date in order for the meetings to be effective.

    Area information boards need to be positioned in a central location where everyone can see it easily. They can be used to display the following:

    • Performance metrics.
    • Benchmark information, best practices, and lessons learned.
    • The status of improvement projects.
    • Kaizen progress and teamwork activities.
    • Operational records.
    • Other informative information such as announcements, news, events, process maps, policy changes, etc.
    Area Information Boards

    Performance Metrics

    A workplace without a display of performance metrics is like a car without a speedometer. You may know where you are going but you have no idea when you will reach your destination. Performance metrics should be displayed in a visually appealing way to allow people to get insight into how the operation is performing. Performance information should be meaningful, easy to understand, free of technical terms, accurate and up-to-date.

    Performance Metrics

    Real-time visual dashboards are used to improve production control. They make it easy to identify error conditions and allow to quickly respond to issues that would influence productivity.

    A workplace without a display of performance metrics is like a car without a speedometer. You may know where you are going but you have no idea when you will reach your destination. Performance metrics should be displayed in a visually appealing way to allow people to get insight into how the operation is performing. Performance information should be meaningful, easy to understand, free of technical terms, accurate and up-to-date.

    Production Summary Boards

    Production summary boards are used to monitor the output of an operation and see if it meets customer demand. They should be visible in the workplace, and everyone should be able to see where production stands. This allows production and maintenance teams to quickly resolve process issues that may occur during production.

    Andon Lights

    Andon lights are powerful visual tools which are installed on production machines to indicate their current status. Since they are visible from a distance, they are very useful in bringing immediate attention to problems as soon as they arise. For example, a light may turn on to indicate a shortage of raw materials, awaiting parts, or the need for maintenance. The Andon system can also include means to stop the process, so the issue get resolved.

    Andon Lights
    Each color in an Andon system represents a particular state of the machine

    The progress and effectiveness of the visual management system should be evaluated regularly. This can be achieved using a visual management audit checklist which will help detecting abnormalities, reinforcing standards, and ensuring stability and safety remain a top priority. It will enable the observer to better address compliance gaps and provides an opportunity for continuous improvement. It is important that top management and supervisors participate in these reviews as well. An effective audit should also end up with a list of improvement actions.

    Kamishibai Board

    A Kamishibai board is a visual management method that is used to manage routine activities in a workplace. It can be used to audit safety and security measures as well as to confirm that standard work is being undertaken by all employees. In its simplest form, it consists of a board and multiple cards that displays selected activities to be performed.

    Kamishibai Board

    Typically, each card is red on one side and green on the other to indicate whether the activity has been completed or not. Flipping over a tag from red to green indicates the activity has been performed.

    Kamishibai Board Example

    There are many tools that will help you to audit your visual controls. One of the simplest ways is to use this visual management audit checklist.

    Other Formats

    If you want to use the following three documents in your training courses, the PPTX versions are available to buy from our Shop page.

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