Posts Tagged visual control

Balancing Two Types of Visual Controls within the Context of Lean Management

Some folks may wonder what the heck I mean by “two types.” Within the context of a lean management system, we can make the following distinction:

  1. Visual process performance (VPP). These are typically metric based visuals that provide users with meaningful insight into the health of the process or value stream. For example, we can easily relate to graphs that are displayed on tiered team meeting boards. These graphs, often categorized in people, quality, delivery, and cost-type buckets, trend and compare performance to targets. They help team members and leaders quickly identify and acknowledge performance gaps, which should naturally lead to root cause identification and implementation of effective countermeasures. But, VPP visuals are not limited to simply metrics. A classic example is a plan versus actual chart (a.k.a. production analysis board). It captures typically hour (or pitch), by hour (or pitch) planned production and compares it against actual performance for a given line or cell. The visual, as all good visuals, should be worker managed, and will reflect the reason for any substantive misses.
  2. Visual process adherence (VPA). Leader standard work requires leaders to assess both adherence to and the sufficiency of standard work. This is largely about PDCA’s sister, SDCA (standardize-do-check-adjust), and provides necessary insight into process and value stream health. So, what kind of visual controls are we talking about here? The examples are pretty far and wide – standard work sheets, standard work combination sheets, FIFO lanes (and the related max levels), shadow boards, supermarkets (and the related kanban cards, their flow, and the periodic supermarket re-sizing process), heijunka box (including, how it’s loaded and relieved), etc., etc.

Assuming that the notion of VPP and VPA is less than radical, why my concern about balance?

Because, frankly, I see so many folks who care somewhat (plus or minus) about VPP, but not a lick about VPA.

That’s illogical!

Effective lean leaders care deeply about what the process or value stream is producing from an output perspective (at least better, faster, and cheaper) AND how the process or value stream achieves (or doesn’t achieve) those results from a process perspective. In other words, lean practitioners want both…

…because they really, really NEED both.

Besides, how does one identify performance gaps and then not fix process!?!

We’ve probably all seen the following characterization, but it’s worth revisiting.

  • Good results, bad process means we probably just got lucky and the likelihood of repeating the good results is remote.
  • Bad results, bad process should be expected.
  • Good results, good process should be expected and all the more reason to ensure adherence to the good process(es).
  • Bad results, good process should be impossible…if the process was indeed good…and was followed rigorously. Further investigation is warranted in such a situation.

So, why would folks not seek the proper level of visual balance within their organization?

There are a few possible reasons why an organization is “performance heavy:”

  1. Developing good VPA visuals is hard work. For example, developing standard work sheets and standard work combination sheets for a number of different processes can be daunting.
  2. Checking on process adherence and sufficiency is hard work. Let’s face it, this is really auditing the system. This requires multiple levels of leadership to perform their leader standard work audits at regular intervals at the gemba and identify abnormalities (think 5 why’s) and sometimes have hard conversations with folks who don’t really like to adhere to standards, ever.
  3. The culture values outputs, not process. This is the realm of non-lean thinking hero cultures. You know, the “we don’t need no stinkin’ standard work, we have a bunch of super smart folks who will work a ton of overtime and pull a victory from the jaws of defeat…every month, or every project, forever.” Heck, why fix problems and keep them fixed with good standard work, when you can wrestle with the same ones, over and over again?

If the reasons are #1 and/or #2, it’s time to get busy. But, do it smartly via a pilot. Go narrow and deep. Learn and then expand. The results of VPP and VPA balance are within your reach.

If the reason is #3, there’s probably a need for some fundamental leadership education and alignment first.

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Plan Vs. Actual – The Swiss Army Knife of Charts, Lean Management Systems and Mysterious Performance Metrics

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What Happened to 5S’ Fourth S? Let’s Standardize! [Guest Post]

I’m admittedly a bit of a 5S curmudgeon. I blame it mostly on the fact that I have routinely witnessed well-applied 1S, 2S, and 3S, evaporate in the absence of any meaningful 4S. It’s like so much in lean, when we fail to understand that any technical change requires a management change, bad things happen.

In other words, the first 3S’s matter little if we don’t do some of the things that 4S requires – assigning 3S responsibilities, integrating 3S duties in regular work duties, and checking on 3S maintenance levels (not to mention preventing things from getting dirty in the first place). Here, our guest-blogger, Tony Ferraro, talks about another critical part of the fourth S – standardizing the lines, labels, shadows, presentation, etc. that was developed beforehand.


5S is one of the most effective tools within the realm of workplace organization. Since its inception, 5S has gained a loyal following in many different types of work environments. Companies that have truly embraced 5S enjoy high levels of organization and efficiency.

For those of you unfamiliar with 5S, it is an acronym used to describe five different, yet integrated practices that all begin with the letter S. They are as follows:  sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. It seems that most businesses engaged in the practice of 5S do a rather nice job implementing at least the first three S’s. However, the fourth S, standardize, consistently seems to lag in the background.

Why is this?

Is it that standardize is hard to implement? Misunderstood? Undervalued?

An Example – Standardize in an Auto Shop

Here’s a quick story about standardization, also known as standardized cleanup. The setting for this story is an auto shop.

Now, auto shops have a well-earned reputation for disorganization and uncleanliness. Originally, this one was no different.

The primary purpose of standardization is to ensure that work stations and equipment are set up in a similar manner, kept clean, and maintained in line with 3S responsibilities – including regular work duties and maintenance. For more information, please refer to Hirano’s book entitled “5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace.” One important goal is for associates to be able to walk up to any work station and locate any needed tool or item quickly and easily since all stations are consistently organized.

Our auto shop had made some great progress and had a good handle on the first three of the 5S’s but struggled with the fourth S. However, due to the individualized organization of tools and equipment, employees were unable to use different work stations to and perform the same high level of work efficiency.

In a nutshell, everyone had their station set-up differently according to their specific likes and dislikes. When other employees needed to use a different station, they would spend unnecessary time reorganizing the space and equipment to meet their needs. Some common problems included misplaced tools, disorganized workspaces, and overall losses in production time. The sad truth was that a lack of standardization was eroding the success achieved with the first three S’s.

Consistent with the notion of 5S, we employed a visual approach towards standardization. We gathered the employees and set-up the ideal, universal workstation by taking each employee’s opinions and thoughts into consideration. A photo of the pilot workstation was then posted at all of the other workstations.

Employees took ownership of the workstations by setting them up in the specific and uniform manner according to the agreed set-up and photo illustration. Foam tool organizers were extremely useful in the effort. The organizer helped to keep all tools presented similarly at each work station and then also made each employee accountable at the end of his or her shift to have all tools back in their predetermined locations. Just like the saying goes, every place has its tools and every tool has its place.

Don’t Overlook the Benefits of Standardization

Even though standardization may seem trivial, don’t underestimate how it can help create and help maintain an effective and efficient work space. Standardizing workspaces can help engage employees and create a universally organized and well understood workplace for all stakeholders. Please familiarize yourself with the fourth S and re-energize your 5S culture.

Antonio Ferraro, on behalf of Creative Safety Supply based in Portland, OR (, authored this guest post. Tony strives to provide helpful information to create safer and more efficient industrial work environments through 5S, six sigma, kaizen, and applying a lean mindset.

Related posts: Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes, Scrunchie Lean, Visual Controls, Spider-Man, and Do Hotel Chains Really Care About Saving the Planet?


Visuals and a Bit of Drama

Labels, lines, and shadows have little personality. Their job is largely around identification, location, and quantity.

Visual performance metrics provide insight into the health of a process or value stream by comparing actual performance versus target within the context of people, quality, delivery, and cost.

Andons are dynamic in nature. They visually (and often audibly) signal abnormal conditions and trigger problem-solving…or at least, most immediately, problem containment.

We could go on and on about the various types of visuals and visual management systems. Their job is to be self-explaining, typically worker-managed, self-correcting things that:

  • inform,
  • align,
  • highlight abnormal conditions,
  • prompt lean behaviors (including adherence), and
  • spur problem-solving.

It’s not often that someone comes up with a visual that one could characterize as dramatic or entertaining.

As far as I know, there are no rules against that! In fact, it can be a good thing relative to attention-getting, imparting a desired message, and fostering certain behavior(s).

A friend and colleague recently captured such a visual on camera while on the road (at least he wasn’t driving and texting!). As he stated in the email that had the following picture attached, “[n]o question here on the potential consequences of not following the standard while passing this guy.”

I can’t agree more. That, and the pun within the visual ain’t too bad, either.

What do you think?

Related posts: Another Classic Lean Question – “Do You See What I See?”Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, Airline Carrier’s Visual Management – Branding and LOL


Visual Controls, Spider-Man, and Do Hotel Chains Really Care About Saving the Planet?

In many ways, visual controls are a 24/7 mirror of leadership’s competency and credibility.

That’s pretty scary if you think about it.

It’s like voluntarily living in a fishbowl. Not that everyone truly understands the gravity of that.

It reminds me of the Spider-Man quote (allegedly borrowed from Voltaire or someone before him), “With great power comes great responsibility.”

So, with the application of visual controls comes great responsibility.

Effective visuals are a universal, self-explaining, unapologetic proclamation to anyone within eyesight and possession of some basic (lean) thinking, that this here, taken together as a system, is our current process health and level of process adherence and sufficiency. This is the established standard, providing insight into one or more of the what, why, where, when (timing, sequence, conditions), how much, how long, who, with whom, targets, and trends. It necessarily highlights the abnormal condition(s)…and prompts correction.

Of course, a lack of competency is belied by visual controls that are tool-driven. We’ve all seen the hodge-podge of stuff  – disconnected visuals that are not part of a system and not applied within the context of a lean management system.

Silly “eye candy.”

Or the visual that is not, as it’s supposed to be, worker-managed…and thus is not maintained, or not maintained consistently, or not maintained properly…and leadership doesn’t seem to care.

So, no one cares.

It may be because the visual control is not sufficient. Or it’s an adherence issue. Or both.  Or perhaps, when problems are identified, no one knows what to do next.

Problem-solving, anyone?

Either way, it turns out to be a leadership competency AND credibility thing.

Naked, for the world to see.

And, the world judges.

The world, whether it’s customers, community, associates, managers, or executives eventually come to a conclusion that lean doesn’t work, the company doesn’t care, leadership doesn’t know what they heck they’re doing, the folks don’t have any discipline, etc.

This leads me to the hotel towel thing.

I’m sure most folks who have stayed in a hotel have seen the rather ubiquitous sign or placard that says something about saving the planet. The verbiage, however clunky, seeks to appeal to our sense of social (and environmental) justice.

Yes, washing towels needlessly is MUDA!

So, I always hang them up after each use.

And, about 80% of the time, housekeeping takes the towel away (and presumably washes it)!

So, I judge the hotel and its leadership. They don’t care about saving the planet!

Make me cynical.

Not a very lean feeling.

Related posts: Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, Visual of the Visual?, Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes

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All I Really Need to Know about Lean I Learned at Waffle House [guest post]

Ok, so the title is a little overreaching, but so was, “All I really need to know about life I learned in kindergarten,” and that didn’t stop that email from being forwarded a few million times.

My learning experience began at about 4 a.m., while sitting at a Waffle House counter with my buddy. He was dozing in his seat.

No, we weren’t up early because we couldn’t wait to start the day’s kaizen. It was the weekend and we were at the end of our evening…but, I digress.

Sitting at the counter, I was unusually alert for the hour. My intensity came from a focus on getting some food into me.

The Waffle House had its usual pre-dawn crowd and the staff was seating tables as fast as they could clear the debris from the previous customers.

No sooner than I had given my order to the waitress, I heard her call it out to a cook who seemed to continuously throw food on the grill. He was in constant motion, never slowing down to ask for an order to be repeated.

I further noticed that the wait staff never gave the cook any written record of the order. Diners all have tickets on spinning wheels, right?! At least that’s the way they’re portrayed on TV.

And the cook never wrote anything down. Heck, he didn’t have any available time for writing.

“Oh great,” I thought, “I’m going to get something other than my precise culinary selection.”

Well, to my surprise, my plate showed up exactly as requested!

So, as I inhaled my meal, I watched the cook prepare 25-30 plates without once stopping to ask about an order. It was at this point that I began to seriously question whether or not I possessed the mental capacity necessary to be a successful Waffle House cook.

This sobering and burning question bothered me throughout the day. Now, no offense to Waffle House cooks, they’ve been very good to me over the years, but their pay grade doesn’t seem to square with super memory and perception powers…

Fast forward to the next week.  Still doubting that I would ever have the right stuff to be a Waffle House cook, I returned to the Waffle House to do what my sensei had taught me first – direct observation.

My direct observation was both fruitful and easy. Seems that the Waffle House employs quite a bit of standard work. It turned out, like with all good magic tricks, I had been fooled by watching all the motion (the cook) instead of what the assistant was doing. I found that the shukimi goes something like this:

  1. There are 3 operators working together – waitress, prep station operator, and cook.
  2. Upon taking an order, the waitress walks to a prescribed spot (there’s an X on the floor for good visual control) and calls the order out in a specific manner. This keeps multiple orders from being called at the same time and in fact is the single point for scheduling.
  3. Orders are called out one seat at a time regardless of the number of people at the table – single piece flow with 100% MTO as their finished goods strategy.
  4. As the waitress calls the orders, the cook grabs his tools (which are stored point of use with some good 5S) and pulls materials from his kanban (which has been stored with minimal packaging).
  5. While the cook is focused on getting the cooking started, it’s the prep station that is in fact capturing the details of the order. Here are some examples:
    1. One plate representing each order is queued up in order of receipt – FIFO
    2. “Kit” items are placed on the plate to indicate the specific details of the order. A jelly packet right side up means one type of toast while upside down means another.
    3. A single butter pack indicates one waffle, while two means two waffles.
    4. A single hash brown is laid on the plate in an orientation that indicates well done, smothered with onions, or some variety of ingredients.
    5. A slice of cheese on one side of the plate means hash browns scattered and covered. If the cheese has a different plate position, it calls for scrambled eggs with cheese.
    6. Plates are lined up on the buckboard until full. A full buckboard tells the waitress to stop calling orders for a few minutes and also tells the manager they may need a 2nd cook – a brilliantly simple application of visual management.
    7. The cook matches up the food on the grill with the order as defined by the visual on the plate. This drives standard presentation to the customer. Once completed, the cook signals for a pick-up. The waitress doesn’t need to ask which plates are complete as she can identify at a quick glance.

The Waffle House system is impressive in its simplicity and effectiveness. As for the writing-free environment, the cook can scan the plate line from a distance and understand requirements much more quickly that reading a written ticket. Bottom line, the Waffle House’s system eliminates a great deal of waste while expertly delivering on service level expectations.

While I am not likely to switch careers (though I am relieved that, if needed, I might be able to cut it as a cook), I do believe that there is an opportunity for Waffle House-like visual scheduling in many industries.

Just imagine if your operation’s make-to-order demand requirements could be flawlessly communicated throughout the value stream using only those items that are contained within the finished goods…like a home fry.

John Domagala authored this guest post. He has spent the last 25 working in manufacturing, most recently in the electronics industry. Trained as a Master Black Belt by GE and exposed to the Toyota Production System 8 years ago by Mr. Nakao, much of John’s focus is facilitating lean transformations.

Another related breakfast food post: Beyond Toast Kaizen – Lean Breakfast Concepts, Circa 1937 [guest post],


Lean Listening

image from Wikipedia

Lean transformations might be easier if we possessed some measure of the sixth sense – extrasensory perception (ESP).

Of course, (sort of) like in the 1999 psychological thriller film, The Sixth Sense, we might be inclined to whisper repeatedly that, “we see concrete heads.” You know, that lean euphemism for folks who obstinately resist good change.

But, I’m guessing that five senses are more than enough for effective lean living.

Let’s see, as characterized by Aristotle, there’s the sense of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Clearly, they are most powerful when working in concert.

That said, many lean practitioners are usually fixated on the first sense – sight.

We talk about eyes for waste, shiny eyes, direct observation, visual management, visual controls, and line of sight. We want the abnormal to be easily discernible…typically through drive-by visuals.

Yup, for good reason, we love the visual stuff.

Touch is clearly important around work and motion – selection, differentiation, orientation, etc. and for identification of abnormal conditions (i.e., excessive machine vibration, out of spec parts, feverish patients).

The sense of smell is often underrated.

Our olfactory senses are useful for detecting a host of abnormalities (not just smelly co-workers), especially when working with things like machinery (is there an electrical short or bearing issue?), curing cycles, reactions, or assessing the cleanliness of an area, etc.

Taste? Well, there must be some lean application somewhere. Any lean bakers, chefs, vinters, or brewers out there? Especially brewers.

This leaves us with the sense of hearing.

There are musical andons, buzzers, sirens, bells, etc. But there’s more, right?

Yes, how about the sound of an operation and its rhythm or lack thereof? Is it operating within a certain cadence? Is it running to takt? Is it not running? Is there idling?  Frequent starts and stops? Is the noise level uncomfortable?

How about when we get to the health of machinery, equipment, and people (as in harmony)?

Like a car, can we tell when it just doesn’t sound right?

Value stream analysis requires mapping the flow of material and information. The flow of information, or lack thereof, is often manifested in audible signals. What do they reveal? Where are the opportunities?

There’s more.

What about what your co-workers are saying? Can we pick up on the intentional and unintentional clues that our people regularly sprinkle within the spoken word?

These are clues that point to:

  • Unsurfaced or unaddressed improvement opportunities. There are a bunch of key words that can indicate that there is an improvement opportunity – “duplicated effort,” “tiresome,” “painful,” “boring,” “repeat,” “fix,” “complicated,” “confusing,” “only person ‘X’ can do it,” “again,” “still,” etc. The lean leader’s attentive ears for waste should pick up on these words and then launch into the 5 whys with the person who uttered the words.
  • Unmet challenges for critical thinking. Think of this as something initiated by someone who either wants their supervisor to: 1) give them an answer, 2) take the monkey (a.k.a. problem) on their back, or 3) leave them alone. The verbal cues include the, “So, then I should do [accompanied by silence and a plaintive look begging the supervisor to give the answer]?” or the explanation that they are meeting roadblocks, but seem committed or forced to keep doing the same thing (what’s the definition of insanity, again?). Good lean leaders will begin to attack this stuff with open-ended questions, such as, “Well, what do you think you should do?”, “What’s your strategy for attacking this?”, “Why would you think that?”, “How do you know?”, along with some good 5 whys.
  • Accountability gaps. Then there are the folks who love using vague words like “hope,” “think,” “try,” “keep,” mixed with other squishy non-commitment related words for when they hope, think, will try to do, keep doing, whatever they were talking about. For example, “I’ll keep trying that.” Huh??? Well, first of all, it sounds like there may be a problem, possibly accompanied by a lack of critical thinking. See above. Second of all, once we converge on the right plan of action, we’ve got to figure out when it will happen, what constitutes success, etc. Lean leaders facilitate and demand accountability.

While we must listen for such words, we must do so with the aid of our eyes to provide context and insight from the individual’s body language.

And, of course, we must be listening for what is NOT said. Again, this is a prime opportunity to strategically use open-ended questions like, “How do you feel about that?”, and “What do you see?” Once the words begin to flow, the lean leader can take it from there.

Just as we develop our eyes for waste, we must tune our ears for effective lean listening.


One last thing, according to Wikipedia, humans supposedly have at least five additional senses:  pain, balance, joint motion and acceleration, temperature differences, and direction.

I know I’ve had my share of lean-induced pain. But, as one man was wont to say (he was never at a loss for words), “Knowledge makes a bloody entrance.”

I’m hoping that in some strange calculus, I’m getting more knowledgeable every day.

Pass the band-aids.

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, 6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings

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Scrunchie Lean

I never anticipated posting something about scrunchies (you know the decorative pony tail holding device) or quoting Coco Chanel. But, here I am.

Heck, it’s Friday, why not share something light about lean?

Truth be told, I LOVE really simple and creative applications of lean. Even better when it’s the voluntary work of a relatively new lean convert, like my friend Lisa.

During a recent kaizen activity, I took notice (how could I not, it was visual…AND functional) of Lisa’s laptop power cord.

Take a look at the following pictures. Note the visual differentiation of her plugged in cord versus that of others. It can be a drag trying to figure out what plug goes with what laptop. Do I pull this one, or that one, or…?

And, then there’s the challenge of wrapping up and stowing your power core (and adapter), if you have had the misfortune of losing your velcro strip or rubber band thingy. The scrunchie is an excellent and visually differentiating replacement.

Now I am not saying that the scrunchie is for everyone. I, for one, would feel a bit self-conscious using one (in my insufficient hair or as a power cord accessory), but we can probably all agree with the late French fashion designer, Coco Chanel:

Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”

Related posts: Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes, Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining


Cutting Edge Visual (and Sensory) Control

This past weekend I made a quick visit to see my parents. It was my mom’s birthday and a great opportunity to share some time with my ailing father. And there was a glimpse of some domestic lean

I was grilling steak and grabbed a knife to check the center. Yes, I know real cooks don’t do that. I am not a real cook.

Anyway, as I picked up the knife by the handle, there was something poking my hand. It was a twist tie!

I gave my mother an incredulous look. She explained.

Seems my father tends to put the wood handled knives in the dishwasher. High temp water bath and wood – not a good combination. So, my mother slapped a twist tie on the knife to remind him that it is not a candidate for the dishwasher (unless he’s the dishwasher).

Now, I usually prefer a more self-explaining control, but the gemba-based population within my folks’ house is pretty small. Overall, inventive and a little bizarre.

Visual and tactile control – zero dollars. Time with my folks – priceless.

Related posts: Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings


Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining

I’ve driven past the building pictured below well over a dozen times. It appears commercial in nature, but with the lack of descriptive visual controls, I had no idea, until now, what it is.

Commercial signage typically provides folks with more insight into the name and type of business. The lack of ABC information was driving me a bit crazy…which of course made me think about the self-explaining attribute of effective visual controls.

Among other things, gemba-based observers should be able to understand, unassisted, what a given object, process or system is. If relevant, a visual control should also share the subject’s purpose, and related operating rules, including a definition of the normal condition (and often, what to do in response to an abnormal condition).

…Back to ABC. Turns out it’s a liquor store (a.k.a. “package store”). Seems that in North Carolina, the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Commission controls the sale of alcoholic beverages in the state. There’s a bunch of ABC stores throughout the state.

It certainly was not self-explaining.

How many mysterious ABC’s do you have in your plant, office, lab or hospital?

Related post: Visual of the Visual?


Airline Carrier’s Visual Management – Branding and LOL

Visual management is typically applied for the purpose of indicating process and system performance so that everyone can tell, at glance, whether the situation is normal or abnormal. Abnormalities should prompt an appropriate response.

Well, the low-cost South African airline Kulula, has taken a whimsical approach to visual controls. Actually, it’s a branding strategy with really nothing to do with lean thinking. But, it is pretty funny. Enjoy the pictures, below.