After the great feedback on our first two articles, on 5S and Process Mapping, we continue our series on “TLC’s Top Tools” with an article on Visual Management, one of the fundamental concepts underpinning Lean Thinking in the workplace. TLC’s MD, Tanya Hulse, shared her views on the topic of Visual Management at the Lean Forum held at the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business earlier this month. We spoke with Tanya to understand more about Visual Management and why this topic is a favourite of hers.

What is Visual Management?

Visual Management is a broad term referring to a range of mechanisms for displaying key operational information visually. As the old saying goes, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ Our brains are able to grasp and process information displayed visually, far more quickly than it takes to read written words that relay the same information. In a fast-paced environment where regular, up-to-date communication about key metrics or activities is crucial, Visual Management allows people and teams to collaborate and perform even complex tasks using simple, common-sense visual methods.

Typical examples include Visual Boards, Visual Controls, and on systems, and the like.

Why is this your top tool?

A tenet in Lean is ‘helping people to see’ – whether that is to see problems, or Waste, or opportunities for improvement. Many Lean tools arise from this basic philosophy. I like it because it is so fundamental, and because I love the ‘elegant simplicity’ that comes from effective application of this concept. It empowers the people who are doing the work with the means to keep track of it and deal with issues themselves. It creates a basis for better teamwork and shared problem-solving too.

The limits in Visual Management are your own creativity – if it’s not working, improve it until you can’t imagine doing your job without it!

When would you use this tool?

Anywhere that it will help teams to share or act on important information pertaining to the team’s daily outputs and deliverables. Examples include:

In TLC’s Lean FOCUS approach, Visual Management is part of the ‘toolkit’ when it comes to implementing sustainable solutions to maintain and manage improvements that have been identified.

What are the general steps to take when applying it?

As always – understand first what problem you’re trying to solve. Apply some structured root cause analysis and look for ways to eliminate defects or issues at source. Then seek out the key metrics or indicators you need to track, whether it’s to monitor performance or detect issues, as the case may be. Plan what is to be measured, how it will be measured, who will do it, how frequently, and how that will be recorded and shared. Involve team members in this, and remember the value of PDCA – Plan-Do-Check-Act; chances are that teams will see opportunities to improve and streamline their Visual Management activities as they start to work with it.

What advice would you give to others thinking about using it?

As with any Lean tool or concept, people will often embrace it (which is good), and then may try to apply it in isolation of the broader operational system (which isn’t so good). For example, the use of Visual Boards needs to be integrated with how the team communicates and reports back to each other and to support teams. This may be in meetings like shift handovers or production scheduling meetings, or during kaizen events for problem-solving. If it’s not used as an enabler for better performance, ideally as part of your ‘standard work’ routines, then it’s vanity at best. If your Visual Boards are not being used sustainably, this may be one of the reasons.

Another factor is rooted in an understanding of Change Management – you can get someone to design eye-catching Visual Boards, pre-printed with your company logo and colour scheme, and every metric you might want to track. This will make your factory meeting rooms look impressive for external visitors, but there’s a good chance that getting traction amongst the teams themselves will be an uphill battle.

However, if you rather start small, work closely with the teams to get buy-in, show the value, and coach and empower them to test and fine-tune what works for them, your chances of sustained success are much greater. It’s uncomfortable to see the messy initial versions with whiteboards and Prestik, and it may feel slow, but it will be worth the effort when you see the results!

Contact us if you’d like a copy of Tanya’s presentation from the PCB Lean Forum –

If you want to know more about how TLC could help you on your journey with Visual Management or any other Lean concepts, send us a mail on

Tanya is TLC’s Managing Director and has a strong track record spanning Brewing, Engineering, Capital Projects, Process Development and Innovation, Process Optimisation, Technical People Development, and in managing functional and technical line teams to deliver business results. Tanya brings a depth of knowledge and experience to the team and in supporting our clients to deliver sustainable results.