This is an excerpt from The Simple Leader: Personal and Professional Leadership at the Nexus of Lean and Zen
Make your workplace into showcase that can be understood by everyone at a glance.
– Taiichi Ohno
We’ve all heard the phrase that a picture is worth a thousand words. There’s actually a scientific rationale for that: the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than written information. Almost half of the nerve fibers in the brain are linked to the retina and ninety percent of the information processed by the brain is visual. As such, when running an organization, it makes much more sense to visit the gemba and see what is happening there than to sit in an office reading reports about it.
Two core concepts of Lean are removing waste and showing respect for people. Managing your workplace more visually helps with both. By making information visual and public, you convey information more quickly and efficiently. You also show respect for people by clearly communicating the status and expectations of the organization to them. With effective visual management, all employees can align their actions to the goals of the organization.
As Taiichi Ohno said (see quote above), the goal of visual management is to convey the status of the organization at a glance. This can be done in various ways, including posting A3 reports on strategies and projects, metrics boards, production schedule boards, shadow boards for tools, kamishibai boards, and kanban. In Lean operations, you will see andons, which are visual status indicators such as red/green lights on machines, and there will often be markings on the floor to indicate the correct location of equipment and supplies.
Many Lean organizations also have an obeya, a single room that has the key visual management and control charts for the organization. (Note: the obeya is not a “war room!”) To respect people, it should be open and accessible to as many employees as possible. In my last company, a wide section of the main hallway effectively served as an obeya, The hallway was also where we held our daily executive standup meeting. The meeting, and the information on the wall, were open to everyone, so that anyone passing through the hall could quickly check the status of the company without having to sit down and read through a long report. This allowed us to leverage the capacity of the human brain to process visual information, reduce waste, and show more respect for our employees