Visual Management Guide

Step-by-step instructions on how to implement visual management

Why is visual management important?

Visual management is a key part of the daily management cycle on the shop floor. Standards on the shop floor define how we should be operating.


In the practice of Lean and Six Sigma, Gemba walk means taking the time to watch how a process is done and talking with those who do the job.

Visual management tells us immediately if (and where) we deviate from standards so we can react immediately to abnormalities, either through Just Do It (JDI) obvious solutions, or through structured problem-solving using a Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) framework.


What is visual management?

Visual management is anything that lets people immediately know if they are deviating from a standard.


Can be Visual: Normal? Abnormal? …or through any of our senses:

  • Auditory signal from a machine informs maintenance that they’re needed.
  • Rumble strips inform drivers through vibrations and sound they’re headed off the road.
  • Odor is added to otherwise odorless and colorless gas to alert us of leaks.


Three characteristics of Visual Management

  • Intuitive: Anybody can tell at a glance if the situation is normal or not.
  • Immediate: Ideally provides information in real-time, worse-case hourly.
  • Helps us make decisions: If visual management does not produce action, it is useless.


Examples of visual management


Hour-by-hour board

  • Indicates with red/green how we are doing on an hourly basis (black = plan)
  • Red number requires an explanation
  • Forms the basis for daily management.
     hour by hour board with red and green text to indicate progress towards goal, with red numbers requiring an explanation


FIFO zone markers

  • Real time visualization of the buffer between two process steps (here with kanban cards = work orders)
  • If the two processes are not synchronized, it will show as too many or not enough cards
    If the two processes are not synchronized, it will show as too many or not enough kanban cards



  • Indicates status of work stations, based on operators pulling the “andon cord” to signal a problem.
    Andon light Indicates status of work stations, based on operators pulling the “andon cord” to signal a problem


How to get started with visual management procedures


1: Decide where to start 

It could be the line with the most quality or performance issues, for example.


Don’t implement visual management everywhere at once! Remember that it is meant to produce action, and therefore consumes management and problem-solving resources.


Take the area’s motivation level into account. It’s better to start with a team who’s enthusiastic and energetic about improving things, than with a passive or negative team.  


2: Implement the hour-by-hour board

You will need the following data to run a HBH Board:

  • Product ID
  • Planned volume per hour–this should come from your Standardized Work documents (entered at start of shift by Team Lead or supervisor)
  • Actual volume (entered by the operators or team lead at the top of the hour)
  • Actual defective or reworked units (entered by operators/TL every hour)
  • Actual downtime (entered by operators/TL as it occurs)


3: Place boards strategically

Each board has a cost, since it must be filled in and reviewed every hour. For short lines and production cells, place the board at the end, to capture the output of the line or cell. For processes that are scattered in multiple locations, consider instead placing the board at the bottleneck machine or where the biggest problems are. Then move the board elsewhere as the issues get resolved.


4: Be crystal clear

Be crystal clear about who fills in what on the board, and how the numbers are defined (e.g. does the production volume include defectives? Our answer is “no”).


5: Create an action board

Alongside the HBH Board is a whiteboard or flipchart: the Action Board. The board is a way to put in writing the problems we are encountering, which should trigger some very concrete problem-solving.


6: Train all operators across all shifts

Explain that this is aimed at doing something about the everyday obstacles they encounter. 

It’s not aimed at individuals (we track the process, not the people).

In practice, the pressure is more on the managers than on the operators. 


7: Use an auditory signal

Consider using an auditory signal at the top of every hour for the first few weeks.


8: Review the boards every hour

Team Lead or supervisor reviews every board in their area.

  • If green, quickly congratulate and encourage the team
  • If red, try to understand the situation from observation and the comments

In some cases, what needs to be done is obvious – a JDI (Just Do It). In other cases, you need to talk with the appropriate person. Formulate a hypothesis about what happened and take action to confirm or invalidate it.

Write the hypothesis and action on the action board. You will track results and try to solve the problem here.


9: Triage problems into either JDI or PDCA

If the problem is too complex for rapid solving (i.e. can’t be solved in less than 2 hours), enter it in the PDCA Buffer List board. This board is located where the daily accountability meetings take place (see next point). The top three priorities in the list are regularly updated.


PDCA Buffer list


10: Hold daily accountability meetings

Every morning a Daily Accountability Meeting is held, using an Area board and Action/PDCA Board.

area board and action boards located in where daily accountability meeting held with site manager and quality manager to manage and launch new PDCA's

Stand-up meetings should be no more than 15 minutes long. The purpose is to manage PDCAs by tracking advancement, escalating issues, and launching new PDCAs.


The daily standup meeting participants should include:

  • site manager
  • quality
  • engineering
  • shipping
  • maintenance
  • EHS
  • area supervisor


The reason for the buffer list is to set a maximum number of active actions to avoid overloading the system. Move items from the buffer to the active board when an issue is resolved.

reason for  buffer list is to set maximum number of active actions to avoid overloading the system.

Items that cannot be resolved at the daily meeting (e.g., require a kaizen team or a project team) get escalated to the leadership team. 


What’s next?

Continue adding visual management tools. Each one is going to make life easier! You can get creative, as the examples below illustrate.

This example shows how 5S is a visual management tool that lets you know something is missing or doesn’t belong here:

two story cart in bathroom with cleaning materials with Japanese lettering, and labels to indicate proper location of each item

This simple hack makes it easy to see if a folder is missing or in the wrong place:

red and green books on shelf organized using 5s visual management system

In this example, when you're down to the red zone, it's time to order a new roll:

roll of bubble wrap with red markings on roll mount to indicate when it is time to re-order, 5s visual management

Here, you can see that something is wrong if the pressure indicator is outside the green zone:

you can see that something is wrong with the pump if the pressure indicator is outside the green zone:

This "visual kanban" show the team what to produce next:

This "visual kanban" show the team what to produce next

In this example, green is OK, yellow means you need to investigate, and red means stop:

green is OK, yellow means you need to investigate, and red means stop 5S visual management



Need help implementing Visual Management? Contact the Lean Center of Excellence!

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