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Last updated: 28.11.18

What is the Purpose of Visual Management?

Visual management (often also known as and related to visual control) is a principle that you may well not be familiar with, or even have heard of before, but it is nonetheless a particularly useful concept that can bring various benefits to the workplace. In this article, we’re going to explain exactly what it means, how it can benefit business, and go through some examples of where you might find it.

What is visual management?

In short, visual management is a principle that says we as humans are much better at reading and interpreting visual cues than anything else. While we may have developed language and writing as a powerful tool of communication, it’s not the only method of quickly conveying information. Once we understand this, we can see how there might be opportunities to make workplace productivity better.

Visual cues can be anything at all - from colours to shapes and symbols. The key is that they should be very quick to understand, and if at all possible, a person should be able to glean information from them without already having prior understanding of what they’re looking at. For example, we already associate red with danger, and green with something that’s good, or correct. Warning triangles with exclamation marks, and green crossing men are examples of this working in the real world. Even when we use highlighter pens, we’re using a form of visual management.

Why is Visual Management important?

It’s clear, that visual management is something that’s used every single day in almost all workplaces in the world. It’s just not necessarily something that you might have thought specifically about before. This does mean that it could be a very powerful tool indeed, and that implementing it in the right way could boost all manner of workplace metrics.

By communicating information more quickly, processes can be made swifter. Workplace productivity is all about getting things done correctly, as quickly as possible, and with the least amount of waste. Visual management can really help ensure that this happens, by making peoples’ jobs much easier. Rather than spending time reading or otherwise trying to interpret a task, visual cues help people understand what they’re looking at and get things done more quickly.

How does it work in practice?

To fully understand visual management, we think it would be helpful to go through a few examples of scenarios that might incorporate the principle, and how this might be better than other forms of communication. Otherwise, it can be tricky to see how visual management improves efficiencies. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

Visual management can be really simple, and it’s something that many of the world’s leading brands will use as a core piece of their efficiency strategies. If you think about the fast food chains for instance, such as McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC, you’ll realise that much of their business success is built on being really efficient in the kitchen. Without this, it wouldn’t be fast food. As a result, many visual cues will be used to help make things better. When preparing food items for example, very clear instructions will be present at all times, that show exactly what might go into a particular burger. These pictorial instructions will be so simple, that in theory anyone would be able to understand what they meant, without having had any prior training. They’ll also ensure the product is uniform in all franchises.

Visual management can also be used as a way of communicating standards, expectations and performance. Many companies will use display boards that showcase how the business is performing, and clear charts and colourful numbers will show this. These are far better than an email report at quickly conveying the current position of the business, because they are easily digestible and easy to understand - even if an employee isn’t already keenly aware of the KPIs that the business uses.

If you’re looking to incorporate the principles of visual management within your own business or organisation, then consider taking the Virtual College course on the subject, which is designed to help streamline processes. This course is just one in a series we offer on leadership and management skills.

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