Using Visual Communication for an Efficient Lean Management


Lean Management is a business management philosophy that is widely associated with management techniques and approaches focused on the main ultimate objective of creating value for a company through the elimination of waste.

This almost automatic association occurs mostly because Lean management is essentially applied to production processes. Lean Manufacturing has been perfecting and diversifying its processes, methodologies and tools since its origins. Actually, the origins of Lean thinking began on the manufacturing floor of Japanese automaker Toyota. Toyota developed a system of visual cues, decision-making practices, and guiding principles called the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS is generally regarded as the origin of all Lean thinking, and is still used widely today to guide modern Lean manufacturing practice.

Lean management tools have roots in Lean manufacturing, and were part of the Lean practice popularized by Toyota. But, truth is, they are just as applicable to modern-day knowledge work as they were to auto manufacturing in the early twentieth century.


What is Lean Thinking and Why is it So Important?

The two big pillars of Lean are “respect for people” and “continuous improvement”, both easy concepts to understand, but far harder to practice in our daily work. Lean is most effective when implemented holistically - when every member of the organization is practicing Lean thinking, and working together to grow in their practice of Lean, respecting each other and continuously improving their contribution for the whole.

Lean thinking is not some extremely hard to understand philosophy, or some modern trend that will pass eventually. When organisations and teams are struggling to stay fit and organised Lean management and a corporate Lean thinking are the key for achieving better processes, better performance, better people and results.  There are seven Lean principles that guide Lean thinking in businesses today:

  1. Optimize the Whole
  2. Eliminate Waste in all senses
  3. Create Knowledge
  4. Build Quality In
  5. Deliver Fast by Managing Flow
  6. Defer Commitment
  7. Respect People

This has to start from the top. In order to better understand problems or opportunities in the organization, leaders have go to the place where the work is being done. Showing respect for people by listening, guiding, and working with employees to find solutions and practicing continuous improvement by implementing and measuring the impact of those solutions. This way managers and leaders get information directly from the source. Rather than relying solely on reports, executive summaries, and other edited, condensed forms of information, Lean leaders engage with employees across their organizations to learn and become more informed decision makers. And Employees should also be encouraged to ask questions, reflect, and ask more questions until they fully understand a problem. They need to approach leadership with a student mentality seeking first to understand, then help guiding teams towards sustainable solutions.

Commitment has to be deferred. Lean managers and leaders often use an interesting practice taken from Lean manufacturing, called  “stopping the line.”, in which an assembly line would halt production to resolve an issue, no matter how small. Stopping the line holds everyone on the assembly line (or in the value stream) accountable for delivering a consistently high-quality product. Lean leaders need to create an environment in which “stop the line” issues are treated seriously, immediately, and with respect, so that everyone feels safe to address issues as they arise.

Lean is eliminating waste. And waste in knowledge work is anything that doesn’t bring value to the customer. One of the most impactful ways Lean leaders can eliminate waste in their organizations is by focusing on limiting how much work is in process at any given time. No one can work efficiently when managing dozens of projects simultaneously. Understanding how much work is in process is one of the key Lean management tools. To limit the number of initiatives in progress and for an efficient management of these, teams and leaders need to visualize it and have a clear idea of every projects’ status.

Lean Management should be a flow, an interruption free process that is continuously flow. In order to improve efficiency and quality, Lean Management is also about implementing a company culture that supports the concept of continuous improvement and is continuously looking to eliminate any waste of time, effort or money by identifying each step in a business process.


Why is Visual Communication Critical for Lean Management

Effective Visual Communication is crucial when following a lean approach. Visual management plays a big role in engaging staff and creating a real culture of clear team communication and improvement. This kind of management tries to improve a corporate performance through connecting vision, values, goals and culture with other work management systems and elements. This is why the use of dashboards, charts and data control tables is relevant to share information and to help employees understand how the work process is moving, to discover what should or should not be done and what issues need to be addressed.

Every business that relies in the efficiency of its manufacturing processes people and facilities knows the importance of adopting a Lean Manufacturing approach to achieve the ultimate goal of providing perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process with zero waste. It is known that one of the primary causes of waste is information deficits – employees simply lack the knowledge they need to do their jobs efficiently.


Visual Communication is key when it comes to applying your Lean efforts efficiently. A continuously improving work environment is a constantly changing one. In a visual workplace, visual devices are positioned at its point of use, purpose and sense giving employees instant access to the critical information they need at the right place and time. That is why Gwendolyn Galsworth, phd, recognized as the world’s leading visual workplace expert, has been implementing visual thinking for over 30 years in some of the world’s best and most complex companies. A hands-on implementer, she coaches, investigates, and writes books focused on codifying the visual workplace—its concepts, principles, and technologies—into a single, coherent sustainable framework of knowledge and know-how. In her own words, “a visual workplace is a self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating and self-improving environment.”

Visual communication can be an essential lean tool to create a leaner organization, when applied intelligently. If you can’t see something, you can’t learn about it. Whether it is a process, data or anything else the best way to learn about it is to make it visual and clear in the exact spot and time it is needed.

One of the primary reasons plants around the world have implemented a visual workplace is because of the benefits it offers for knowledge acquisition among employees. As you know, employees tend to learn by seeing, workplace visual info can play an important role in job training. Visual aids make it easier for employees to do their jobs and get their tasks done on time, with fewer mistakes and less stress. Visual lean systems provide critical information exactly when and where you need it. It reinforces standards and highlights abnormalities. Viscom solutions - Kanban or operations management whiteboards, displays and signage systems ensure Lean improvements remain clearly visible, readily understood and prevent employees from reverting to old habits. Since Lean is also all about continuous improvement, the viscom solutions you choose should be easy to update, to clean and change place adapting perfectly to the constantly changing, demanding and harshness of all industrial settings.


Summing up, Lean Management promotes team efficiency and shared responsibility, it is about people, methods, workflow and experimentation systems to keep on finding and implementing continuous improvements. The main goal of Lean Management is to continuously enhance productivity, efficiency and safety through important and continuous small changes. Small changes for big results. And for a better understanding and tracking of all lean initiatives and small step by step improvements, it is crucial that they are communicated clearly, exactly where they ought to make a difference, and that they can be visualized by all. So ultimately, visual efficiency is key for reducing costs, improving quality, growing profits and creating a shorter path for a business continuous success.

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