Apr 09 2013

When I worked at Toyota, we had lots of visual management, andon boards, and other signs & visual information all over the factory. There were some that were “pretty” and some that were not. There were no “standard, throughout the factory” boards that had been bought en masse to ensure they were all exactly the same. The intent was to provide information & enable easy management of various aspects of the work being undertaken. They were almost all created in-house, by the teams using them, with labels & white board tape. This ensured that if the board became obsolete, or if the team decided to manage the process differently or for whatever other reason the board needed to be changed, it could be done easily by the team.

As a consultant, I find myself having regular discussions with managers about spending a lot of money to ensure all the visual information & management boards (yes, there is a difference) are standard & look professional. To ensure that when the boss walks around (which in most cases isn’t often and definitely not often enough) things look like we are in control and that we are a professional outfit. Now I am not against the idea of looking professional and I have seen plenty of boards that could do with a revamp to make them look more professional, but there is no need, in my view, to spend several hundred or even thousand pounds to get custom designed & professionally fabricated white boards to display information or assist in managing the processes. And here’s why…

I couldn’t count the number of times I have rolled up into a business to see their information or management centre with a handful of boards that were made in this way (by some outside company laminating the design behind the film making a permanent layout) that were not being used the way they were intended. It usually doesn’t take long before  the business finds a better way to use them, or they realise there is information that they forgot to include or the process has moved to another unit, they have picked up other business & are using this board, for that process, etc.

The purpose of visual information & visual management is exactly that, it is not to display a “pretty” workplace where things look perfect. They are there to make things easier for people, provide information, not be a publicity package for the visiting big wigs. Sure, you may have customer visits, and again, I am not saying they do not need to look professional. There is nothing wrong with having a standard company logo sticker/decal that goes across the top or something similar. The layout though, needs to be flexible, lean is about flexibility, about improvement & about constantly updating things when better ways of working are discovered. Having a permanent layout on  a board means you either have to buy your boards often to replace the ones that are no longer fit for purpose, or you will use a board in a different way than you had intended. If you can change the layout, then great, if you can’t, you’ll actually look much less professional than you would have by developing them in house.

Save yourself some money, use stickers & white board tape and leave the design to the guys who use them. They don’t have to all be the same, that is taking standardisation to the extreme and it should never be dictated from above. If it requires several thousand pounds to update, and doesn’t allow for regular experimentation then you’re not getting the value you could out of your expenditure. It may look nice, but what value is it really adding?


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