Visual Management

In the organizational world Visual Management is a management system that attempts to improve organizational performance through connecting and aligning organizational vision, core values, goals and culture with other management systems, work processes, workplace elements, and stakeholders, by means of stimuli, which directly address one or more of the five human senses (sight, hearing, feeling, smell and taste). These stimuli communicate quality information (necessary, relevant, correct, immediate, easy to-understand and stimulating), which helps people make sense of the organizational context at a glance by merely looking around. It is a management approach that utilizes either one or more of information giving, signaling, limiting or guaranteeing (mistake-proofing/ poka-yoke) visual devices to communicate with “doers”, so that places become self-explanatory, self-ordering, self-regulating and self-improving.

FunctionDefinitionReplaces the Practice of
TransparencyThe ability of a process (or its parts) to communicate with people through organizational and physical means, measurements, and public display of information

Transparency stimulates people to move outside the confines of particular job responsibilities and to see the larger scale of their work
Information held in people‟s minds and on the shelves.
DisciplineMaking a habit of properly maintaining correct procedures by transforming the abstract concept of discipline into directly observable concrete practices

Address the six basic questions (the what, the where, the who, the how, the how many and the when)
Warning, scolding, inflicting punishments, dismissing etc.
Continuous ImprovementFocused and sustained incremental innovation

Makes organizational learning visual with high ability to respond to people’s ideas
Static organizations or big improvement leaps through considerable investment.
Job FacilitationConscious attempt to physically and/or mentally ease people’s efforts on routine, already known tasks, by offering various visual aidsExpecting people to perform well at their jobs without providing them any aids.
On-the-Job TrainingLearning from experience or integrating working with learning.Conventional training practices or offering no training.
Creating Shared OwnershipA feeling of possessiveness and being psychologically tied to the objectivesManagement dictation for change efforts, vision and culture creation.
Management by FactsUse of facts and data based on statisticsManagement by subjective judgement or vague terms.
SimplificationConstant efforts on monitoring, processing, visualizing and distributing system wide information for individuals and teamsExpecting people to monitor, process and understand the complex system wide information on their own.
UnificationPartly removing the boundaries and creating empathy within an organization through effective information sharingFragmentation or “this is not my job” behavior
The functions of Visual Management

Bystander Effect, Open Communication a​nd Quality Culture

Our research suggests that the bystander effect can be real and strong in organizations, especially when problems linger out in the open to everyone’s knowledge. 

Insiya Hussain and Subra Tangirala (January 2019) “Why Open Secrets Exist in Organizations” Harvard Business Review

The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. When individuals relinquish responsibility for addressing a problem, the potential negative outcomes are wide-ranging. While a great deal of the research focuses on helping victims, the overcoming the bystander effect is very relevant to building a quality culture.

The literature on this often follows after social psychologists John M. Darley and Bibb Latané who identified the concept in the late ’60s. They defined five characteristics bystanders go through:

  1. Notice that something is going on
  2. Interpret the situation as being an emergency
  3. Degree of responsibility felt
  4. Form of assistance
  5. Implement the action choice

This is very similar to the 5 Cs of trouble-shooting: Concern (Notice), Cause (Interpret), Countermeasure (Form of Assistance and Implement), Check results.

What is critical here is that degree of responsibility felt. Without it we see people looking at a problem and shrugging, and then the problem goes on and on. It is also possible for people to just be so busy that the degree of responsibility is felt to the wrong aspect, such as “get the task done” or “do not slow down operations” and it leads to the wrong form of assistance – the wrong troubleshooting.

When building a quality culture, and making sure troubleshooting is an ingrained activity, it is important to work with employees so they understand that their voices are not redundant and that they need to share their opinions even if others have the same information. As the HBR article says: “If you see something, say something (even if others see the same thing).”

Building a quality culture is all about building norms which encourage detection of potential threats or problems and norms which encouraged improvements and innovation.