What you see is what you get

Walk into most any company, and the only signage you’ll see is the name of a department and the names of the people who work there. At the Master of Business Operational Excellence program, we teach our students that visuals can be used for much more, indicating the purpose for the existence of a department or a function within a company.

Drew Locher, Shingo Prize-winning author, recently shared with our MBOE students a quote while making a case for visual management. This comes from György Kepes, founder of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT:

“The visual language is capable of disseminating knowledge more effectively than almost any other vehicle of communication.  Visual Communication is universal and international; it knows no limits of tongue, vocabulary, or grammar.  Visual language can convey facts and ideas in a wider and deeper range than almost any other means of communication.”

Companies generally work in functional silos. Within the functional silos, many times people don’t know what their colleagues are working on and what the expectations are. People within the department know of their roles mostly from the job responsibilities they had read from the job posting and any projects that are thrown at them by the supervisor. The information lies within the heads of people.

How does visual management help? Locher says it helps once you understand the key elements of visual management:

  • What is the purpose or function of the area?
  • What activities are performed in the area?
  • How do people know what to do?
  • How do they know how to do it?
  • How do they know how they are doing?
  • What is done if expectations are not being met?
  • Last but not the least: How will we drive Continuous Improvement via visual management?

Organizations that care about operational excellence must care about these questions and think about simple and visual ways of conveying this information. Visual management aids in better use of the employee talent, builds in accountability, and leads to the right action when the visuals indicate so.

The idea is not to have just the visuals but a process to manage what you see in the visuals.

On their most recent visit to campus, our MBOE students also mastered the elusive solution to solve the Rubik’s cube puzzle. Executive-in-Residence and MBOE faculty member R. Gary Butler found an innovative way to help students learn the principles of standardized work and training within industry and apply it to the process of solving the puzzle.

Students were asked to first find the solution. They then created critical steps necessary to solve the puzzle and developed a simple process to train anyone who may have/have not solved the Rubik’s cube puzzle in the past. The group that developed the best method won a prize.

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