Hold the Onions – Visual Management


Hold the Onions – Visual Management

Operational excellence often looks very simple. Great work designs and visual factories may not seem all that impressive to the casual observer. But when well-defined processes run smoothly, without interjection from supervision or management, it is because the hard work of creating a great work design was done in advance.

Great organizations work hard to create simple visual cues to communicate information without saying a word. And they make it almost impossible to misunderstand.

Hold the Onions

A small sandwich shop that sits one block down the street from a multi-million-dollar manufacturing facility uses the same advanced visual controls to run its operation as the publicly traded company just up the street.

The order at the counter was “I’ll have a cheese steak on a hard roll, with pickles, extra sauce, and no onions.” The waitress walked from the customer to the bags of bread on the shelf near the grill. She pulled out a hard roll, placed it fourth in line on the grill table. She put one pickle on the end of the bun, a toothpick on the other end and a small stack of onions right in the center.

“Wait,” said the customer, “I said no onions.”  The cook looked over at the bun representing the order and said, “That’s what that means – no onions. Almost everyone wants onions, so we only put a few onions on the bun if you don’t want them – see,” he said, pointing to the onions as if it was obvious.

“What about the toothpick?” asked the humbled customer.

“Extra sauce”

Communicate clearly – use words if you have to

A well-designed process looks to the process itself to communicate information. Examples include staging material in a designated spot or using measurements on a loading table to indicate time remaining to process. Another example is the height of a saw blade or cones placed on material to indicate status, such as quality defects or ready for shipment. These types of visual cues speak volumes without words.

Suppose a lathe was used to remove the top layer of round ingots before they were sent to saw. The ingot being processed now would be on the lathe and the next job could be staged on a rack in a green box painted on the floor. The time remaining on the ingot that is being processed now could be determined by a pointer connected to the arm of the lathe indicating the depth. Maybe a chart of ingot diameters would estimate the remaining time given the depth. The finished ingot could be offloaded onto a colored rack indicating the next process.

The status of the lathe is obvious to anyone passing by. Do they have their next job?  How is the current job progressing? Where does the job completed go next? All these are answered without saying a word.

Help your organization think of their process like the sandwich shop. The cook and anyone watching knows the customer orders in sequence with specific models and options for a variety of finished products. No words are spoken – at least about the sandwiches anyway.

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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