What is visual management?

Visual management is a way in which teams, companies, and so on, use visual aids – things like diagrams, pictures, charts, and graphs - to communicate information. Presenting information in a visual format can often help people understand complex ideas more easily. It is also used as a means to track progress and identify trends and patterns. According to 3M research, visual aids have been found to improve learning by up to 400%. And apparently, we can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text!

Then, no wonder that visual management can be an effective tool in helping improve teamwork in the workplace. It can be useful for allowing people to see how their work is progressing, as well as giving them a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities they and others have. It can offer more transparency and accountability, and this can often help teams work better and more effectively together.

Imagine two organizations that do the same thing. One has a culture of transparency and accountability, which encourages the sharing of information that is visible to everyone. The other has a culture where there is less visibility, making it easier for people to hide problems or obscure the truth. Which organization do you think would have the better team players, collaborative skills and outcomes?

Visual management is a tool that can help encourage people to be open and honest and to work together to solve problems and improve performance. Not to mention, the more awareness you have of a situation, the earlier you have an opportunity to respond accordingly.

Who first introduced the concept of visual management?

Visual management has its roots in the Toyota Production System (TPS), that was developed between 1948 and 1975 by the car manufacturer to make their production lines more efficient. It is one of the foundational elements in a system that originated from the need to cope with a lack of resources after the Second World War. Reducing the amount of waste was essential, and the system also focuses on continuous improvement.

What does visual management mean in terms of teamwork?

Teamwork is one of the underlying principles for visual management and the Toyota Production System: without it the process falls down. The TPS ‘aims to generate the best environment where people can promote ideas and maximize human values’. It is seen as a methodology and mindset that has multiple business applications.

Where does visual management get used to increase productivity and creativity?

Visual management systems are used primarily to communicate information in a way that is immediately understood with little or no prior instruction. It was developed for use on production lines in factories, but its applications are widespread. Many organizations use visual management to share information and help ensure that standards are met, anomalies are spotted immediately, and so on.

So, in the example of the Toyota Production System, visual management is used to highlight problems, solve these problems, and look at what needs to be achieved. This might take the shape of a chart or a diagram – whatever best suits the circumstances – but it is designed to be visual and therefore much faster and easier to comprehend.

A car factory might have a progress board, for example, and this could take the form of an electronic display showing what has been produced versus expectations, or what stage of a process a particular part has reached. That way it is immediately obvious if the production line is behind or if something is being held up. At this point something can be done about it proactively, rather than waiting and hoping that everything is working smoothly.

Color-coded tags could indicate the status of different products or components, so it is quick and easy for employees to identify what is ready, or what is out of stock and needs reordering, for example. In other circumstances, charts and graphs could be used to track outcomes or employee performance, so that trends are easy to identify. Then data-driven decisions can be made and implemented more quickly.

Of course, visual management is not reserved for production lines, and it can be extremely useful for any team or project work. Visual management tools like online whiteboards are available for teams who are working collaboratively. They have many functionalities that can help improve teamwork and aid creativity and collaboration.

How does visual management help teams work better together?

A visual representation of the task at hand and what stage everyone is at can help teams understand what is expected of them and how the rest of the team are performing. This presents opportunities for team members to make amendments to how they or others are operating to increase productivity and creativity.

Imagine you are working on a project, and it is vital that all team members produce something by a certain deadline. You know what you have to do but are not sure who is in charge of other elements of the project, what they are, or who has done what so far. You know you will get your work done by the deadline but what about your other team members? And how will what they are doing slot into what you need to do? It’s all very well sending emails, but they can take time and brainpower to decipher in a structured way. Having a flow chart or a mind map, or some other visual element that shows who is doing what and how it all fits together, would make all these things immediately obvious. This means that visual management can also be highly beneficial for project management.

Any problems or issues are likely to become apparent far sooner: for example, instead of waiting until a deadline has passed for a specific element to be delivered and wondering why it has not been done, you could break the tasks down into visual steps. If you can see when each successive step has been completed it would soon become clear that someone is falling behind and is unlikely to make the deadline. Team members can step in sooner to either help or work out what the problem is and how to fix it.

In visual management, virtual whiteboards do not only need to be used for projects. They can also be useful for making sure that employees know they are valued: they can showcase progress and achievements, helping to build team morale and encourage continued engagement.

Why do virtual tools like online whiteboards make sense for visual management?

Virtual whiteboards are digital versions of traditional whiteboards. They allow teams to collaborate and share ideas in real-time, whether they are in the same room together or participating remotely in a workshop or meeting. They have many uses but are particularly well-adapted for visual management.

Online whiteboards give teams the functionality to create, organize, and share information visually. Unlike a traditional whiteboard, virtual whiteboards make it easy to add and rearrange content. Content can even include pictures, videos, and other interactive media. They make it easy for teams to see and then adapt to changing circumstances. They can help re-assign or prioritize tasks as necessary.  

Online whiteboards allow complex ideas and concepts to be communicated more simply and efficiently. For example, a customer journey can be mapped out visually, and pain points or potential issues highlighted.

Brainstorming sessions – valuable because they lend themselves so well to creativity and innovative thinking outside the box – can be easily done using a virtual whiteboard. Again, it is simple for everyone to see what is being suggested in real time, and each team member can contribute regardless of who or where they are.

When can virtual collaborative tools help with visual management?

There are various virtual tools that can be used by teams in meetings and workshops, as well as workplace training and development sessions, that help with visual management. They can also promote creativity and innovation. The suite of tools that are typically related to the design thinking process are very visual and can help with collaboration and teamwork.

When teams need to map out project plans, brainstorm ideas, or track progress it is a good idea to use visual management. In that way, ready-to-use templates for various activities are available to try with virtual whiteboards. They can be shared with remote team members, making them an ideal tool for hybrid and remote workers.

Online diagramming tools that are available in virtual whiteboards can be used to create flowcharts, diagrams, and other visual aids. This can be helpful for more complex processes and workflows and to communicate project requirements and expectations. Virtual project and document management tools can help teams manage projects, tasks, and resources.

How can visual management tools be used by teams?

Teams have many virtual tools at their disposal that can be used for collaboration and teamwork through visual management. There will be different times when different tools are useful, but here are some of the most popular visual management tools and the ways in which teams can use them:

Kanban boards

These are visual displays that use markers to represent work items in a project, and track progress. They tend to be used in manufacturing and software development companies, but they are easily adaptable. They give a visual representation of what work needs to be done in a project, what is in progress, and what is done – and who is responsible for the work. Kanban board templates can be used with virtual whiteboards.

Performance dashboards

These are interactive displays for showing key performance indicators (KPIs) in real time. They tend to be used in places like call centers and logistics operations: fast-paced environments where you need access to real-time data to make swift adaptations if necessary.

Documented processes

Teams can create visual documentation of standard work processes instead of or as well as written versions. This should give everyone a better and more immediate idea of what everyone does and how to do it. This is often necessary in manufacturing and healthcare environments but can be adapted to any type of work.

Visual collaborative tools

These can take many forms, from mind maps and customer personas to creative matrices and project flow charts.

Helping teams with collaboration and visual management tools

Visual management helps to improve teamwork by creating a shared understanding of goals and expectations. When people can see the work that they and other team members need to do and understand how it all fits into a bigger picture, they can prioritize their tasks more effectively and work together towards a common goal.

Visual management tools like Kanban boards and performance dashboards can help to create this shared understanding. They provide a clear visual representation of the work that needs to be done, and the progress that has been made. The culture of transparency and accountability that comes about from visual management is vital if teams are to thrive. And it can lead to greater creativity.

Collaboration and teamwork can improve with visual management as it helps communication and fosters an environment where people can work separately on their parts of a project but know how it all fits together. If everyone on the team has access to the same information, it can be easier to collaborate and share ideas.

Virtual whiteboards and other collaborative tools for visual management

Klaxoon has a sophisticated online whiteboard that will help your teams manage their work better, drive creativity and innovation, and use visual management tools to greater effect. Whether your teams are together in person, working remotely, or collaborating on a hybrid basis, a digital whiteboard and visual management tools help create engaging, interactive, and effective ways in which to work together and learn and develop new skills, products, and services.

Here at Klaxoon we have plenty of tools and resources that will help you build efficient teamwork and collaboration using visual management techniques. Why not check out our resources page for more ideas?

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