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LeanService Improvement

Visual Management in a COVID 19 World

29 June 2020

I’ve written before about how committing to Lean Thinking can be quite a painful endeavour.  Constantly seeking out improvements can be quite lonely, unwittingly alienating colleagues wherever you go. There are moments of joy however. I had one a few weeks into lockdown where, on one of our now regular zoom catch ups, I was told by a member of the Exec. Ed. team that they were, and I quote “missing our whiteboards” so they set about recreating them in Excel so that we could keep track of where we were and we could all see where we were, digitally.  

I might be wrong, but when I first said that we needed to get all of our events and programmes up on whiteboards a couple of years ago I detected a soupçon of skepticism.  Creating visual systems can feel like yet ‘another thing to do’ but the whole point of visual management is that creating and maintaining them should actually make things easier.  

This is the only picture I have on my phone of an Exec Ed whiteboard unfortunately. It’s not the most important one we have. This one is mainly about course codes for finance. Anna was impressed though – “Anna wants to go to work with you Mummy!”

When helping organisations to embrace visual management I say that good visual management needs to pass the S.U.S. test. 

1. Is it Simple?  

Visual Management in itself is a kind of language and too often people get a bit too enthusiastic and jump to speaking fluent Swedish rather than sticking to some simple building blocks of communication.  The best visual management can be interpreted by anyone who attempts to interact with it.   

2. Is it Useful?

Whatever visual management you create, it needs to provide some kind of purpose. It should make your working life better and easier. A good test here is to ask the question ‘would you like to go back to how it was before’? If the answer is, yeah, no problem, then the visual management isn’t helping you enough to ask you to maintain its creation and use. 

3. Is it Socialised?

As useful as good visual management can be, if you don’t regularly interact with it then you’ll get distracted and you’ll forget its value. You can socialize visual management in a weekly team meeting, a daily stand up or even just as you make decisions day to day.  If you don’t come together to think about what the visual management is showing you, again, it’ll just fade into the background and be overtaken by other more important tasks. 

So we’ve replaced the lovely whiteboards (complete with magnetic black strips which delineate between our activities – another idea from the team, nothing to do with me!) with Excel. It does the same thing, in a more compact and portable way. Whereas before we needed 4 walls, now we need one document with four sheets. We can fit more detail on the spreadsheet and of course, new joys of ‘copy and paste’ and clickable links, have now been opened up to us. 

Stop the press, Sarah and her team seem to have discovered ‘A SPREADSHEET’! I hear you mockingly cry …. we knew what those were guys, we just used to be in a room together and chat through things as they came up, adding new activities to the boards, checking for clashes and whether we’d done everything we needed to do. So yes, it seems that this package called “Excel” can do the same job.

I miss the boards though, the tactile and tangible WIPE of an event concluding or a programme closing. ‘Hiding a row’ doesn’t offer the same dramatic flourish.  I crave closure. Our shared spreadsheet is simple, useful and is socialized via our now bi-weekly Exec. Ed. virtual meetings however.

So a win for visual management in the digital Executive Education world but what of other lean tools?  The more I understand lean, the more I appreciate quite how visual a methodology it really is. A lean specialist, perhaps unknowingly, trains their brain to think of visual ways of expressing problems and visual ways of solving them. It asks teams to come together to examine the work they have done and the work that they have yet to do, visually. The post it note is our best friend! Where do those little sticky squares find themselves now then eh?! I think of them, alone, in a dark cupboard, in a deserted Post Graduate Teaching Centre, abandoned at speed mid-March. Do they miss me? Will we ever work together again?

I haven’t had cause to create any maps from my bedroom slash office yet, but I wonder how it will go? What digital tools will replace our little, hideously expensive and environmentally unfriendly pals? Microsoft Mural looks interesting and like most things these days, can probably be shared by all in the cloud whilst being completely zoomable.  Mastering Mural is my next learning challenge.  I’m interested to know though, have you attempted any mapping workshops remotely? How did they go? Will we ever need to reach for a post it again? *sniff!* I miss those guys.


  1. Laura McAuley

    Hi Sarah, We’ve hosted a number of of workshops using digital process mapping tools but also inventive ways in O365 which has whiteboard facilities and using planner as a way to affinitise ideas, we have been hosting knowledge sharing sessions to socialise ways of working, I’d love to have you along to our next one where we are presenting some O365 whiteboard mapping tools. Let me know if this would be useful and I can forward on the invite


    • Sarah Lethbridge

      Great! Would love to join and see – thanks so much – please do send!

  2. Nicola Bateman

    I’ve been using Murel to manage my processes -it replaces my white board at work quite well and I can share with others – but I wish I did not need to go through a website and had it as a “live” background for my laptop. Happy to send pics


  3. Pranay Mantri

    We really appreciate your concept regarding Visual Management. We also have developed a unique methodology called as Facility Visual Management (FVM) where all the visual tools like Safety Signage’s, Safety Posters, Safety Informative Charts, Area Identification Boards, Informative Boards, Compliance Boards(Policies, Work Instructions, Standard Operating Procedure – SOP’S), Evacuation plans, Environment Safety Boards, Value Added Products like Floor Tapes, Floor Markings etc. are covered effectively.
    Have a look at our unique concept and work on Visual Management that has helped many Indian industries.

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