Principle 7: Visual Management In Lean | The 3 Second Rule

Visual Management

One of the principles we follow during all our consultancy sessions is what we call the 3-second rule. It’s simple – we ask:

Can I walk into any area and understand within 3-seconds how things are going?

Too often, it is impossible to walk into a manager office, a department, the team office, workshop or maintenance room and understand if the business area is doing well or not. There are often things on the wall, scribbles on the whiteboards or the windows, but often nothing which communicates the performance is and what are the key challenges and issues.

The issue is that problems remain hidden. Somewhere, someone has an incredible 10-page report hidden on their computer which they produced for the last team meeting. And what is out of sight is out of mind.

The 3 Second Rule is one of the principles practices of Visual Management in Lean.

The goal is twofold. Firstly, being able to visually communicate in 3 seconds performance requires a clarity of purpose, a simplification of goals, and a clear understanding of what is really important.

Secondly, it means that everyone in the team (and whoever visits the area from other teams or senior management) is completely aware of the performance, the issues the team is facing and the successes.


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Visual management in Lean


1) It is essential that visual management doesn’t become like wallpaper so identify for each team or process the top vital metrics and make those visible in the most straightforward way possible. A grided whiteboard may be all you need with red and green pens to indicate a RAG status.

2) Avoid the temptation in the early stages to make an online dashboard. These tend to work much better once the team has developed the habit.

3) Make sure that potential problems are visible so that everyone will be aware of what is happening. For example, this might be when a team’s workload goes above a critical level or when a certain number of issues in a day/week/month happen. Or when production falls below a certain target level.

4) Go through your current reports and ask “So What?”. Reports should be designed to drive action. A report that does drive a set of activities is what we call a “So What?” report. To simplify your reports, try to move towards single-page documents. And make sure that the report will drive critical actions that are linked to the results.

5) Don’t hide user instructions – make them visual. There is no point in having well-documented processes in the shared folders that no one ever looks at except for the yearly audit requirement. Once again, see how ‘work instruction’ can be made visual to support the process.

6) Most companies fail to go far enough when it comes to visual management, so be brave. It’s better to go too far and then cut back once you learn what really adds value e.g action!

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