Visual Management on the Exercise Trail

Nature trail, upstate NY

(Photo courtesy of Tommy2010 via Wikipedia)

Have you ever found an unexpected pleasure when you least expect it?  I was very pleasantly surprised on a recent road trip.  Most of the hotels I frequent are nestled near the freeway or a shopping center and are not a great place to go for a run.  So I was thrilled when not one but two my hotels were near beautiful exercise paths along scenic rivers.

So what does this have to do with Lean Leadership?  Well these trails were not only a great place to go for a run, they were both marked very well (aka visual management).  One in particular was very effectively marked with instructions on how to properly use the trail.  As soon as I  hit the trail I knew that we were expected to stay to the right.  This may not seem like a lot.  Most people tend to stay to the right anyway but there are those who wander down the middle, weave back and forth, or walk with several friends taking the width of the path.

Then within forty feet or so I knew that we were expected to pass on the left.  This may not seem like a lot either.  Hey, if everyone is on the right anyway, doesn’t it make sense to pass the the left?

Finally, within another forty feet or so, the third message was very clear:  Don’t startle people.  Let them know you are passing.

I had some time to ponder these messages since I was out for a run.  I thought about how some people might find it stupid and think it’s just common sense anyway.  If this were at work, we might say, “they should know this by now.”  Sometimes we tell people something once in a meeting and expect it to stick.  This would be the equivalent to standing at the beginning of this trail on a Saturday and telling everyone to announce their pass.  Another tool might be to communicate via the site newsletter.  This would be the equivalent to running an ad in the local paper and expecting everyone to get the message.

It might be common sense and some veteran runners and bikers do this anyway but my experience has been that most do not.  I used this trail a couple times and was impressed that every biker, even the 10 year olds, announced their pass.  Everyone seemed to know what was expected and to comply with these expectations.  Can you say that about the procedures at your site?  A few signs may not be the answer to everything, but good visual management is part of an effective communication plan.

Lean Leaders use visual management to communicate effectively.

Can you share examples of good visual management?  Can you think of procedures or standard work that could have been communicated better with pictures or posted instruction?  How will you use visual management to be a better leader today?


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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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4 Responses to Visual Management on the Exercise Trail

  1. Dale Savage says:

    The “common sense” idea is what comes up the most when talking about visual management. Why do we need signs? Why do tools have to have a designated (labeled) location? Everyone knows where things belong and what we are supposed to be doing, right? Of course there are always the new people who may or may not know what is common sense to those who have been with the company a long time. Another factor is that the human mind processes much more information that we consciously think about. The signs re-enforce the knowledge that people have and subconsciously help them to do the right thing “instictively” without having to stop and think about it every time.

    • Dale-you hit on a great point. The visual re-enforces what people know as well as what is expected. We can’t expect everyone to remember everything. The visuals serve as a great reminder. I’ve run on tracks enough to know that you should announce your pass but the visual on the exercise trail was a great reminder of something I haven’t done in a long time. Thanks for your insight.

  2. Christian, I am writer and an HR professional. You’re right about the quick visuals for adults in the workplace. We go so quickly through our days that sometimes, we only have a moment to pay attention to the signs around us. Clear communications, visual reminders–they are all important to keep us on the path we know we should be on, but too often veer from. Thanks for the post, I look forward to reading more.

    • Thanks, Rose. You bring out another benefit of Visual Management. The communication from good visuals can be very quick yet can save much time in rework. Thank you for sharing your insight.

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