Experts know that employees in a visual workplace make fewer mistakes, are more productive, and are less likely to suffer injuries and accidents. Implementing a visual management system can be as simple as labeling first aid kits, or as involved as creating an entirely new organizational approach—but an effective strategy requires thoughtful consideration either way. To start, follow these expert tips for implementing a visual management system in your warehouse, manufacturing plant, or other industrial workplace.
What Is a Visual Workplace?
According to leading expert Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth, a visual workplace is defined by the following characteristics: “[It] is self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating, and self-improving; where what is supposed to happen does happen, on time, every time, day or night—because of visual devices.¹”
Visual cues keep operations on track in industrial facilities, office buildings, healthcare environments, and other public spaces. High-traffic floor-marking tape that directs the flow of people and vehicles, pre-cut kits that identify the location of emergency exits, and easy-to-read labels marking hazardous material containers are all examples of visual management in a workplace.
How To Create a Visual Workplace
The benefits of a visual workplace range from increased efficiency to improved safety. Follow these expert tips for how to implement a visual management system throughout your workplace—whether its an office building, manufacturing facility, warehouse location, or public space—and reap the associated benefits.
1) Match the Type of Visual Management to Your Goals
Your approach to a visual workplace may be motivational, organizational, or informational, and the type of visual management you choose should be closely related to your specific goals. In most industrial facilities, the primary purpose of visual management will be to provide information: Signs, labels, floor tapes, and other visual cues work together to deliver instructions or warnings to employees, therefore reducing errors, increasing productivity, and improving safety for fewer injuries on the job. OSHA and ANSI standards, workplace rules, and 5S methodology are all helpful ways to determine which visual management approach will be most appropriate.
2) Implement Cues That Answer Questions Before They’re Asked
When determining which visual cues to implement in your workplace, look at the questions employees may ask, then choose products that address them. Dr. Galsworth points out that unanswered questions lead to confusion or, at the worst, mistakes.² When answers to important questions are readily available within the work environment, you reduce time lost to asking and answering questions—and reduce the risk of errors due to unanswered queries.
3) Think Beyond Now: Create an Ongoing Strategy
The most effective visual management strategies are ongoing. Even so, “most companies approach workplace organization in the same way many homeowners do…only when they have guests coming or during their annual spring cleaning,” says Christopher D. Chapman, of the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies at Rochester Institute of Technology. The result? “They never realize the day-to-day benefits of 5S: less searching, decreased walking and motion, reduced downtime, fewer safety hazards and accidents, improved flow, fewer mistakes and better utilization of space.³” Companies often do not realize the quantifiable rewards of keeping their house (so to speak) in order, but a visually effective workplace can lead to significant improvements in productivity, costs, safety, and employee morale year over year.
4) Minimize Inefficiencies and Streamline Processes
Visual devices abound in everyday life. Just as visual displays can make grocery store checkouts function more smoothly, they can also alleviate bumps or inefficiencies in production processes. “[M]ost factories have incorporated visuals in their processes as part of getting lean and with the objective of making things easier for everyone,” says Wayne Chaneski, of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and author of Modern Machine Shop.⁴ Implement visual cues to clarify instructions at common pain points along your production line, streamline standard processes, or provide guidance on storage or operation protocols to increase efficiency across the board.
5) Prioritize Practical Organization of Parts and Tools
Organization is a key component for a visual, 5S-optimized workplace. Visual cues can only be so effective when items are not properly stored or easily located. H. Hirano, a business management expert and author of the book 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace, provides a compelling “before” picture of a disorganized factory:
“Imagine a factory filled with equipment operators who do not mind working amidst dirt, debris, and oil. People working in this factory consider the search for parts, dies, and tools a part of their jobs…These conditions indicate a factory that produces far too many defective goods, that misses far too many delivery deadlines, and that suffers from low productivity and morale.⁵”
When workers have to waste time searching for parts and tools, they are less efficient in their actual responsibilities—an outcome that is detrimental at every level of the company.
When it comes to an organized, efficient workplace, visual cues are key. Our selection of safety and traffic control solutions includes helpful products to implement and transform the effectiveness of a visual workplace. For more on industrial safety and organization, explore our Resource Center.
 G. Galsworth, Work That Makes Sense: Operator-Led Visuality (Portland, Oregon: Visual-Lean Enterprise Press, 2011), 6.
 G. Galsworth, “The Visual Workplace,” Printing Industries of America, the Magazine 3 (2011): 14.
 C. D. Chapman, “Clean House With Lean 5S,” Quality Progress 38 (2005): 27.
 W. S. Chaneski, “The Visual Factory,” Modern Machine Shop 86 (2014): 34, 36.
 H. Hirano, 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace: The Sourcebook for 5S Implementation (New York: Productivity Press, 1995), 13.