Ineffective Visual Controls - 9 Root Causes

visitor badgeI just had an experience that prompted me  to think about the effectiveness, or sometimes lack thereof, of visual controls. Yesterday I was at a client site. No kaizen, just training. I was sporting a vistor's badge (see picture), when one of  the class participants said something like, "Hey, you're expired!" I came back with an intelligent, "Huh?"

It seems that the badge uses a time sensitive sticker that is white when the badge is first given to the visitor. After 24 hours or so it displays a red tiger stripe to indicate that it's expired - meaning you need to show your ID and sign in again. Presumably, it's a visual control to better identify the normal versus abnormal (unapproved) visitor.

Didn't know that. I was walking around the facility for three days with my expired badge. I routinely walked right by the security folks and everyone else. No one said a word until the fourth day! Why didn't the visually controlled badge  "work?" Why do visual controls fail consistently or intermittently?

Here's my incomplete list of the root causes of ineffective visual controls (in no particular order):

  1. Introduced without training. Oftentimes new visual controls are deployed with nary a word to those who are supposed to manage them or respond to them. Stealth deployment is not successful.
  2. Not worker-managed. Visual controls are supposed to be worker managed. It's silly to expect someone else (a supervisor or manager) who is not there real-time to reliably trigger a a timely manner. And it takes the worker out of the equation. So much for engagement and ownership.
  3. Not self-explaining. If a visual control cannot be immediately deciphered as to its purpose, operating rules and status, it ends up being a guessing game. No one has time for that and no one has a gemba decoder ring.
  4. Not visual/visible. Visual? What visual?  Some visual controls just are not very visual due to diminutive size, lack of color, poor location, etc.
  5. Too hard or complicated to use. Visual controls are designed to quickly, effectively and universally identify abnormal conditions so that those conditions can be addressed. They shouldn't be adding muda. Visuals that are physically and/or intellectually a pain to maintain or trigger just won't be reliably used.
  6. Obsolete. Sometimes the underlying system or process  is changed and the visual control is no longer used. Leaving it around is visual pollution and is confusing.
  7. Lack of discipline. It takes a level of discipline to maintain visual controls. Lean leaders must constantly reinforce their use and they should be an audit item within their leader standard work.
  8. Love of covert operations. Visual controls make things, well...visual. They promote an environment in which there are no secrets. For many reasons, some employees are not a big fan and purposely do not use the visual controls. Here, lean leaders need to hold folks accountable.
  9. Lack of faith. Oftentimes employees reliably maintain their visual controls and then give up when they determine that no one reliably responds to the abnormal conditions. Why the heck use a visual when no one seems to care?!  Apathy for abnormalities drive apathy for visual controls.

I'm guessing that I have missed some other root causes of ineffective visual controls. Any thoughts?

Related post: Visual of the Visual?

There are 3 Comments

Jess Cruz's picture

I recently came across your site and find it well grounded in the human aspects of the lean principles. That should not come as a surprise to you however, I have found in most failing lean efforts this is a root cause for failure or recurrence. Regarding your 9 causes I think you could add the failure to effectively respond to the abnormality. The old saying "if its not important to you (leader) then it's not important to me" must be offset by rapid and effective response. This promotes the behavioral change in the work team so that they adopt the new behavior or visual aid.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Jess,

Thanks for the comment and glad you found the site! You're spot on relative to the need to effectively respond to the abnormality signaled by the visual control. I think that's covered under cause #9 - "lack of faith," but it certainly bears repeating and you probably said it much more clearly than I did.

Best regards,