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Visual Controls

Vishwadeep Khatri

Message added by Mayank Gupta,

Visual Control is any communication device used in the work environment that tells us at a glance how work should be done or how the mistakes have to be avoided. 


An application-oriented question on the topic along with responses can be seen below. The best answer was provided by Pradeep Singh on 24th Nov 2021.


Applause for all the respondents - James Bob Lawless, Pradeep Singh, Prashant Philip Vargis, C V Satish, Mohit Kumar, Prabhu Gudelli, Kiran Kumar R, Chaitanya Shankar Nemani, Shiva Kumar V, Parthasarathy Raghava, Mohamed Asif, Rathish Parameshwaran, Praveen Thomas, Arun Balakrishnan.


Q 422. Explain the various mechanisms of visual control and comment on their effectiveness.


Note for website visitors - Two questions are asked every week on this platform. One on Tuesday and the other on Friday.

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Types of Visual control.

1. Colour Coding

In which we apply colour to indicate status, is the simplest sort of visual controls to implement. It helps staff to quickly choose what action to do next after it is deployed. Color-coding guidelines in the workplace will assist to guarantee a consistent look throughout the company. E.g. HACCP chart, wire diagram, area maps colour coding as per population /pollution index.

  • Effectiveness- For coding visual information on a display, colour is perhaps the most effective, convincing, and eye catching method available.

2. Andon

An "Andon" system is one that informs management, maintenance, and operators to a quality or process issue. Part shortages, manufactured or found faults, tool/machine failure, or the presence of a safety issue are all common Andon triggers. E.g. a manufacturing equipment could have three caution lights.

  • Effectiveness- When a problem is discovered during a process, it lets a worker quickly stop production and request for assistance. Where raising an Andon flag implies the process will not proceed to the next phase until the issue is rectified.

3. Standard Work

Standard Work gives structure and consistency to employees at all levels, allowing them to improve their productivity and effectiveness. The process of creating standard work guarantees that workers are aware of all of their "must-do" duties and allots the most suitable amount of time to perform them, contain 4 elements- content, Sequence, timing & outcome. E.g. work Instruction, control plans.

  • Effectiveness- To produce the correct & consistent result for long terms E.g. Quality product in manufacturing.

4. Floor Line Marking & Signage

Pathways, vehicle lanes, worker cells, and crossroads are all marked by floor line markings and signs. Color-coded floor markings, as well as signs with various logos and markings, are used to make them simply and rapidly recognized. E.g. floor demarcation, waste bin colour coding as per type of waste dump, signage at construction side or production floor, Kamishbai Board + Tee Cards, OSHA safety chart.

  • Effectiveness- Visual controls such as floor markings and signs specify where materials and people should move, establishing a safety culture without disrupting the industrial process, reduce transport or motion waste, helps in maintaining 5S at location. Increase safety awareness in employee whether the shop floor, on road, in hospital Etc.

5. Quality Standards

Having product quality standards provides your operators with a visible control on which to make their judgments when deciding quality. Operators should have access to these standards for simple reference. When used in the quality control process, visual controls assist to decrease faults and eliminate quality control inspections. E.g. Do & Don't with picture based display.

Effectiveness- To support visual management goals- Quality standard visual controls are used to assist your company detect wastes, reduce the time it takes to discover information and materials, and build a continuous improvement culture of Plan, Do, Check, Act.

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Visual Control is a method used for displaying the KPI (Key Process Indicators) of a process or processes to its end-users/participants. These visuals aids and gives early warning indicators to the team members and learership for any deviation in the standardized process and/or impact of the errors.


There are various types of visual controls and here are some of them and their effectiveness in use:


1. Color Coding - it is the easiest form of visual control to apply to any and all visuals (e.g. Dashboards, Reports, Boards, etc.). It is highly effective as it gives you the overall impact and by error impact at a glance.


2. Andon - it is a system that provides real time notification to leadership and its team about any challenges or problem in the process. It is regarded effective as it provides real-time alert and also serves as early warning indicator to prevent an error from happening.


3. Floor Line Marking & Signage - this type of visual control shows pathways, lanes, working cells and/or intersection. This helps the workers to easily and quickly identify different marking & signages across their workplace. It shows where the required materials and flow of process are, which reinforces process standards and of course safety.


4. Kamishbai Board - it is used mostly on manufacturing set-up wherein it is a simple way for workers to be able to verify if a particular task or tasks has been finished.


Overall, the benefits of a Visual Control will:

  • Help detect the problems in real-time and act on them faster
  • Avoid problems that may potentially arise during the process
  • Reduce cost due to rework or quality defects
  • Reduce or Elimate other types of wastes
  • Increase productivity and quality of the process
  • Increase Customer Satisfaction
  • Increase Employee Satisfaction
  • Increase Profit
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Visual controls can be broadly classified into two groups - Displays group and Controls group. A visual displays group relates data and information employees in a particular area. Examples can include displaying the revenue and expenses of the company, showing a certain type of quality issue impacting the process. This helps in team decision making and providing a shared vision to the team. Controls group are visuals which is intended to guide or control the action of group members. Some examples include stop signs, no smoking signs, etc.

Visual management can have three components - People, System and tool, indicating visuals for each of these.

Some of the widely used Visual controls and their effectiveness are described below -

Color coding - Colors are used to indicate status of the work items. Eg- RAG status. This helps in keeping track of the tasks of employees.

Andon - Andon is a system that provides notification to the management, maintenance and operators regarding the process problem, tool issue. It is used to indicate defect/tool issue/existence of a safety problem.

Standard work - Standard Work provides details such as takt time, work sequence, standard WIP, for employees to predict their working week to enable them to achieve high efficiency and impact.  It helps to identify the “must-do” tasks of employees and allocates the most appropriate time to complete these tasks.

Floor line marking and signage - These visuals show pathways, vehicle lanes, working cells, and intersections. It consists of color-coded floor markings, signage with different logos and markings to make these easily and quickly identifiable. 


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" Out Of Sight Is out of Mind"


       The above phrase is the core of understanding the importance  of visual controls. The human mind is wired to capture what is seen more deeply than any other means of communication. Visual control is the most effective first line of action for preventing a problem. The Visual control and visual display are branched out of visual management and are used in every facets of our lives.


Visual Control

It forces one to take an appropriate action or drives a specific behavior. Traffic lights, Tool Crib and color coding of an electrical equipment/wires are a classic set of visual controls.


Visual Display

It Just conveys some information which is considered good to know. Road side hoardings, posters and maps are a classic set of visual display.


Visual control may be deployed using three mechanisms


* Prevention: Full fledged Poka Yoke to prevent the problems. Eg Emergency button on a treadmill

* Control:  Control the situation by breaking the flow of problems. Eg Machine lock outs

* Warning: Warning through Alerts and Andon lights in a Machine shop 


The bottom line is 

"A picture is worth a thousand words"

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Visual controls are a subset of visual management. Visual management is a process by which information is conveyed via visuals displays. It is designed to create a visual workplace with controls communicating without words and interruptions in process.


Visual controls convey information and provide direction as to what action to take based on the nature of the visual signal. 


Color-coding is the simplest form of visual control on equipment. Flashing red light indicates there is some problem and an inspection or intervention may be necessary. Flashing green light conveys that the equipment is working as planned, and no control action is required.


Visual controls are designed to drive a specific behaviour or action.

There is a hierarchy of different displays and controls, as represented as below.




Three benefits of visual controls 

1. Easy and quick to understand information 

When looking at an Excel, it is easy and quick to spot an issue if the cell is coloured red.

2. Improve communications 

Assuming everyone knows the meaning of red light. Whenever we see red everyone should understand what has happened as well as the action needed to correct the situation. 

3. Keep the flow moving smoothly 

An overhead sign of “Enter Here” and “Exit Here” drives the desired behaviour of people entering and exiting.


Visual Controls helps to identify problems, reduce waste, reduce inventory, shorten lead times, create a safe working environment, reduce production costs and may even increase your profits.


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Visual controls -  Is one of the quick , simple and effective communication tools for easy comprehension, understanding where by one can infer the information. Visual controls help in passing information from long distance thus goes long way eliminating one of important waste / MUDA  in Lean i.e transportation, movement and significantly eliminates Non-value add activities.


Visuals controls can be categorized into broad 3 segments

·       Process controls, charts, graphs

·       Warnings, Cautions, mistake proofing Poke yokes

·       Instructions, guidance purposes


Process controls, charts, graphs

Below is an example of how actual savings are accrued as against plan. Similarly in manufacturing environment, how equipment / process are moving can be tracked from long distance by monitoring actual parameters as against specifications/ standards




Lean Daily Management

Visual controls, especially performance charts, Ishikawa – fish bone / root cause analysis, play significant role in one of very effective tool in Lean implementation i.e Lean Daily management ( LDM) , Leaders standard Boards.

LDM boards make Gemba walk of leaders very effective, in understanding work area performance, discussing with shop floor teams, coming with improvement opportunities.



Picture Courtesy - https://www.kaufmanglobal.com/glossary/lean-daily-management-system/


Warnings, Cautions, mistake proofing Poke yokes

Traffic lights like Red, Yellow, Green on dynamic machines either at location or in remote rooms, computer warning / shutdown / errors messages – are various visual controls which help in preventing mistakes happen. In daily life, car seat belt signages, car engine health status like Break oil level, engine temperature are very effective visual controls for mistake proofing / poke yokes.



Instructions, guidance purposes

Visual flow charts, sequential steps of operations normally fall into this category.  Large signage's with short texts must be appended for effective communication in this type of communications especially work instructions.

Even house hold appliances or electronic user manuals are provided with visual instructions for enabling consumer for quick understanding operation. Example of an electronic device connection below.




Conclusions – Visual controls are highly effective communication aids which serve purpose of MORE with LESS and are best example of “ Lean” way.


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Visual controls are control mechanisms used in work place ,which communicates using visuals signs on how work is done and also on how to avoid mistakes. It is a business management technique used to effectively communicate using visual symbols instead of any other means.


Use of visual controls in workplace:-

  • Kanban :- A control mechanism to restrict the excess inventory at any point of production. Kanban cards are used to signal the depletion of a product part/inventory.
  • Obeya :- A meeting room with chart, graphs, progress data, depiction of issues and milestones, which would act as tool to improve the teaming and focus on the work.
  • Heijunka box:- A box with horizontal row and vertical columns each representing a time period and each having cards representing the job to be performed within that time slot.


Daily life examples of visual controls :-

  • Traffic lights controlling the traffic.
  • Veg and non veg items in menu, color coded with green and red respectively.
  • Sign boards on the road, alerting the driver ,what’s ahead on the road.


How effective are visual controls ?


  • “Picture speaks louder than words “ – Studies have found out that, a human brain can process an image faster than 60,000 words, that means representation through pictures are effective than communicating though text instructions.
  • “Breaking the language barrier” – As visual clues and pictures could be understood without words, language is not a barrier anymore in effective communication.
  • Mistake proofing – The visual clues make it always easy to do the right thing ,thereby ensuring no mistakes.
  • Efficiency in management – As the visual controls are understood easily and executed correctly, taking a lesser decision time and less errors thereby contributing to overall efficiency of the process.
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Visual Management is one of the lean strategies used specifically as “See to Act”.

Here, “Act” can be any action or a response to the visuals (to Stop, Adjust, Inspect, Direct/Instruct, Locate – Finding/Keeping things at right place, etc.).

Visual Control is derived from Visual Management, and it is to ensure the correctness of the action based on the Visuals. In the below items, we can see the indicators and their control mechanism description or the purpose it serves to act appropriately.



Control Mechanism Description

Color Coding

Status Communication/Process Performance Measurement

Sign Boards & Signals

Commute Directions (halt, go & navigate)

Markers & Logos

Locate/Place Items


Conditioned Items

Andon Flag

To Stop until further notice (or to work after rectification)

Floor Lining

To avoid Slip Trip & Fall


Placing the visual indicators are just not enough to control the events/outcomes (or to stop undesirable).

To have the visual control mechanism function well, the users/viewers/everyone must be oriented by the premises expert about the indicators, and they must be familiarized about the right actions to be taken for the displayed indicators & changes.

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Visual control:

“One picture worth of thousand words”

Visual control are means, devices, or mechanisms that were designed to manage or control our operations/processes to meet the following purposes:

·       Identification: Make the problem/deviation visible to everyone to take immediate corrective actions

·       Informative: Display the status in a simple format

·       Instructional: Provide instructions

·       Planning: Helps to formulate the plan and let others know what the plan with timelines  (Example: Gantt chart)

Visual control helps us to communicate without words and share information without any interruption, since this is communicated in a pictorial format which can be understood without any difficulties. Also, controls the human behavior by alerting each problems / deviations from standard.

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Visual control methods are widely used for process standardization. Symbols, colors, graphics, or signal lights provides a level of clarity that cannot be achieved with just written text. The main purpose of visual methods can be one or more of the following:


·       Share Information – examples include notice board displaying monthly performance summaries, the results of customer surveys etc.

·       Streamline Project Management – examples include Kanban board or job cards

·       Communicate Standard operating Instructions – examples include wearing seat belts in flight manuals

·       Enforce the Standards – examples include templates that can be used for creating Microsoft Word or PowerPoint documents, Floor Line Marking & Signage etc.

·       Bring Attention to Irregularities – examples include check engine light in the car and the low battery icon on the phone

·       React to Irregularities When They Happen – examples include red lights in metal detectors to indicate the presence of metals, fire alarm lights in case of fire, detour signs for road work etc.

·       Prevent Irregularities from Occurring – examples include machines that won’t start unless the arrow on the top and bottom of the machine is properly aligned, size gauges for making sure only certain size is allowed, etc.,


Visual management is designed for self-explaining, self-controlling and self-improving. It is important to understand that Visual control mechanisms DO NOT make the process completely mistake free, rather it just provides visual inputs which reduces the chance of mistakes to occur. Hence, the effectiveness of the Visual management depends on the simplicity, instinctive level of visual cues and also on the adoption by the operator.  



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Japanese term "Mieruka" literally means making visible. 


Visual Management is a type of communication that facilitates group to track / monitor / follow up on key metrics and lets the organisation to manage the key performance indicators better.




Objective of Visual Control is to convey process and production status in a visual form that is easy to interpret and the focus is more into Lean view point (5S, TIMWOOD)


Various forms of visual control could be:

  • Color Coding
  • Andon
  • Standard Work
  • Floor Signage
  • Kamishbai Board & Tee Cards

These forms gives prominence to 3I 1P

  • Identification
  • Informative
  • Instructional 
  • Planning 

Following 3 clear rules: Making it

  • Easy to understand 
  • Big an visible
  • Interactive and changeable

Some of the direct benefits of visual control includes

> Easy to have cross-functional collaboration

> Goals are visible and aligned

> Communication is straight forwards and streamlined

> Improved morale and team health

> Improves process transparency

> High Team engagement


Visual Control promotes team work by,

Seeing as a Team

Knowing as a Team

Acting as a Team

and it helps team to see the big picture. 


Visual control makes the flow transparent allowing to improve both efficiency and effectiveness of the system.

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Visual controls in our workplace are a significant aspect to spot and comprehend the information that is being communicated which increases efficiency and provides clarity. VC allows us to communicate without using words and transfer information without being interrupted.
Below are the six categories that increase the control over standards, performance & quality.
Share information – one of the ways to achieve this is through color-coding to share updates or status. This can help the users to easily identify and determine what actions to be taken. Ex. Visual board, floor markings, notice boards, or dashboards.
Share Standards – Similar to sharing information, this category insists on doing a task or procedure in a standard way. Ex written instructions/process flows, or drawings.
Building standards – this category ensures that deviation from the standards is minimized or eradicated. Ex standard templates used for presentations or reports. Scheduling tools like Heijunka box, which visually tell when by whom, and in what order a job should be completed.
Warn abnormalities – this category alters the users before an error or defect is about to occur which in turn helps the user to react. Ex. Shadow boards, fuel light in the car, low battery alerts on the phone.
Stop abnormalities – this category focuses on alerting the users and stops the process when an error or problem has occurred this ensures the error or abnormalities are not further pushed to the next steps. Ex. Unable to submit the form without filling the mandatory forms
Preventing abnormalities – this category ensures the abnormalities are prevented from occurring considered as mistake-proofing. Ex. Window envelopes

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Visual Control is a business management/lean technique where we use visuals to convey an information than written, oral or other communication modes. This is one of the easier mode to convey as the information is clear and user understands it better since they can visualize. This technique helps in increasing the efficiency and effectiveness by providing visibility to the steps to be executed. Visual controls allow us to speak without words and share information without interrupting. It helps to urge everyone working together by providing a transparent understanding of what's required at that time. Visual controls contribute to the management of each process during a way that individuals alone aren't ready to do, by showing where discrepancies occur. This technique is universal and can be used anywhere irrespective of industry – manufacturing, software or nature of work

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Visual management is a set of techniques for creating a work ecosystem embracing visual communication and controls.  This technique is important because

-          Our brain responds better to colours, pictures, patterns, shapes etc

-          Easy to grasp and remember

-          Think outside the box

-          Easy to communicate and help others ‘get it’

-          Visible information creates transparency within employees

Visual management can be divided into 4 phases

1)      Workplace Organisation (WPO)

2)      Visual Display

3)      Visual Measures &

4)      Visual Control

WPO – An important link to continuous improvement and is a combination of 5S and visual management tools. WPO helps in implementing lean principles like Changeover, First In First Out, Just In Time etc

Visual Display – This is method by which we can communicate important information regarding safety, quality, operations, achievements, equipment details etc.  Some of the benefits of such a mechanism would be

-          Makes work easy and a safer working environment

-          Communicate operations and performance related information

-          Makes standards visible

-          Creates shared knowledge base etc

Visual Measures – This is an indication of the performance measurement helping the employees to know their performance levels and track work. Some of the tools commonly used to track these measures - Changeover Clock, Downtime Clock, Production Counters, Error Proof Symbols, 5S Audits, Bottleneck Symbols etc

Visual Control – Any device or symbols that effectively places information at the point of use which creates a mistake-proofed environment to enable adherence to standards. Typical examples of such would be – Indicators, Labels, Meters, Scales, Lights etc

Some Visual Management Tools and Benefits

1)      Visual Control Boards – A colour coded physical visual control system used for monitoring on-the floor /Shop floor activities/KPI’s. Some of the benefits of using such boards are

-          They act as activators and data communication centres

-          They can be used as reference for stand-up / on-the floor meetings

-          To provide regular reviews and updates on operations – It gives quick visibility to the progress of each tasks to next action

-          Also helps in identifying the resources and activities taken care by them – helps in workflow management

2)      ANDON – This word is the Japanese equivalent of ‘lantern’ – meaning a lamp showing the path.  Hence these tools are nothing but a ‘system of ‘signals’ indicating the operational status of a machine or a work center. Some of the benefits using such tools would be

-          Helps in reducing maintenance and operational costs by identifying the problems before they explode exponentially

-          Helps in understanding the equipment availability by making the downtime issues more visible there by helping to become proactive in fixing those issues

-          By making the problem status visual, ANDON boards help in implementing JIDOKA, which is nothing but setting up processes which can deliver high quality products within minimal TAKT time.

3)      Footprints – It is a method by which we mark areas within our work environment to clearly outline where each item needs to be placed.  Benefit of marking footprints are as follows

-          To help employees retrieve or store things in an easy manner

-          Helps employees to avoid waste of time involved in looking for things or pondering their next move

-          Helps in maintain a clean and organized working environment

-          Helps in running the operations in a safer and more easy manner

-          Helps to locate the parts or equipment in an easy manner

4)      Tagging – A method that involves attaching tags to objects/items to designate its status. Some of the benefits of tagging would be

-          Identify unnecessary items that needs to be thrown out, recycled, sold or relocated

-          Tagging is an effective way by which we can visually communicate the status of the objects/items on a shop floor easily to other colleagues, which can help them take effective decisions and actions accordingly.

Overall, Visual management helps us in achieving

-          Improved safety and ergonomics

-          Continuous Improvement

-          Baselines for standard work

-          Low defects

-          Improve C-SAT

-          Quick change over and less down time

-          Create a structured workflow &

-          Reduce waste and increase productivity

 “Make your workplace into a showcase that can be understood by everyone at a glance”

                                                                                                                                              TAIICHI OHNO

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Great information on visual controls shared by all respondents. Pradeep Singh has provided the best answer to this question by highlighting the effectiveness of each of the methods in specific areas.


Other answers worth reading are from Kiran Kumar and Mohamed Asif.

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