SIRF Roundtables Blog

Why Visual Management Is Like a Juicer

I had the pleasure of touring the Shingo Award winning Cimpress (formerly Vistaprint) facility near Melbourne a while back. I say pleasure, because the energy of the workplace was thrumming and a little infectious. 

I sometimes hear people talk about “visual management” as if it is a simple thing, like road signs, done once and then forgotten for years. What I experienced in my few hours at Cimpress was a living, conscious work environment that continually fed me and itself vital (and rapidly changing) information through visual data. If you want to get a lot of info fed into your brain quickly, great visual management is what you need. 

Visual management is like a juicer – takes a lot good things (like data) from all over and then presents them in a way for you to get that goodness into your head, ASAP, no chewing needed! 

When you see something in a factory like this, you will immediately get it. And I saw it! Learning from what I saw was inevitable – but can I share any of that with you with the written word? 

The supervisors and managers work on the shop floor. I mean, their desks are there. They have boards that indicate all the different projects and tasks they are working on. You can see the small Velcro-backed sign on a manager’s computer, proclaiming “I am the 5S Auditor of the Week.” Then you will notice that every manager’s monitor has one such small waiting Velcro strip speaks clearly of aligned expectations, shared ownership, and accountability. 

The wide array of visual displays across the production floor tells us, well, everything: plant status/SQDCM, maintenance tasks, machine status, hourly production. But the information you need to know is there: no chewing necessary. The Day-By-Day Task Board holds a scattering of reds to show what’s late, stalled or screaming – with a right-side panel with Next Week’s Tasks and one beyond that named 5-Week Plan. 

The simple, highly visual problem solving / suggestion process board makes sure ideas move along. No hidden detours are possible here. At the mid-point, the ideas are sorted by colour into high, medium, and low benefit – for everyone to see. No secret assessment here. And it is full of suggestions, showing clearly and visibly the amount of engagement the staff have in improving their workplace. 

Materials feed us info on where they came from and where they are going, with precision, thanks to laminated cards that tell us in colour-coordinated fashion what’s in each box (it’s nice when printing and laminating are core to your business – I’ve never seen finer examples!). In the packing area, people with carts zoom around the area. Storage and retrieval are gravity-fed. Creform is used widely to save space, allow portability and get a customised work flow. Our tour guide talked about the number of changes that had been made to achieve the current flow, and how more were guaranteed as the process was still, and always would be, evolving to best meet the customer’s demand. 

Visual devices are everywhere at Cimpress. Although they do not always follow a top-down logic, they are nonetheless at the heart of Cimpress’s operational success. It is the thinking that is compelling. Broom closet-sized kiosks on wheels, scattered across the floor, double as announcement and problem solving centres plus a place for thinking, team building, and cleaning supplies. Oh, so delicious! I wanted to take one home! 

When I got my Master’s in Manufacturing Systems Engineering degree 25 years ago, this is what I thought the future looked like. The process looks deceptively simple, nearly transparent in operation, but what it achieves is astoundingly complex. 

The company’s financials at the time testified to double-digit year-over-year growth. The living, easily digested Cimpress visual work environment demonstrates how that growth happens. And the good news, friends, is that this “Future state” is not a long stretch away for most of your organisations.

SIRF Roundtables has a long standing relationship with world renowned specialist Gwen Galsworth, a visual thinking guru, incredible teacher, and a tell it like it is observer. We will be having lots of interaction with Gwen over 2021, so book your place early and get some of that "juice" going into your head!

Join Gwen in our SIRF Exclusive Fireside Chat with Q&A on 21st Jan  (SIRF Members and invited guests only).


Sean Lewis

SA State Manager



Recent Posts

Subscribe to Blog