Dec. 19, 2021

Visual Management Basics for Construction Teams

Visual Management Basics for Construction Teams

One of the most critical aspects of successful construction teams is communication. When I'm working with teams, communication is one of the first factors I seek to understand before recommending any improvement changes. Communication is crucial to the success and well-being of any team, but it can be challenging to manage all that information quickly and efficiently. It's time to look at the visual management basics I use when working with construction teams.

Why is visual management important for construction teams?

Many different industries outside of construction, including education, manufacturing, and healthcare, use visual management to communicate. Just because we work in design and construction doesn't mean we can't borrow methods and techniques to serve our information flow needs. To communicate messages effectively, use visuals or pictures instead of words because it conveys more information than words alone. It also helps with understanding among people that don't speak the same language or dialect. Visual management has been proven effective in increasing productivity and efficiency among workers by simplifying instructions and minimizing mistakes caused by miscommunication. Let's look at an example from the retail industry. 

IKEA Shelves with Basic Instruction Snippet

If you have ever bought furniture from IKEA, you know firsthand that the instructions have no words, and pictures and diagrams are easier to follow than reading words. And the drawings are in black and white, and they will use grey sometimes to show you a step you should take. This strategy helps millions of people assemble furniture, and you can bring the concept to your construction project. Before we jump into methods, let's see which principles or values will help guide us for success.

Lean Construction Principles

One of the most effective ways to implement visual management in Lean Construction is using lean values and tools. Lean values are simple yet very powerful, and my favorite two are respect for people and continuous improvement. If you want to go a bit deeper on the other four, check out this blog post, What does Lean mean for the construction industry? Other noteworthy consideration elements include:

  • people/manpower
  • processes/methods
  • physical environment/materials
  • technology/machines
  • data/information

The goal is to focus on these lean principles and elements before using tools like Scrum, Last Planner System™ of Production Controls (Pull Planning), or Takt Planning. Be mindful of your approach if you fail to consider the people, process, environment, tech, and info that will lead to waste. In The Toyota Way, 2nd Edition, author Jeffrey Liker describes the visual management principle differently. "Principle 7: Use Visual Control to Support People in Decision-Making and Problem Solving." The focus is on information for people to take targeted action. Here are examples of a simple circle chart to indicate progress and you can customize the key for any given process.

Some lean tools I use daily in conjunction with visual controls are:

  • Construction Scrum: It's a lightweight Agile project management system that makes daily improvement a habit, and it builds in increased capacity and higher sustainable throughput over time. People that use it often immediately double and triple the value they deliver to their clients and customers. Read more about getting started with Scrum in this Blog post, Since Scrum is free, why should I invest in learning it? Scrum boards help track the status of work tasks and encourage one-piece flow. Teams that keep Scrum boards updated daily make progress and issues visible.
  • basic scrum board
  • Takt Planning: Takt refers to the measure of work completed over a specific period of time, precisely like a Sprint in Scrum. Jason Schroeder taught me that a Takt plan must be a visual schedule showing workflow, trade flow, and logistical flow in time and space. I think of this as a schedule on a repeating rhythm. It must also include appropriately sized buffers that enable steady work while limiting work in process for a reasonable overall project duration. It helps ensure that the team is working at the correct pace and not rushing or slowing down due to incorrect assumptions about the work ahead. Read more here on Jason Schroeder's Blog, What Qualifies as a Takt plan? Here's one visual example from Jason's Blog post of a simple Takt plan. 
  • Jason Schroeder Takt Plan Example
  • Flowcharting: A flow chart helps people visualize the steps in a process. Flowcharts with multiple steps involved in a process helps identify any potential bottlenecks or areas for improvement. The example below should spark your imagination to create ideas for your project's needs. It is also a good first step for jumping into more elaborate tools like Value Stream Mapping. 
  • basic experiment flow chart for learning
  • Workplace organization: Workplace organization is about meeting the project's needs with minimal wasted motion, time, energy, work in process (WIP), inventory, or space by developing efficient systems for executing tasks within your company. I highly recommend that you start by organizing office and project work areas for the team's needs. A clean environment makes everything easier to do. If you are working around obstacles, you are making it harder to get things done. Basic steps include sorting (keep only what is needed), straightening (making space for things and keeping them in their space), shining (clean), and standardizing (developing a system to maintain organization). If you want to learn more about this, download the free chapter five of Construction Scrum starting on page 78.
  • clean office and clean project site

The use of visuals in design and construction projects can be an extremely powerful tool for improving communication. Visuals are an essential component of creating high-performing teams. Many lean tools use visual controls such as the Scrum boards, Takt Plans, flowcharts, and workplace organization examples above. The goal of visual management is to support the people doing the work by using visuals wisely so that your team is working at a sustainable pace without rushing or slowing down due to incorrect assumptions about work ahead. Visuals will allow you and your teams to understand better how processes are operating and help identify any potential bottlenecks or areas for improvement. Use visual management to support construction teams to deliver easier and better. Let's keep learning from each other.

Are you working with Scrum to deliver more value with less effort and have more fun? Check out these Scrum training resources to help you and your team(s) achieve twice the work in half the time.


Using Mural to Start Construction Scrum

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