The Lean Office Blog

Visual Management – The Usual Suspects

Today’s post focuses on some common mindsets you “may” (definitely will) come across when implementing visual management, and suggestions for handling them. This is the sixth in a series of posts about visual management; check here for more posts on the topic. 

In our last post, we discussed some unintended consequences that accompany the many benefits of adding visual management into your workplace. As we discussed, there is often little you can do to prevent those consequences, but you can work to contain them when they occur.  Today’s post focuses on a similar phenomenon-some of the “less than helpful” mindsets you are likely to encounter along your journey to a visual workplace. These attitudes will show up the day you put yourself out there and attempt change, and will hang around until you’ve dealt with them.

Below you’ll find a profile on three of the most common adversaries of progress. While this is intended to be an exaggeration of the typical behaviors and personalities you’ll run across, I can tell you I’ve encountered each in my own experience. It is crucial to remember that these represent a person’s approach or attitude at a given time, not the actual person (think actors playing a role vs. the actual actor). Sadly, I do have to confess I’ve also played a few of these villains in my time.

The Nay-Sayervisual management nay-sayer

The most common enemy of visual management progress in the workplace is the nay-sayer. Don’t bother trying to convince the nay-sayer, because regardless of the idea, it won’t work.

Aliases:  the wet blanket (every time they speak, you can almost hear the the “wah-wahh” sound, signaling another idea smothered by pessimism) and the ostrich (scared of what could happen, they often stick their head in the sand to avoid seeing things as they really are)

Common phrases:  “Some variation of this idea has tried and failed many times in the past, and all it’s going to do is put extra work on our plate, and lead to (gulp) change. Things worked ok yesterday, and we didn’t change anything yesterday, so why change them today?” “If I keep my head down long enough, everything will go back to normal”

Motivation: Ruled by fear of change, the nay-sayer and its relations will do anything they can to hang onto the status quo. They could also be looking for personal glory (thus shooting down everyone else’s ideas) or simply trying to protect territory in the workplace

Countermeasure: Best start small with any changes, and work on building momentum. You’ll know the corners have turned when the nay-sayers in your group start turning on each other and calling out negativity

The One-Uppervisual management one-upper

While this one will not delay actual progress on implementing visual management, he/she has the ability to make you feel bad about your lack of additional progress. Often coming from folks outside of the team or from management, the danger here lies in letting it affect the team and kill progress.

Aliases: the graph “expert” (never satisfied until all axes are used, and charts are at peak confusion levels) and the homesick new employee (previous company was actually better at everything-why did they leave their old company, again?)

Common phrases: “At my old company, we used to do this, but way better, and it was interactive; and we had flashing lights and sounds-it was glorious!” “Actually, you should have used advanced interpolation with cubic splines…whats the heteroskedasticity of that curve?”

Motivation: Some people actually feel better about themselves by making you feel worse. The lower they bring you, the easier it is to either coast by not feeling pressure to improve, or to use you as a rung on their path up the corporate ladder

Countermeasure: I often think about this in relation to the famous story of the Tortoise and the Hare-slow and steady wins the race. Oftentimes, when listening to one-uppers, we get sucked into thinking we have to do everything perfectly from the beginning, so we end up not doing anything. Take a step forward every day, and celebrate every step of progress, especially with your team-after all, they’re the most important part of keeping the progress going, right?

The Overreactorvisual management overreactor

Just when you think you’re done, you’ll come across this third and final adversary. While most often unintentional, this third group is just as dangerous at causing confusion, instability, and futile side projects related to visual management.

Aliases: the challenger (regardless of what the data and metrics are saying, he/she needs to see the details behind every data point before buying in), the cloud dweller (inhabiting a world of eternal optimism, the cloud dweller is now convinced we should be measuring thousands of metrics, many of which can’t even be measured), and the knee-jerker (quick reflexes brought on by actually seeing the gap between current state and desired state)

Common phrases: “Where did you get this data from? If I didn’t give it to you, I don’t trust it, and I definitely don’t trust your calculations.” “This coffee tastes strong-can we start counting the number of grains per pot, and establish a control limit on cup strength?” “Ahh! Look at all this waste we’ve made visual! We need to change everything immediately!”

Motivation: As stated above, this person often has the best of intentions. They have seen the success thus far, and want to help encourage more of the same. Even those that are challenging the data are motivated by a desire to “get it right” versus prove anyone wrong

Countermeasure: Managing an overreactor will require a delicate balance of governing speed of change, while also keeping the foot on the pedal. If they challenge your assumptions, provide them the data and calculations, but don’t get yourself sucked into the fray. Do everything you can to preach stable, repeatable processes being improved in small, manageable increments


Regardless of the types of antagonists who confront you and your team as you make progress toward a more visual workplace, the best countermeasure will be demonstrated, continual improvement of the current condition. Manage the improvement in small, steady bites, celebrate improvements, and keep a close eye on the stability of the overall process.

What about you?  Any “Enemies of the (Desired) State” that we’ve missed?

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