Visual Management For The Rail Industry

Visual Management For The Rail Industry

At VMT have extensive experience developing and implementing Visual Management solutions for the Rail Industry. Some of the Visual Management challenges faced by the rail industry include:

  • Monitoring of critical safety and quality KPIs and developing behaviours to facilitate improvement.
  • Habitual control and care of essential tooling and equipment.
  • Developing efficiency and error prevention in safety-critical and essential train maintenance.

 VMT has delivered Visual Management projects for some of the largest UK rail: operating, maintenance and manufacturing companies; to assist them in their Lean and Operational Excellence initiatives.


Visual Management Centres – Keolis Amey

Clear and consistent Visual communication is essential across a noisy and potentially dangerous environment such as a train depot. Developing good team meeting behaviours ensures that KPIs are understood. And important safety and quality information is effectively briefed across the depot team. 

VMT has worked with Keolis Amey across a number of tram facilities. Manchester (Metrolink) and London (Docklands Light Railway) to develop and deliver Visual Management Centres. These centres become a hub for organisation, team activity and improvement.

VMT developed the designs from rough sketches issued by the client through to full design concept drawings.


Visual Management for the Rail Industry – Client Testimonial

“Initially, we were just looking to create a more professionalised version of the Management Board that was already in use on-site. After contacting VMT, they shared information on best practices being used at other Rail depots to give us the inspiration to develop our own Management centre. This solution has given us a focal point for daily management of the site operations, team meetings, 5S management and area for issue escalation. The solution and service VMT provide is flexible, professional and they are on hand to help with any issues.”

 Sami M’hamdi

KIHM Project Deployment Coordinator


Shadow Boards – Northern Rail

The adage “Right tool, Right time, right place” is probably no better applied than in a rail depot where heavy tooling can be cumbersome, and the maintenance jobs can be physically demanding. Placing well designed Visual Management Shadow Boards in affective positions minimises the movement and effort to retrieve potentially heavy equipment. Ensuring well-designed shadows with only the tools needed to perform day to day tasks displayed on the boards helps to reduce the time taken searching for tools as the tooling and kit can be clearly identified.

 Among other Rail Maintenance and Train Operators, VMT has worked with Northern Rail at its Newton Heath depot to develop, manufacture, and deliver Shadow Boards for both its older and brand new train stock.

Are you looking for visual management solutions within the rail sector?

At VMT, we are the UK’s leading provider of Visual Management solutions, specialising in advising on, designing and supplying bespoke Visual Management solutions. We provide everything from simple high impact visual solutions through to innovative workspace planning and optimisation. 

Our background within the rail sector allows us to share our knowledge so that you can learn from the mistakes of others and carve your own visual management path.

Just follow the link below.

Bollington – Welcome to VMT HQ

bollington VMT HQ

Bollington - Welcome to VMT HQ

As you may know, our base in Bollington is but a stone’s throw away from sleepy Macclesfield, although, at this moment, sleepy doesn’t seem like the correct term. Let’s say peaceful Macclesfield, and honestly, we love it here. Whilst being rural enough to enjoy fabulous walks, rides or runs dependant on what takes your fancy. The nearby town also has enough going on to make it worth a trip into town or two.

Local business is booming

Being a business based in Bollington is a blessing. Our location means we can comfortably cover the North-West with our visual management and lean solutions. Of course, we ship around the country and globally should we be needed, but where we are means a lot to us too. As the community continues to grow and flourish, we’ve been able to make some great friends in the area. Trust us, Bollington and Macclesfield and full of great businesses.

With Manchester a mere fifteen miles away, it means that lots of great opportunities surround us, and we are incredibly thankful for this. The beauty of what we do is that with our help, we get to see other businesses flourish. We help companies build a more enjoyable and safe workplace, and we encourage employees to understand the value of efficiency. So, yes, it’s pretty rewarding.

If you think that we could be of help to your business, we are only a phone call away. We don’t bite, love a good natter, and have plenty of stories to tell. All you have to do is follow the link below and arrange a call with us today.

Positivity is the key

Much of our work as visual management experts relies on buy-in from businesses and employee positivity. Luckily for us, Macclesfield frequently appears on the list of the happiest places to live in the UK. In fact, it’s been the highest-ranked town in the North West for some time, so there’s no surprise that a Bollington based business is so welcoming? Nope, no surprise.

The Happy at Home index created by property giants Rightmove is based mainly around the town’s community spirit and the friendliness of the locals. You’ve also got the stunning local scenery and brilliantly rejuvenated town centre. We would like to think all of the businesses within the area contribute a little to it too.

Bollington and us!

When it comes to the area surrounding us, we hope that we play our part. If you’re looking for a Visual Management expert in Manchester or a workplace graphics agency in Macclesfield, we are here to help out. No job is ever too expansive for our team of professionals, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you want to reach out and see how we could work together, follow the link below and send us a message. Or, if you are in the area and you’re looking for an expert near you, call into our workshop.



Contra Vision Vinyl Graphics – Volkswagen

Contra Vision Vinyl Graphics

Many thanks to Johnsons Volkswagen dealership in Stafford, the wider Johnsons cars group and Volkswagen UK for the opportunity to update a section of their showroom graphics. 

We stripped and refreshed the partitioning glass between the sales office and sales floor, a common feature of modern car showrooms but all too often neglected from a branding perspective.

Contra Vision Vinyl – How it’s done

For this job, we used Contra Vision micro-perforated one way window vinyl. This fabulous stuff allows windows to be used for advertising, architectural and brand awareness purposes. Previously, we used it to supplement several Visual Management and workplace graphics projects. However, more commonly, clients present infographics or brand projects for wall or entrance areas with matte feel printable vinyl.

Both vinyl types offer suitable formats for printing with excellent image definition, depth of colour and application flexibility.

We printed the image and applied the vinyl to the outside of the glass partition, which means the customers see the image but is almost invisible when viewed from the office side. Cool, right?

We think it looks excellent wall to wall and floor to floor with the central partition door integrated into the design.

The Story

There’s also a great back story to this job. It came from a discussion between one of our directors and the sales advisor as they negotiated a recent car purchase. “Can I just mention something – why not hide that distracting office, sales target info etc. With a great graphic”

It turned out that the advisor is a classic VW Camper enthusiast, and after a bit of discussion, it was agreed he’d bring his camper on-site to capture a few images. The image you see is one of those captured on the day, initially shared as a draft; all it required was little cropping but no filters. Once approved by the management team, it was printed at our unit in Bollington, Macclesfield, ready for fit.

The on-site application was arranged for a couple of installers for the morning, a little longer than normal as the existing image had been in place for several years and had become hard and brittle. As forecast, it put up a little bit of a fight. It took a couple of hours using heat guns and glue removers to remove it before deep cleaning the surface carefully. The application itself, however, was plain sailing.

Contra Vision Vinyl – Final Opinions

We think it looks great. From a customer’s perspective, it’s a real talking point. The image is a great reflection of the brand and uses a space that was underutilised previously.

Our director loves his new car; it’s high tech, smooth, and visually exciting like the new graphic he says! The advisors at Johnsons Volkswagen Stafford have a unique talking point.

We would love to do some more of these. Give us a call and explore the opportunity to refresh your workplace, office, commercial or retail space? – were confident you and your customers will love the results too.


What is Visual Management? Learn about Lean.

What is visual management? Learn about lean principles

What is Visual Management?

Visual management is an essential foundation tool of an organisation attempting to operate Lean.
What is Lean? Essentially, “Lean” is a set of conceptual tools and principles derived to help an organisation run more efficiently by continually hunting down and eliminating waste. Waste in this context is defined as any process or output that happens within an organisation that the ‘customer’ of the organisation would not wish to pay for.

Instruct and Keep Safe

Whilst being popularised initially as a foundational tool for Manufacturing organisations operating Lean, Visual Management in its purest forms (sometimes referred to as Visual Control) can be seen in many applications in the modern world. One of the simplest examples of Visual Management that most people can relate to is Traffic Lights. Everyone understands the essential cues these straightforward colour messages communicate no matter the language or location.

Very simply, traffic lights say – It is OK (to proceed), or it’s not OK (to proceed). In this way, Visual Management has the ability to provide instructions everyone can understand that help to keep people safe and away from harm. Further examples of this type of Visual Management would be road traffic signs where the safety message behind the sign is condensed into an easily understood image with little or no actual written language used.

Condition and Abnormality

Visual management is a vital tool in communicating conditions and abnormalities in an organisation adopting lean practices. The Traffic Light colouring system (Red, Amber and Green) is often applied in Visual Management as a means of telling the user if something is OK (green), at risk or questionable (amber) or not OK (red). Examples of this would include-

  • A production line is running with no issues – green light.
  • A part has been quality checked but is close to being out of standard for specification – amber status magnet.
  • A target for the number of units produced in a given time period has not been met – the actual number produced would be written in red.

In this way, Visual Management allows anyone to very quickly see the condition of a process or situation without the need to; find someone to speak to or find documentation that explains both activities being wasteful in nature.

Visual management is effective in communicating to users abnormalities in processes, situations and products. Simple visual cues also help to eliminate: excess time taken on simple tasks, judgement calls and errors or quality problems.

  • Visual management informs the user of the standard or usual location of critical pieces of equipment and also when there is an abnormality as the equipment is missing. Tooling shadow boards visually inform the user of two key pieces of information information-A piece of equipment is missing – as there is a space where the tool should be (the abnormality)
  • What the specification of the equipment is – by profiling the outside shape of the shadow

Bringing attention to the user that there is an abnormality in that a tool is missing also helps reduce time looking for the tool as it is likely that the tool is in use elsewhere. The alternative, where there is no control demonstrated, could lead to the user needlessly searching through drawers or on worktops when in fact it is possibly in use by a colleague the whole time.

Judgement calls on action to be taken can be eliminated with simple Visual Management devices. Visual minimum/maximum (max/min) level indicators utilise Visual Management to control processes such as stock and inventory quantities. Too much inventory is one of the (Seven deadly) wastes that hinder organisations from being lean. If a stock quantity falls below the visual minimum level, this tells the user of an abnormality and that action is required to replenish the stock. If a stock quantity is above the max stock level, this tells the user of the opposite abnormality and that no action should be taken to replenish until the stock level falls. Another relatable example of visual min/max level indicators is the dip stick used for checking oil levels in a car.

Visual management can be applied to draw attention to potential errors or quality problems. Boundary samples are often utilised in production to supplement part inspection standards by providing a Visual to compare against. An example of this would be highlighted with a paint pen the correct position and quantity of spot welds on a door panel in automotive manufacture. This Visual Management device allows the user to quickly confirm the correct quantity of welds have been applied and are in the correct position.

Knowing the score

Communicating statistical performance levels within an organisation are aided by the use of Visual Management. A helpful comparison here would be that of a sports scoreboard. The scoreboard allows all involved (spectators, players and officials) to keep track of who’s winning, who’s done well (scored) and how long is left. The principles of these simple measures can be directly applied in most organisations. In fact, without simple Visual Management such as this, spending time in and around a business and trying to ascertain if things are going well or not by watching the people and processes would be very difficult. Just in the same way that trying to guess what the situation in a football match is just by observing the player’s actions.

The Visual Management concept of “keeping the score” allows individuals within an organisation to understand if their team is having a good day or bad day. Understanding of performance and “good day/bad day” allows actions to be effectively directed, especially if performance is below that of which is expected.


Tracing issues and rectification actions with Visual Management boards help organisations to drive continuous improvement. Only when an issue has been fully counter-measured should an issue be removed from the Visual Management board in this way, ensuring that the same problem never happens again.
Visual Management boards provide a forum for discussion between individuals and teams. Structured problem solving such as five why and fishbone analysis can be visually facilitated close to the problem or place of work.

Team behaviours

Perhaps one of the most widely applicable and fundamental reasons for uptake of Visual Management is the engagement with teams and individuals and the cohesion this engagement provides. Visual Management Boards gives the power to the individuals to –

  • Raise team concerns to higher management
  • Provide a focal point for team meetings or “huddles”.
  • Understand a clearly communicated goal and track progress against this goal

My Visual Management Journey – Dave Probyn

My visual management journey

My Visual Management Journey

We are inspired within VMT to design the very best in Visual Management, Visual Control, and Workplace Graphics Solutions.

We are a close-knit team of graphic designers, graphics and installation experts, managed by partners including me who share a Lean operations background from our time together as Managers and Engineers for Toyota Manufacturing in their plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire.

Lean Consultancy 

Over time a couple of us have become Lean consultants, helping Automotive, Rail and Aerospace organisations to deploy Lean thinking in their plants in the UK and across Europe.

Amongst other techniques we deployed were Visual Management centres (or Obeya rooms) to enable open reviews of key performance indicators and intent with daily progress. For anything from automotive plant performance through aircraft build and maintenance, rail depot performance, new infrastructure build projects and more. It was pretty varied work, and we enjoyed helping management teams get closer to the facts, engaging with their workforces to achieve results, bringing them together around good Visual Management content, ensuring no nasty surprises and supporting the gentle art of challenging constructive conversations.

It was not always an easy task, but it was fulfilling when it came together, and we faced many challenges. One of them was materials – the whiteboards and particularly formats we needed were in short supply. The process of laying out the boards was a manual skill, with thin lining (“team leader”) tape and a steady marker hand required. Great for initial thinking and design flexibility, but poor for visual appeal and ongoing professionalism.

Founding VMT

So, we established VMT to satisfy the most demanding of clients for Visual Management and Visual Control – ourselves. We know from first-hand experience the design, materials, and durability demands for Visual Management and Visual Control solutions, it took us a couple of years of development, but we succeeded and are proud to have become a trusted supplier to many valued clients over the years. 

Recently over a coffee and out of the blue, I started to share my early exposure to Visual Management with the team, which it turns out came as a bit of a surprise to them – they had assumed it was my Toyota experience which had been my introduction, and I must admit I had not shared my thoughts with them previously.

So, I thought I would share it here in my first blog for VMT.

It always gets a giggle when I tell people about my start in manufacturing management, and I can’t imagine why!

Where it all started

I started my manufacturing career in 1992 in the ceramics industry – in fact, in the mass production of sanitaryware. The factory I worked in produced a mind-boggling 8-10 thousand pieces of sanitaryware per week from a workforce of 600. A fair-sized employer and a household name, perhaps more men can recall the name than ladies, given the amount of time spent in front of them.

I worked for one of the big two manufacturers in one of the older sites of three – struggling for performance, the site was destined for possible closure if things didn’t turn around. We needed to improve our quality – our yield of first-time good pieces needed to improve by a minimum of 10-15%.

I was the junior or trainee Manager of the latter half of the manufacturing processes, then inspection and repair areas. Many of the procedures were manual and skilled, and quality losses primarily lay in the hands of the experienced workforce, together with the general cleanliness of the plant, which dictated contamination levels. Believe me – It doesn’t take much to spoil that pristine glass-like appearance of your favourite bathroom porcelain.

Every piece was manually inspected, defects recorded, attributed by type and where possible by person. Defect rates were tracked and trended. Defects were fed back to the appropriate areas and individuals by supervisors. Trends overlapped, moved, and changed, but the overall percentage was flat for my first year or so in the job.

New boss, new perspective

Then suddenly, a new boss arrived – a robust and idiosyncratic character. He had the rare skill to be able to be a demanding boss, supportive coach, interested investigator and chief cheerleader at all the correct times.

He wanted us to beat the larger plants’ performance, and I was to be his understudy. I felt blessed and cursed all at the same time.

One day over a smoking cigarette, he dictated his orders…

“Probyn, cut this large roll of graph paper to a six-foot length. Mark it up to be able to plot the overall quality rate. Place it on the wall outside the inspection area.” Which was also on the main walkway in the factory. “Backdate the result daily for the last month – I want the overall good and scrap rate plotting, make it neat and understandable because everyone is going to see it, and if it’s scrappy, I’ll make you take it down and repair it.”

“And here are some important points I want you to follow exactly, plot the result every day at exactly 1000 am, and if you can’t do it, then call me because I will come and do it for you.” “Stay there and wait for the supervisors and me to come to you at 10.15, where we will talk through the results.”

I don’t know if he knew exactly what would happen, I certainly didn’t, but I plotted the result precisely as he instructed then waited for the supervisors and him to attend. We talked through the results, the rising and falling trends, what were the supervisors going to challenge? What did and didn’t we understand, and what were we going to investigate?

The learning curve

But slowly, at first, something else started to happen. As people walked by for their morning break at 10 am, they asked me about the plot. What was happening? Which areas were improving? Which areas were struggling? They offered comments, challenged my analysis and thinking, and offered opinions about what they thought were the real reasons for the defects.

I listened and learned from both conversations – the formal meeting with the Supervisors and the informal chats with the workforce. The conversations started to merge, and then the meetings started to merge and mingle. New investigations were kicked off onto subjects that previously would have been thought trivial. The new boss challenged, encouraged, and sometimes even helped me to investigate. I learned more about process and quality control in the next six months than I ever had sitting in the office doing the analysis.

Over the months, the results began to rise unsteadily at first, but bit by bit, it clawed its way up. Trends improved in almost all areas. Staff stopped for a chat or asked cheekily, “How did we do, Dave? Who’s to blame? How did I do?”

We changed things up from time to time – added more analysis of problem areas, did focus improvement activity, then watched to see if the result changed, added in challenge targets.

But some things never changed. The overall plot stayed in place, handwritten. I updated it daily at 10.00 – just as the staff walked by for their break.

Everyone who visited was shown the history and daily performance plot; we shared a lot of pride along with the workforce for the improvements which were made. But it was always difficult to explain precisely how we lifted the results – it was lots of minor improvements and a commitment to cleanliness and orderliness, more than a couple of big game-changers. But the nature of the conversations changed too, and progress became a shared activity rather than something that was forced upon people.

The Next Steps

I’d like to be able to report a happy ending that the factory remains active but alas not. I drive by the old abandoned factory in which I learned these lessons frequently on my way into VMT. Almost all sanitaryware manufacture has ceased in the UK. It remains a highly skilled manual job for the most part, with much manufacturing now relocated to lower labour cost regions across the globe.

The experience taught me a lot about visual management, workforce engagement, and problem-solving. I’d like to think it bought the factory and the jobs it contained the few more years of work I enjoyed there. After all, there’s never a wrong time to improve quality and efficiency performance in my experience.

We all had to look for new jobs, and I was relocated to one of the larger remaining factories, but the decline in the ceramics industry continued at a pace. I applied for other jobs and was pleased but nervous to be interviewed for a Toyota position a couple of years later, where I was asked about my experience of process improvement. “Could you give an example of when you were involved in quality improvement activity, and please explain what you did”. So I did!

My Future in Visual Management

I’ve been lucky enough to have had a career spanning a further 30 years this year across Toyota, Lean consulting and F1 operations management, which sounds and probably was more glamorous than sanitaryware manufacture.

There’s lots of management talk about digital dashboards, KPIs, BI and analytics, and I have no problem with them; I use them where appropriate, and I’m thankful for them.

But I’m still convinced there is an ongoing role for strong visual management and visual control in engaging people and teams around goals, performance and problem solving, and that’s something I’m more than happy to be able to continue to support others in doing through our work at VMT.

I hope my thoughts give you some inspiration for your own Visual Management and Visual control ideas.

Please get in touch; the experienced team here with me will be delighted to help you.