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The selection of information and its way of presentation, the physical preparation of the media, and the selection of locations must be carried out in cooperation with the personnel employed in the production units.

The way of cooperation will vary in relation to the media, the company, its management style, culture, and hierarchical structure. Keep in mind a key principle: the inhabitants of a work area are the first line people to engage with the visual organization of their workplace.

Michel Greif, The Visual Factory, 1991

To understand the true impact that visual management has on the implementation of Lean Construction, we must go back to the origins of Lean. If you go to the basics of the Toyota Production System, you will see Visual Management everywhere.

One of the books that best shows the culture and the concept of visual management is “The New Shop Floor Management” by Kiyoshi Suzaki. This figure from the book shows how ideally a visual workplace should look like. There you can see a visual place plenty of visual artifacts and people interacting among them, and lots of boards showing updated and shared information:

Continuous improvement, Deming Cycle, PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act), Fishbone Diagrams, KPIs boards, SQCDP (Safety, Quality, Cost, Delivery, People), Visual Production Control, Visual Quality Control, Skill Matrix, Poka-Yoke, Leadership, making people before products, self-confidence, etc.

Picture from the book “New Shop Floor Management: Empowering People for Continuous Improvement” by Kiyoshi Suzaki

The following picture, also from the same book, tells us a metaphor about how the same mountain could be seen depending on the eyes you see it. While with traditional project management we can only see a part of the mountain, by means of Lean Construction and Visual Management we can achieve a more holistic view and see what is happening in real time.

Picture from the book “New Shop Floor Management: Empowering People for Continuous Improvement” by Kiyoshi Suzaki

Let’s see an example. Historically, project planning has been based on Gantt charts. But many people in the construction site don’t understand Gantt charts, and even they seem complicated for many stakeholders, including the client. In addition, Gantt Charts become obsolete a few weeks after being made, and they are usually done individually with a unique point of view and not collaboratively. This doesn’t mean that we must be against the Gantt Chart, but for a better understanding we should start by drawing a Gantt Chart organized by processes and zones. Anyway, the Gantt chart by itself will not solve the chronic problems of construction, we need more.

2. The Big Room

Gantt Chart in the construction site. Picture by Juan Felipe Pons Achell.

On the other hand, those companies that use the concepts of Collaborative Planning, Takt Time Planning, Heijunka Box and Visual management together, have a better understanding about what is happening in all processes. That way, early and better decisions can be taken. In this article we will see some examples of how we are implementing all those concepts at Think In Lean S.L.. For example, in the picture below, you can see a Big Room for Last Planner System in a construction site, where you can see visual planning and information of the project, everywhere.

Visual Workplace in the Big Room at the construction site, Girona, Spain. Implementation and picture by Juan Felipe Pons Achell. General Contractor: SOGESA & SECLASA.

Although I began my professional career in 1997 in the AEC Industry, I didn’t discover Lean Construction until 2008. And, since the beginning I felt fascinated by the Toyota methods of production and management. At that time, I read the thesis of Koskela, Ballard and others, but quickly I focused on the origin and the source of the Toyota methods. The more I studied the TPS and the Japanese authors about TPS, the more I understood the importance of Visual Management for communication in the production site or Gemba (the Japanese word to describe the place where real things happen).

In 2011 when I did my first of three short academic stays at Salford University (UK) with Lauri Koskela, there was some early research about visual management in construction, although the concept was not still widespread in the construction industry.

Cultural topics have to do with the difficulty of implementing Lean Construction. Although the concepts and tools are easy to understand, diverse cultural aspects, depending on every country, can make the implementation difficult. And today it is still often the case that information about the project and planning is only in the hands of the site manager.

Recommended lectures to understand the origins of Lean Construction and TPS.

What is Visual Management?

We could define visual management as follows:

Visual management is the visual and definitive verification that Lean Construction was implemented correctly.

Visual management in construction is nothing more than the evidence that:

  • the set of Lean tools and concepts necessary for a specific project was suitably implemented,
  • the KPIs chosen by the management team are being followed and updated by everyone,
  • continuous improvement based on the performance obtained is being carried out in the right way.

In this article I will talk about some of the tools, methods, and artifacts I have developed or adapted from Toyota to Construction management. Think In Lean® is not only the name of my company, but also the name of the methodology I have developed after years of implementations in tens of companies since 2010. Visual Management is one of the main pillars, and it is implicit in each of the Lean tools that we implement.

To develop the method, my reference was always Toyota and the basic principles of Lean. According to our experience, to master Lean, you need to master the basics of Lean. Sometimes you need to come back to the origins and the basics of Lean, because mastering the basics will allow you to create a solid base in your company to achieve more important goals in the future. On the contrary, nowadays there are many architects and engineers who know and implement tools like the Last Planner® System, but they have no idea about the Lean principles and Toyota Production System. So, if LPS facilitators don’t understand the principles of Lean and Toyota, it is easy to give up the System.

“To master Lean, you need to master the basics of Lean”

And, what do I mean with the basics of Lean? I mean that the situation is evident for everybody. In the following picture about a 5S implementation there's evidence that someone took the bricklaying tools nº 5, 6 and 9. And there's also evidence that the people who took those tools must leave them back in the right place.

Implementation and picture by Juan Felipe Pons Achell. FUNDACIÓN LABORAL DE LA CONSTRUCCIÓN DE NAVARRA, Spain.

Picture from the book (based on the early days of Lean in Japanese Factories) “Just In Time Factory Revolution: a pictorial guide to factory design of the future” by Hiroyuki Hirano.

The 5S is a basic, but a powerful tool to start a Lean implementation in your company.

One of our learnings at Think In Lean S.L., was that we need easy, simple, and effective tools for the people in the construction site to embrace our Lean methods and techniques. There’s no need for rocket science. In fact, if you want to be successful in the implementation of Lean you need embracement of the site foreman and site managers. They are the key people in the hierarchy of construction companies to achieve embracement of Lean in the construction site. In this sense, I recommend training about 5S, Visual management and Lean Logistics in the construction site to get embracement.

Training about 5S to site managers and foremen in the construction site, Barcelona, Spain. Picture by Juan Felipe Pons Achell. General contractor: ROIG Construccions.


According to my experience, Visual Management should be understood as a concept and not only as a tool. So, you will need to use a series of strategies, methodologies, tools, artifacts, and technologies to display the concept of Visual Management and make it implicit every time you implement a Lean tool or methodology. The point is that it must be simple, intuitive, and easy to understand by everyone. I will show some examples in this article.

Some visual management tools that we apply on construction sites, together with Collaborative Planning or Last Planner® System, are the following:

  1. The concept of “Big Room”
  2. The 5S methodology
  3. Basic Lean logistics in the construction site
  4. The concept of Heijunka Box

1. The concept of Big Room

At Think In Lean S.L., since the beginning, one of our biggest challenges was getting everyone on the construction site to understand what's happening in real time, at a glance. And for us, this happens in the Big Room. So first, we implement the concept of Big Room. See more information about this concept at The Big Room as a Visual Management concept in Last Planner® System (

The Big Room is a dynamizing element and one of the main pillars of our methodology. The concept is particularly important because nowadays, people in the world perceive information better visually. People have three main ways to catch information: visual, auditory and kinesthetic, but according to psychologists, today the prevailing way is visual. So, for a better understanding of the project performance in the construction site we need to implement visual artifacts when implementing Lean Construction.

For the implementation of the Big Room, we went to the basics of Lean. In Think in Lean S.L., we consider these 5 questions that we adapted to construction from the work of Michel Greif at “The Visual Factory”. See more information at Benefits of Visual Management (

2. The 5S methodology

The 5S methodology can be considered a Lean tool to stimulate the visual management concept, and help people to keep a more visual workplace, set in order, organized, shine and safety. See more information at Keys and Tips to Implement the 5S Methodology (

The Big Room itself is a good place to start implementing the 5S in the construction site.

Let me tell you a short story to understand the power of Visual Management in Construction: some years ago, during a LPS weekly meeting, I became a bit frustrated because at the end of every weekly meeting, all subcontractors and general contractor staff left the room messy like the one in the picture below. In this way, at the next weekly planning meeting, it was easy to run out of office supplies to hold the meeting.

Picture and implementation by Juan Felipe Pons. Before Implementing 5S

One day, after the Last Planner weekly meeting, I asked a man from the contractor company to implement the 5S. We did a basic implementation that same afternoon. And I said: Let's not say anything to anyone, and next week let’s see what happens.

Picture and implementation by Juan Felipe Pons. After Implementing 5S

Next week I attended the LPS weekly meeting and people started to interact with each other, writing the tags and putting them at the boards, like every week, but something was different that day.

Picture and implementation by Juan Felipe Pons. After Implementing 5S

At the end of the meeting, magically, people left all the office supplies in the right place, and the whole big room, chairs and other stuff were set in order. This was possible because an easy and intuitive system was implemented.

Picture and implementation by Juan Felipe Pons. After Implementing 5S

Even a few weeks later, when they had to change rooms to the next building, they replicated the same big room by themselves, thanks to standardization. This is an evidence of the powerful of Lean Visual Management.

Picture and implementation by Juan Felipe Pons. After Implementing 5S

3. Basic Lean logistics in the construction site

We also consider Lean logistics as a needed element for Visual management in the construction site. In many construction sites we can see untidy and messy inventory, like the one in the picture below. Inventory seems to be left in the site without order and organization, and this situation causes lots of waste:

  • Unnecessary inventories create extra costs and use of storage area, extra time for storage management, and extra transportation.
  • The larger the inventory, the more difficult it is to distinguish what is necessary and what is not, causing chaos in the construction site.
  • Disorganized warehouses and poor logistics management causes extra time in search of materials and excess of transport.
  • Large quantities of stocked items and parts may become obsolete due to design changes or deterioration, causing more transport, waiting, and consequently extra cost.
  • Unnecessary equipment and materials cause daily obstacles to production activities, causing the waste of waiting and downtime due to poor location of materials.
  • Disorganized inventory causes waste of time when inventory is not easy to find. Waste of movement: walking long distances in search of tools, materials, and any other item or tool.
  • Workers are frustrated and tired due to lack of organization.
  • Waste of quality: materials and any item can suffer deterioration due to messy storage conditions.
  • Lots of Waste due to unsafe conditions: disorder and disorganization generates more risk situations.

On the other hand, in the following picture, you can see how the concepts of 5S, Visual Management and Lean logistics were implemented in a construction site warehouse. The map shows the different places and inventory ubication for every subcontractor, and one color per subcontractor. This way, subcontractors can organize their own inventory in a specific area. So, they will feel a sense of property and every subcontractor will take care of its own warehouse, because that’s yours.

Picture by Juan Felipe Pons. General Contractor: CLASICA URBANA. Valencia, Spain

Flow Diagrams or Value Stream Maps to understand the logistics processes.

Another Lean tool associated with Visual Management and 5S that we usually implement in our projects is the design of the inventory entry flows to the workplace and the rubbish exit flows. If these flows are not defined from the beginning, the material flows will be improvised each time, each subcontractor will adopt their own criteria and the work area will become chaotic with many situations of waste and unsafe conditions.

Value Stream Map for understanding the inputs and outputs of inventory and rubbish.

4. The concept of Heijunka Box

The Heijunka Box is another concept from the basics of Toyota and Lean. The Lean Lexicon (by The Lean Enterprise Institute) defines Heijunka Box as a tool used to level the mix and volume of production by distributing Kanban within a facility at fixed intervals, also called leveling box.

In the illustration below of a typical Heijunka Box, each horizontal row is for one type of product. Each vertical column represents identical time intervals for a paced withdrawal of Kanban. The shift starts at 7:00 AM and the Kanban withdrawal interval is every 20 minutes. This is the frequency with which the material handler withdraws Kanban from the box and distributes them to production processes in the facility.

Whereas the slots represent the material and information flow timing, the Kanban in the slots each represent one pitch of production for one product type. (Pitch is the Takt Time multiplied by the pack-out quantity). In the case of product A, the pitch is 20 minutes and there is one Kanban in the slot for each time interval. However, the pitch for product B is 10 minutes, so there are two Kanban in each slot. Product C has a pitch of 40 minutes, so there are Kanban in every other slot.

Picture from the book “Lean Lexicon” (by The Lean Enterprise Institute)

In 2011 I was training a team of manufacturing engineers at a Toyota’s supplier plant who manufacture the electronics of Toyota. Despite the high level of automation and robotization in the whole factory, I was surprised that in the plant (the Gemba) the daily production system was managed by a simple and easy Heijunka Box. The concept is easy to understand and easy to follow by everyone in the factory.

In the picture below you can see an example. The box is organized in rows and columns. In the x axis, every row shows a workstation, and the y axis shows a timeline divided in two shifts and frames of 15 minutes. This is the time needed to manufacture an order and coincide with the takt time needed to deliver the pieces on time. According to the picture, the real situation is evident for everybody in the plant: Workstation 2, in the evening shift is delayed 45 minutes (15 minutes x 3 slots). On the other hand, Workstations 1 and 3 are delivering their production on time. The production plan is evident for everybody, even for a foreign who sees the board for the first time. And this is another evidence of the power of Visual Management.

Example of Heijunka post at Fujitsu (Toyota’s Supplier)

Example of Heijunka post

The concept of Heijunka Box in construction.

Inspired by the Heijunka box of Toyota, I adapted this concept to construction. In my article The Big Room as a Visual Management concept in Last Planner® System ( I talked about the prototype of the Pull Planning Board I invented. To design that board I was inspired, in part, by the Heijunka box concept.

The method I developed in Think in Lean S.L. consists of a lot of tips and artifacts that we have invented or learned from tens of companies and hundreds of people we have worked with. All those elements are organized under a step-by-step methodology, able to be replicated everywhere in whatever company and project. So, in the next example you can see the following elements: LPS, Takt Time Planning, Heijunka Box, and even a Gantt Chart organized by processes and sectors.

Implementation and picture by Juan Felipe Pons Achell. Courtesy of AEDAS HOMES and CONSTRUCTORA SAN JOSÉ, Barcelona, Spain.

As well as the previous Toyota’s Heijunka Box, you can see a board organized in rows (zones) and columns (weeks). One of the differences between manufacturing and construction is that the columns of the Heijunka box represent days or weeks and not minutes. The tags not crossed out in the left of the red line (a cord in the site) give us information about the delayed processes in real time.

Now, pay attention to the following picture. The rows are divided in modules or zones, and the columns in weeks. The board represents the Pull Session of the Structure phase of the building in the picture. Every red tag is a milestone of concreting (pouring the concrete) one specific floor in a specific area.

In the picture below you can also see some stickers in the tags: red and green. Green means on time, and red means delayed. That’s easy to understand for everybody and that’s not rocket science. Now, if you look at the picture, you will observe that on May 23:

  • M1.3 was all right, according to the planning.
  • M3.1 was 3 weeks delayed.
  • M2.1 was 2 weeks delayed.
  • Implementation and picture by Juan Felipe Pons Achell. Owner: COLONIAL and General Contractor: OHLA, Madrid, Spain.

    It seems really evident, even for people that don’t know the project. And then, according to the information in the picture, the team can implement actions to rectify. For example, they can increase the number of workers on M3.1 and M2.1.

    In the slide below, you can see the weekly meeting with subcontractors. Everyone can see how the project is going on and where they are failing, at a glance. This is another evidence of the power of Visual Management combined with Last Planner® System and other Lean tools.

    Implementation and picture by Juan Felipe Pons Achell. Courtesy of COLONIAL and OHLA, Madrid, Spain.


    In this article we have seen a series of tools that help us understand the importance and benefits of Visual Management in construction. We have explained a series of tools to put the concept of visual management into practice and we have seen that when we implement Visual Management in construction, it is easier for everyone to understand at a single glance what is happening on the construction site or in the project, and in this way faster decisions can be taken and go direct to the current problem in real time.

    These tools are not complicated to understand or implement. Its complexity lies in the minds of people, in the current paradigms in the construction industry, and the important differences that these changes require for some organizational cultures.

    Implementing visual management will require thinking of strategies depending on the country and the cultural map of each area and each organization. Lean Construction Blog is read all over the world, so I would like each reader of this article to think about how to adapt the concept of Visual Management according to their geographical and cultural environment.

    The logical evolution of all these methods is the incorporation of new technologies and software to achieve even a more efficient management system. Specially, in the areas of data management and analysis, automation and simplification of processes, information management and communications among project team members, etc. This is something that the company I lead, Think In Lean S.L., has been working on for a long time. Thus, in future articles we will talk about the challenges that arise in the construction industry when introducing all these changes.

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Juan Felipe Pons has worked as a building engineer since 1998. He has a MSc in Construction Management and PgCert in Lean Manufacturing (Polytechnic University of Valencia). Currently, JFP is working as a Lean construction trainer and consultant for several companies and organizations. He has written two books and has been invited as a speaker in several MSc of Project Management, MBA programs, and international conferences.