Lean and Continuous Improvement

What We Can Learn From Disney

I’m a huge Disney fan!  Not only from a family entertainment perspective, but also from a business operations, philosophy, and culture point of view.  I had an opportunity to benchmark Disney World.  Wow, what an experience!  Too many lessons learned for one post, but the one thing for this post that we can learn from Disney is the power of visual controls!

The first time we took our family to Disney World, the kids were small.  Traveling with three young children is a handful and stressful!  We went the full Disney Immersion, meaning we got ourselves to the airport in Toronto, and they took care of the rest!  Disney got our luggage from Toronto to the resort, transported our family via Disney Express from Orlando to the resort,  we were fed through the meal plan, and the Disney Transportation System got us to and from all of the parks.

The power of visual controls can be exemplified by our first experience upon arriving in Orlando International Airport.  We followed the very prominent signs to the Disney Magical Express area.  We went to the counter where they registered us, checked us in, and looked after some other typical vacation registration stuff.  Then the Disney “Cast Member” pointed to his right and said “Go to the red carpet”.  I immediately followed the direction of his finger and way down the corridor, I could see a large red carpet in the middle of the floor.  By this time the kids were going squirrelly with exhaustion, excitement, and anticipation.  All of which can be the demise of the best of parents!  This was easy!  There wasn’t a string of commands provided such as “turn to your left, go down the terminal about 500 feet to the Disney Magical Express.  You want line 7, which will take you to Port Orleans Resort.  Make sure you get line 7 as you don’t want to end up at the wrong resort or it will be a long way back!  If line 7 is full, go to line 8, it’s going to Port Orleans as well but leaves 15 minutes later.  Have a great vacation.”  No, all we had to remember and do was go to the red carpet!  When we arrived at the red carpet, there were greeters there that asked us what resort we were going to.  When we said Port Orleans, they said “that’s lane 8.  The bus will be departing in about 20 minutes.  Have a Magical Day!”

Go to the red carpet!

Disney Magical Express queues

This was only the beginning of the effective use of visual controls that Disney had in place.  They are masters of moving massive amounts of people to/from and within their parks and to do so as well as they do, they have mastered visual controls.

Other businesses can learn from Disney on how to use visual controls to improve their overall area organization, flow of materials, product, and people, and improve efficiencies.  Effective visual controls assist with improving and controlling your main metrics of safety, quality, productivity, and cost.  Like many principles of lean or continuous improvement, visual controls apply to all aspects of business or operations beyond only manufacturing.

Unfortunately, too many businesses use visual controls primarily only to indicate 5S home locations and basic information signs.  Visual controls extend much deeper than this.

Characteristics of effective Visual Controls include as many of these as possible:

  • Quick and easy to understand
  • Indicate normal or abnormal conditions
  • Utilize simple signs, pictures or symbols
  • Use very few words
  • Are colourful and/or utilize colour codes
  • Form of “pokeyoke” or mistake proofing

Here’s a few examples:

binders abnormal

This example makes use of colours to differentiate between categories of binders and provides a simple pokeyoke or visual indicator that is simple to understand if the binders are in the correct sequence or not.  Also very easy to put the binders back in the correct order after use or to re-sequence if out of place.

susan-yin-63089-unsplash
Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

This next example is simple, colourful, and certainly has a pokeyoke.  There is no way a car can “mistakenly” park in this designated bike parking area.  The visual control also provides a safety barrier to protect the bikes and the riders from traffic.

floor lines

In areas where a large number of people need to move around or through a complex area, or in large office or factory spaces, way finding can be a problem causing frustration and lost productivity.  Visual controls can be an awesome tool to assist with effectively moving people around with ease.  You can see these types of visual controls in airports, hospitals, amusement parks etc.  I’ve seen them in some office towers and factories, but not as often as there is a need for them!

hit the bridgeIn addition to being somewhat funny, this is actually not a bad sign.  Too wordy in my opinion, but it is visual and is a pokeyoke!  Pretty hard to ignore and saves the bridge from those that “think I can make it”!  These type of visual controls are also great for as a visual control to restrict forklifts or similar equipment from entering prohibited areas and are lot more effective than signs alone!

Take a hard look at your work place and see where you have effective visual controls and where you can use some new ones!  A very simple yet effective tool but still far too under utilized!

Contact me:

You can email me with any questions at glennsommerville@hotmail.com, find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/glennsommervilleL2R/, or on Twitter at  https://twitter.com/gsommervilleL2R.

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Cover Photo by Travis Gergen on Unsplash

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