Weekend Fun: Funny Plane Picture That’s Not Really “Visual Management”


There's a series of airplane photos, of South Africa's Kalula Airlines, that have been going around the web, including being posted in some blogs as an example of the Lean principle of “visual management,” like this one:

It made me chuckle – it's cheeky, but it's not really “visual management.”

You can see all of the pictures here.

I hate to be a buzzkill, but there's much more to visual management and 5S than just labeling stuff in the workplace. Visual management makes problems detectable immediately. Is the label of “co-captain” used to do a visual check to make sure the plane doesn't have just one pilot before pushing back from the gate? I doubt it.

If the airline weren't just being cheeky, I'd likely criticize them for going overboard with “Airplane 5S” if they were calling it that.

Fun pictures, but not really a Lean example there.

In a somewhat related note, sometimes people think posting a hundred signs around the workplace saying “please remember” and “don't forget” counts as visual management or error proofing. Nope. That's one of the themes of a new keynote talk that I debuted at Cindy Jimmerson's Lean Healthcare West lean leadership conference recently:

Warning: Signs!
From Cautionary Circulars to Proactive Prevention

I'm going to try to post some video of the talk soon and I'd love to bring it to your organization…

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. While this is a humorous entry, there is a more serious side to the equation to consider.

    I think that aviation (in general) can provide folks who are interested in lean with lots of fodder and inspiration for their efforts and experimentation.

    If you just look at aviation’s contribution as making the use of checklists popular, then you’re not looking close enough. For those who are close to it, they realize a key point:
    * It’s not just about the flying of aircraft — it’s also about being a part of the National Airspace System (NAS).

    To keep people safe and to get to where you want to be on-time, the whole system has to work properly. When one part of the system fails, it has effects. Some of these are merely annoying, while others result in the loss of life, equipment or property.

    We don’t use the word “lean” in aviation (per se), but I can still identify or find ways to apply many of the basic principles in aviation. Additionally, I find it exciting to be able to translate my knowledge of aviation (and an accompanying lean principle) and apply it in a “seemingly” unrelated area.

    It’s never about working from the whole OR from the parts. You always have both to deal with. There’s lots to learn and apply, if we take the time to study it, identify the core principles and translate it into a new area.


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