Changing Visual Standards Causes Mistakes

A recent trip to the grocery store caused some pain at home. Jeff Hajek and I recently held a webinar on learning lean concepts from home where we used milk as the example.  In this presentation we discussed visual standards which are help you identify the right type of milk.  Below is an example of this visual:

It has been my experience that not all stores in all areas of the country use the color codes the same. This is probably not too different them what you may have experienced with signs and floor markings associated with 5S.  But once you understand this visual standard you get used to it’s meaning. A trip to the grocery store 2 weeks ago was a reminder of the power of visual standards.

I have 3 young children who drink a lot of milk.  We buy about 5 gallons a week usually at the same store at the same time (after church on Sunday Morning).  Our family drinks fat free or skim milk as it is called.  After our shopping trip while giving one of our kids milk we noticed a problem.  The milk was not skim but rather 2%.  The kids of course drank it but noticed the difference in thickness and taste.  I thought I had a mental gap and got the wrong milk.  Maybe a sign of age.

Well it turns out that there is a reason for this mistake.  On our next trip to the store there was this sign:

Apparently, the store changed the visual standards and labeling for the milk.  I was used to buying green colored skim milk.  I got so used to the color I never really looked at the label.  Now the green color is for the 2% milk.  Ah ha.  You can see from this picture how easy it would be to make a mistake.  I am guessing I was probably not the only one to make this mistake since they added this sign the second week after the change.

So the lesson in all this is that visual standards are a powerful mistake proofing device when doing a task.  But changing visual standards can cause the very mistake you might be trying to prevent.  We can become complacent when we find comfort in our surroundings.

Do you have an example where a change in visual standards have caused a mistake at home or work?  How did it take you to notice the change?

Originally Posted at A Lean Journey.

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