Why using a shadow board will save you time

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I first came across the idea of a shadow board when I was visiting a Plant in the USA as part of a Lean Tour. The idea is very simple.  Basically instead of having the tools you need to do the job, lying about all over the place they are organized in a way that makes them easy to access and put back when you are finished with them.

I must admit I went a bit shadow board crazy once I had gained this new found knowledge but like all new things this madness passed after several counseling sessions.

A Shadow Board is basically a visual way of storing items, using some form of outline or background to indicate where the item should be placed.  You should always locate items closest to the work station first. Normally this will be tools that are used on an hourly or daily basis. In the case of an office environment the same principles apply: frequently used items should be located on the desk.

Shadow boards can be a great way to create visual impact. Basically an outline or shadow is created for each item so that it is easy to see, if it is there or not.

Typically this takes the form of some form of board that is located close to where the items are most frequently used.

What will you need to make one:

Obviously this will depend on your design.

This article is starting to sound a bit like a BBC ‘Blue Peter’ fact sheet. I always remember writing into the program as a child, to get their blueprint on how to build a Dalek. I am still very optimistic, but after 38 years of waiting I suspect that there is a good chance that the fact sheet is not coming now.

Here is the list:

Some ply wood or MDF as a suitable background for your board. The items you want to shadowboardize ( A new word invented by me) some hooks, some clips, a ruler, Velcro strip for light items, paint for background, a black marker pen, a sharp pencil, and your own personal wit, patience and imagination.

These are the three simple steps involved.

Step 1

Gather all of the tools: Review all of the tools in the vicinity and agree which ones you need to do the job. We are trying to create and environment a bit like an operating theater in a hospital. The surgeon does not go hunting for a scalpel or a pair of forceps now do they.

Just the act of gathering these items can be an interesting exercise. I remember once doing a project at a firm in the USA.The technician had a chest full of tools that was very impressive. I mean really impressive. To do the job in question we only needed seven tools. He had to hunt through his vast collection of tools every time we wanted to do this repetitive task. In fact, we eventually got the number of tools down to four, by welding three of the tools together to make a special tool. These four tools then went on the shadow board. Job done.

Step 2

Having decided on the tools that are required then we need to get a suitable carrier to place them on. This is dependent on the number of items we want to shadowboardize ( my new word again) and the place it is going to be located. For each item we want to be able to understand what it is, how many there should be, and where it should go back to.

Physically place the tools out on the board and create an outline for each item. Take time to do this well, and make things level and straight.

There are several ways of achieving this. You can simply draw around the item carefully with a pencil and then color in the shape with either a black marker, black paint or create the shape using sticky back plastic, cut it out and stick it in position. Once you have created the shadow then you need to find a suitable way of locating the item on the board. This could be a hook, clip, velcro or a simple shelf arrangement or holder. It is also a good idea to label each item on the board.

Step 3

Physically construct the Shadow Board and mount it as close as possible to the operation. It should be very visual and obvious from a distance if something is missing or in use.

Some final Shadow Board Advice.

Do not go overboard with this idea or people with think you have some sort of disorder, and you will lose credibility. When you start to see things like a shadow for where someone’s coffee cup should go on their desk, then you know you have lost the plot. Never use the word shadowboardize without written permission from me.


Graham Ross is co-author of the Lean Training book Tools for Success

Julien Depelteau - Chief Executive Officer

Julien is Flexpipe’s president and co-founder. He came upon lean manufacturing in 2006 and launched Flexpipe in 2010. His mission since then has been to introduce the modular system to new markets by making it affordable and accessible.