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Gwendolyn Galsworth


Five Things You Don’t Know About Visuality

Like two wings of a bird, visual and lean need each other—in equal and balanced synergy

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - 12:01

Most people have a notion about the visual workplace that is much too small for themselves and their companies. They think of it as a series of point solutions that are helpful, even clever. Yet they should expect more—because they need more.

In fact, visuality is a language—an imbedded system of information detail. Its purpose (among many other things) is to capture and make functional the elements of your current operational system. This is as true in healthcare and offices as it is in manufacturing, food processing, or an open-pit mine. On its most effective level, the visual workplace allows you and your company to see how you think—and where the gaps are. I call these gaps “information deficits” and they are barely visible on their own. To find them we must look for their symptom: motion/moving without working.

Visual devices and systems are the words and grammar of your new imbedded language. The result is a workplace that speaks—whatever the venue—along with dramatic increases in productivity quality, safety, and the satisfaction of employees and customers alike.

Here are five other things that you might not know about visuality

1. Lean does not include visual. There is understandable confusion on this point because nearly every early training session on lean has a built-in 5S module, which has a visual component (namely “labels and lines”—a case of misnaming). This leads us to the mistaken belief that lean includes visual. It does not.
2. Visuality and lean are equal partners. Visuality, on one hand, builds operational information into the physical work environment, enabling people and machines to work with greater precision because they are each increasingly self-regulating. Lean, by contrast, defines and directs the flow of work that visual spells out, dramatically reducing lead-time and flow distance. Visual partners closely with lean by imbedding improvement gains into the physical workplace. Like two wings of a bird, visual and lean need each other—in equal and balanced synergy. Neither is more important; they are of equal importance.
3. Visuality puts 5S on steroids and goes on from there. In fact, applying 5S solely within the context of lean not only gives us a false belief that we are implementing workplace visuality, it also vastly reduces the impact that so-called “5S” can contribute to the company’s journey to excellence, both in terms of improved KPIs and employee engagement. To put a finer point to it, in more than 30 years of researching and implementing visuality, I have never found a more powerful approach for empowering and aligning the workforce, not just value-adding employees but all employees, including managers and executives. When you liberate information, you liberate the human will.
4. Visuality provides a wholesale upgrade of your expectations and results. Effectively deployed, visuality populates your operational landscape with hundreds, even thousands, of visual devices and visual mini-systems that entirely redefine the way work gets done, waste is reduced, employees are involved, customers are served, and profit is made in your organization. Nearly without exception, we see a 15- to 30-percent increase in productivity on the micro or departmental level. Partner that with lean on the macro level, and those results are stabilized and actually hit the bottom line.
5. Visual thinking becomes a new core competency in your organization. Visuality offers the promise of a new enterprise, one that reaches for and gains excellence as a way of doing business as part of daily work. That excellence is founded on the emergence of a new core competency in the corporation, one that I call “visual thinking.” Simply defined, visual thinking is the ability of each employee to recognize motion and the information deficits that cause it—and then to eliminate both through solutions that are visual. Done iteratively cycle after cycle, the enterprise and every cabinet, desk, machine, tool, wall, and bench speak with a clear and precise voice, the voice of the enterprise.

Visual thinking, which fits hand-in-glove with lean principles and practices, is the doorway to achieving—and then imbedding—the operational excellence you seek, whatever the industry, whatever the level.

This article is based on material in chapter one of Galsworth’s Shingo Prize Research Award-winning book, Visual Workplace/Visual Thinking, Second Edition (CRC Press, 2017).


About The Author

Gwendolyn Galsworth’s picture

Gwendolyn Galsworth

Gwendolyn Galsworth, Ph.D., has been implementing visuality for more than 30 years. She’s focused on codifying the visual workplace concepts, principles, and technologies into a single, coherent sustainable framework of knowledge. Galsworth founded Visual Thinking Inc. in 1991, and in 2005 she launched The Visual-Lean Institute where in-house trainers and external consultants are trained and certified in the Institute’s nine core visual workplace methods. Two of the seven books Galsworth has written received the Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award.