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Gwendolyn Galsworth


The Six Core Questions

Your window on struggle

Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2018 - 11:03

The six core questions you see below are a window to help us understand why we struggle at work. Why? Because the answers to them are missing! The remedy is to first notice that—to notice the motion caused by those deficits. Then remove the motion by implementing visual answers. Imbed the answers into the living landscape of work.

Here are examples that show you what I mean when I say: Make each core question visual. Just bear in mind that the six core questions are a tool, not a systematic methodology. They will move you closer to workplace visuality but can’t get you to the destination: a fully-functioning visual workplace.

No. 1: The visual where. The visual where begins on the floor level with borders and addresses for everything that casts a shadow. Then we move to work surfaces—shelves, racks, and inside cabinets—and do the same. That’s what you see to the left at Delphi Deltronicos (Matamoras, Mexico) with this hazmat cabinet. Here borders take the form of the metal dividers. The address function is on a driver-license level—lots of detail: common name, part number, and photo of the thing itself. All the information you need to take timely, independent, exact action... value-added action. Would this kind of border-and-address combination work for you and your area as well?

No. 2: The visual what. What exactly are we supposed to be making next? What are the specs, the values, the dimensions, the quantities? Do we know precisely, or do we have to guess and take the chance of producing something wrong? Let’s put a visual device in place to make sure that doesn’t happen. The quality spec binder to the right, for example, was compiled by Luis Catatao (United Electric Controls, Boston) because he needed this information. And now others know as well. Each page visually answers exactly “what” the tricky elements are in building switches and controls—with all the specifications and photographs of the most critical steps. Can you think of where this type of visual device could help you or others at work?

No. 3: The visual when. The term “when” in this core question refers to two types of time:
1. The exact time something needs to or will be done
2. Duration: the time required, for example, for a heat cycle

Here’s the story behind the example to the left. Nate clips this red clothespin onto the blue bin to let his boss and chief engineer, Camilla, know when the report she needs each morning is ready. No need to worry. You—and she—can see at a glance. And when Camilla picks up the report, she takes the pin off to let Nate know that all is well with the world. Perfect visual communication. Is there someone in your department that could benefit from this kind of visual device? Could you?

No. 4: The visual who is about who gets what, and who helps us at work. Think of the dozens (if not hundreds) of people who contribute some part of their day to help your work happen. Name them visually so you can either get back to them for clarification, trace material status, find a needed tool, update them on changes, or simply say thank you. When you consider the visual who, also include your customers (internal and external), as well as the tools and machines that act as agents or helpers in your work. No doubt you can think of dozens of visual applications. Here’s a favorite. Dave Sanford (“Wild Man”), a buyer at Trailmobile in Toronto, developed this splendid airborne address at the right that tells his customer—operations—exactly who he is: which parts he is responsible for buying. Every buyer in purchasing has one. How about you?

No. 5: The visual how many. Hands-on counting and measuring are only two ways to determine the number, size, volume, or quantity of things, or simply the required setting. Yet there are other ways—visual ways—that are easier, more reliable, accurate, and effective, and don’t rely on judgment or chance. I already mentioned the use of borders in implementing the visual where (above). Borders are also powerful as visual controls or limits; they limit our behavior through structure, size, and number. The borders in the mini-control system on the left allows us to count the number of units that are stored in this corner of the production floor: one high by three deep by five long—room for 15 units—only. (Seton Identification Products—formerly Seton Name Plate Co.—Branford, Connecticut). Where can you use a visual control system like this in your area?

No. 6: The visual how. Reliable standards are the bedrock of all work. The last of the core questions, “How,” is simply your standard operating procedures (SOPs) made visual—visual standards. Visual standards (the visual how) are the least powerful of all visual devices because they tell only; they have no power to make us do anything. But when used to provide specific assistance, they can be very effective, especially when the person who needs the information can simply pull it into place. On the right, you see the right and wrong ways to tape an electrical wiring harness—visually. Notice the date? Yes, 1980, at the Rio Bravo IV, the first Packard-Electric factory in Mexico (now Delphi Automotive)—and at the start of its march to operational excellence. Decades later, Delphi became a giant in the industry and in the field of workplace visuality as well. Can you think of where this type of visual device could help you or others in your own work area?

A word of caution: Only new employees need a visual standard for every operation, every SOP. Once they understand the fundamentals, then use the visual how for a sharper focus to remind yourself and others of the details you may or could forget, or have forgotten. The key here is focus: Focus your visual standards on specific challenges, as Luis Catatao did with his quality spec binder (in the visual what). The right use of visual standards can help us remember the tricky bits. Every single tiny little thing is overkill and will reduce the effectiveness of this useful visual tool.

So that is an overview of the six core questions. Use them, and you will find them a big help in conceptualizing your information deficits and what to do about them. Just remember: These core questions are a tool. They will get you started, but you will need a systematic methodology to reach your destination: a fully-functioning visual workplace.

First published on the Visual Thinking website.


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.