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Mary Hallock

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Next Time You Want to Identify Waste on Your Shop Floor, Visit an Art Museum

Can we imagine the floor tilting to one side under the lopsided amount of work in process?

Published: Wednesday, May 2, 2018 - 12:02

In lean we talk about “seeing the waste” and using visual tools. Many of us who use these terms  have had a lot of training in engineering, manufacturing, and other highly technical areas. However, the skills needed to “see” problems may lie more firmly in the study of art.

I recently read an article about some forward thinking companies that are creating art programs to help them identify safety problems. Why would we want to do this? When we are trying to see waste opportunities or see safety opportunities we should be asking ourselves:
What do I see?
What does it mean to me, other workers, and productivity in the area?
What should I do about it?

If we understand concepts in art education, we may be able to overcome some of the biases that we all have when we are observing what is taking place on the shop floor. The following are some of those biases:

Sometimes we just don’t see things even when it is right in front of us. We are so used to walking around or over things, or having items placed in an inconvenient area, that it doesn’t even register when we look at them.

Once we see something, it is impossible to “un-see” it. Think of some common optical illusions. Seeing too much can get in our way, just like not seeing things at all.

You are always filling in the blanks based on what you expect to be there. You can probably read the scrambled paragraph in this link because your brain helps you put things in an order that you expect. However, this may hinder your ability to think outside your personal learning in order to understand problems or provide solutions.

When we look at art we should look at subject, color, texture, space, balance, and symbolism.

What happens if we look at the shop floor with the same lens? What colors are in the cell that help us understand priorities, storage locations, or quality? What symbols do we use in our organization that help us eliminate words in order to convey information? How well is the space used and work balanced? Can we imagine the floor tilting to one side under the lopsided amount of work in process?

Perhaps before our next Job Hazard Analysis or Waste Assessment, we should all take a primer on how to analyze art.

First published on the IMEC blog.

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About The Author

Mary Hallock’s picture

Mary Hallock

Mary Hallock, is a technical specialist at IMEC, a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP)-approved center dedicated to providing organizations in Illinois with the tools and techniques to create sustainable competitive futures. Hallock provides direct technical assistance to manufacturers, specializing in production, strategic planning, business management, workforce development, continuous improvement, and green business practices. Hallock is a certified Training Within Industry (TWI) job instructions and job relations trainer and coach. She has a bachelor degree in chemical engineering and an MBA with a concentration in finance.