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Gwendolyn Galsworth

Quality Insider

The Visual Workplace

Do you speak excellence?

Published: Thursday, August 5, 2010 - 06:00

Editor's note: In this first in a series of articles on workplace visuality, Gwendolyn Galsworth, Ph.D., author of Work That Makes Sense (Visual Lean Enterprise Press, 2010)  and Visual Workplace/Visual Thinking (Visual-Lean Enterprise Press, 2005), and recognized visual expert, sets out the basic concepts and definitions of this powerful adherence and empowerment approach.

The entire world of work—whether assembly plant, hospital, bank, airport, military depot or pharmaceutical factory—is striving to make work safe; simpler; more logical, reliable, and linked; and less costly. Central to this is the visual workplace.

The visual workplace is not a brigade of buckets and brooms, or posters and signs. It is a compelling operational imperative central to your war on waste and crucial to meeting daily performance goals, vastly reduced lead times, and and dramatically improved quality.

However, most people do not understand the tremendous power of workplace visuality. Instead, they treat it as an add-on to some other improvement effort, whether lean or Six Sigma. “We know what visual is. Let’s put up some signs and put down some lines.” This is not just a mistake in thinking; it is the loss of a huge improvement opportunity.

Translating vital information into visual devices

More precisely, what is a visual workplace? Here is my definition:

“A visual workplace is a self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating, and self-improving work environment… where what is supposed to happen does happen on time, every time, day or night—because of visual solutions.”

This definition, which evolved from a decade of visual implementations, is worth a closer look. The first half—“a visual workplace is a self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating, and self-improving work environment”—describes the outcome in terms of functionality. When a workplace gets visual, it functions differently—safer, better, faster, smoother.

Specifically, a visual workplace:

• Is in order, order you can see, and is able to harness that order for a business advantage

• Explains itself to anyone and everyone in it—sharing vital information about what to do and what not to do, how and when to do it, and how to respond if something (including yourself) goes wrong

• Is transparent because it explains itself—a visual work environment can regulate itself  through high-impact, low-cost visual devices

• Acquires the ability, over time, to correct itself to become self-improving, because visual devices are constantly providing feedback on our performance and the performance of the company itself

 

The second half of the definition—“where what is supposed to happen does happen on time, every time, day or night—because of visual solutions”—describes a broader outcome: a company that can, through visual devices, ensure the precise execution of technical standards and procedural standards. The result? Work is executed with precision, reliably and predictably translating perceived value (what the customer wants) into received value (what the customer buys). Look at the definition of a visual device below:

Definition of a Visual Device

A visual device is an apparatus, mechanism, item, or thing that influences, directs, limits, or controls behavior by making information vital to the task at hand available at a glance, without speaking a word.

A gigantic adherence mechanism

Visual devices translate the thousands of informational transactions that occur every day at work into visible meaning. This visible meaning doesn’t just affect performance; it creates performance. Following are four visual devices, each sharing visual information on four aspects of day-to-day work.

Showing status: This checkered flag tells the supervisor and everyone else that these two extrusion machines are producing to schedule.

Sharing work priorities: The area supervisor created this visual display so operators could tell—at a glance—what order to work on next. (Red is first priority.)


Preventing defects: Operators put red tape on each of these poles as a reminder not to hang wiring harnesses too low and chance damaging their delicate terminal endings.

Providing ease of access: Although this plant has not yet gone lean, slanted green borders help forklift drivers pick and place pallets, while the yellow person-width border allows operators to find orders more easily.

A visual workplace is made up of hundreds—even thousands—of such devices, created by the work force that needs them. Added up, these devices create a language of excellence in the enterprise—a language that speaks to everyone and anyone who wants to listen. Is your workplace speaking the language of excellence to you?

The world’s first Visual Workplace Summit will show you what, why, and how a visual workplace can help. This summit will be held at the Marriott City Center in Salt Lake City, Oct. 26–28. Also at the summit, a Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Donald Dewar, president and founder of QCI International and Quality Digest. Visit www.visualsummit2010.com for more information.

 

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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.