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Gwendolyn Galsworth

Six Sigma

Visual Devices: Letting the Workplace Speak

Infuse your workplace with intelligence

Published: Thursday, August 12, 2010 - 05:30

Editor's note: In this second 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, shows us how visual devices let the workplace speak.  

Brilliant floor borders in this massive food manufacturer in Australia show us the walk lanes while alerting forklift drivers to pedestrian traffic.


In a visual workplace, information is converted into simple, commonly understood visual devices installed in the process of work itself—as close to the point of use as possible. The result is the transformation of a formerly mute work environment into one that speaks clearly and precisely about how to perform error-free work safely, smoothly, reliably, and on-time.

What happens when the workplace speaks? What happens when formerly voiceless workstations, equipment, tools, machines, and material can communicate freely and precisely with us? What happens when we can know vital information—the details of work—at a glance, without speaking a word, without asking (or answering) a single question?

When a company becomes a fully functioning visual workplace, each employee has instant on-demand access to information vital to one’s own work, and the enterprise is infused with intelligence you can actually see—intelligence that illuminates and drives the corporate intent. The result is benefits you can take to the bank.

In a visual enterprise, every section of the floor, every bench, work surface, hand tool, part, machine, rack, cabinet, and bin is equipped to make a contribution to the collective purpose that is beyond its mere existence. Now that item can visually communicate vital information to anyone and everyone who needs it as they need it. There are no exceptions.

In a visual workplace, floors don’t exist simply to walk on or hold things up. They function. They show us where it is safe to walk, where materials are, and where we are
supposed to work. Benches are not merely surfaces on which to place parts and tools. Through the visual where, benches tell the exact location of the “objects” of work—or show us that they are missing. A simple address can even save lives, as you see in the example to the left below.

Visually highlighting the “CIS” in this drug address helps pharmacists keep dangerous mix-ups to a minimum.

Departments need not merely be a collection of furniture, objects, and people. When we give them a voice through workplace visuality, they become productive allies that manage themselves as well as the enterprise. Tools aren’t restricted to merely helping us convert material. They can also tell us how to use them properly, when they need to be calibrated, and when they are unsafe. In a visual workplace, tools become vocal partners in the production process. And when we create equipment that speaks, machines can assist in their own quick changeovers.

In a full-functioning visual workplace, the things of the physical workplace and the workplace itself contribute to making profit in ways that go far beyond their mere presence. Through visuality, they become active, sustaining partners in the process of work and day-to-day improvement.

In this cell, operators leave dull tools in the red location on the machine face and maintenance returns them, sharpened, to the green location.

Imagine that any employee—whether a newcomer, veteran, or temp—could safely, effectively, and efficiently run a new process in your company with merely a simple orientation because that process is visually capable… with vital performance information available instantly at point of use. What would that mean for your bottom line? Go further. What if your entire enterprise—from sales and customer service through design, production, and shipping—were visually capable of responding to changes in minutes instead of days? Would that improve your competitive advantage?

This scrap separator solution began as six Styrofoam cups that the assembly operator taped together so she could sort defects into groups as she found them.

Look at the solutions in this article. Can you see the connection between them and applications that are right for your company—whether factory, bank, military depot, or hospital? Do you begin to see the great power of information that is embedded into the process of work, visually available to everyone and anyone who needs it, as close to the point of use as possible? If you do, you are already on your way to workplace visuality.

The Visual Workplace Summit will open your eyes to the power of information visually embedded into work processes. Attend the Visual Workplace Summit, Oct. 26–28, at the Marriott City Center in Salt Lake City and come away wide-eyed in visuality. For more information, visit www.visualsummit2010.com


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.