The Visual-Lean Workplace Works
by Brian McCarthy
If you’re implementing lean, a great way to start is by creating a visual workplace. This isn’t a new idea, but it is one that’s often overlooked, despite the fact that we’re all comfortable seeing visual signs and responding accordingly
(e.g., stop signs and railroad crossing signals). So why not create a visual workplace that identifies--and eliminates--deficits in information through visual solutions?
A visible workplace ensures that answers to vital questions are installed by design into the work environment for full access at any time, as close to the point-of-use as possible. In a nonvisual workplace, “where” questions severely affect productivity. “Where are my tools? “Where is the material?” “Where are the dies?” “Where is the report?”
An effectively implemented visual workplace involves levels of visually shared information starting with visual order, visual standards, visual metrics, visual controls, and visual guarantees.
The next level focuses on the visual answers to five other core questions: the visual what, when, who, how many, and how. This makes details such as customer tolerances and values available at a glance, along with the standard operating procedures that make them possible.
Here are 10 ideas that can get you started on the right track:
1. Sort through/sort out. Get rid of the junk, which means anything people don’t want or need to support their work. An example would be sorting and red-tagging items in any production or office work area.
2. Scrub or shine the workplace. Clean the work area and everything in it. Paint surfaces as necessary. The goal is to prepare the physical workplace so that it can hold visual information (e.g., adhesive tags won’t stick on dust, grease, or grime). An example would be cleaning and inspecting a machine or piece of equipment, and then developing plans to maintain and sustain the desired conditions.
3. Secure safety. Identify and report larger safety hazards. A premium is put on visual inventiveness by people who often provide safety solutions to risks that sometimes only they recognize. For example, many companies incorporate safety as part of their regular workplace audits.
4. Select locations. Decide where workplace items should be located. This is based on accelerating the flow of material, information, and people in and through the work area. Get rid of unnecessary motion. An example would be labeling or signage for work cabinets or work areas.
5. Set locations. Give every workplace item a home. This is done through a border, a home address, and (if possible) an identification label. Start on the floor and move up and in as you install the visual borders on walls, benches and other work surfaces, including shelving. Examples include lines on the floor, shelves, etc.
6. Visual handles. Illustrations or symbols enhance visual meaning dramatically, particularly for those who don’t speak English. Examples include arrows, numbers, color coding, pictures, etc. Standard OSHA safety-color codes are used by many organizations.
7. Focus on operational excellence. Operational excellence has been defined as the systematic management of safety, health, environment, reliability, and efficiency to achieve world-class performance. This translates into making sure that the enterprise functions efficiently and effectively. People have questions, but often do not ask them. This can mean that they make up their own answers or don’t do anything. Clear and concise communication between leaders and employees is very important.
8. Give people the time to implement the process. Proper capacity planning and utilization requires time to train and apply concepts learned from lean, visual workplace, and other continuous improvement methodologies. Do not look on this as a lack of productivity, but rather as an important step to improvement. Carve out specific time periods for implementation.
9. Train and empower the workforce. Management should be committed to the process, but should not micromanage it. Proper training, employee involvement, and then empowerment are the keys to success. Who is better at improving their own work area than the people doing the work?
10. Continuous improvement is a long-term commitment to achieving operational excellence. Most continuous-improvement and operational excellence approaches are broad visions that require strategy, scope, objectives, and definitions. Therefore, give the entire process time--short-term results are likely and expected, but a true culture change takes time.
Point No. 10 is key. Creating a visual-lean workplace involves a commitment to the process that comes from the highest levels of management. Short-term gains can be achieved, but the real benefits can be achieved only when the process becomes part of the culture.
Brian McCarthy is a senior field engineer at Mid-America Manufacturing Technology Center, headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas. McCarthy teaches visual-lean seminars for MAMTC based on the work of Gwendolyn D. Galsworth, Ph.D., the author of various books on workplace visuality, including Visual Workplace/Visual Thinking (Visual-Lean Enterprise Press, January 2005). For more information, visit www.mamtc.com .