Activate these building blocks of Visual thinking and you create a work environment that is self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating, and self-improving where what is supposed to happen does happen on time, every time, day or night, because of Visual devices.
Once 1 through 7 are in place, you can move on to:
A Visual blueprint: 5S and beyondThe journey to a fully-functioning Visual workplace crosses no less than five major levels of Visual information sharing. That process begins with preparing the physical environment to hold Visual information: clearing the clutter, making things clean and safe, and then designating a home for each item left in the area through a home address, and, if applicable, an ID label. In short, this means installing the Visual answer to the “where?” question. This is the work of what is commonly called 5S or workplace organization (see A 5S Primer, below).
|Shown here, assembly instructions are color-coded based on subject and placed in a central location where they are easy to retrieve.
Where 5S imposes Visual order onto the floor, workbenches, cabinets, shelving, and tools, poka yoke demonstrates the mastery of cause on the attribute level, adeptly translating the tiniest performance requirement or specification into a mechanical or electronic device. Each device ensures that requirements will be met, repeatedly, flawlessly, whether or not the person performing the specific function wants them to be or not.
What to do?
There is much you can do in your own enterprise to reap the rewards of workplace Visuality:
- Begin a 5S project, only instead of making it primarily about “clean and neat,” expand its scope to include Visual information sharing. Go beyond lines and labels. Make a point of challenging people to invent Visual solutions that answer their own need-to-know questions.
- Support “I-driven responses,” unless you already have authentically empowered teams. Make it okay for people to invent things that do not require official sanction.
- Challenge staff to find Visual answers to each of the six core questions. You will notice a new level of excitement and focus as people transform information deficits.
- Track results. Watch your performance metrics! Introduce a new metric on employee engagement or Visual inventiveness and track that as well.
What benefits to expect
An investment in a Visual workplace can pay off in terms of improved throughput at 15% or better; a 30% increase is not uncommon. Duracell recently reported a 40% increase in productivity and quality, attributed directly to workplace Visuality. Just as importantly, people will be riveted on motion and the information deficits that trigger it. Suddenly, instead of 30 managers being needed for 300 direct employees, 330 employees will be responsible for themselves and for each other. Together, these individuals will spot abnormalities with ease and eliminate them with Visual solutions.
Implemented alone, Visual methodologies can accomplish huge improvements in both day-to-day performance and in strengthening, realigning — or even creating — a culture of systematic improvement. Yet they are best implemented with Lean. Just as a bird needs two wings to fly, a company needs both Visual and Lean if its journey to operational excellence is to be sustainable.
About the Author
Gwendolyn Galsworth, Ph.D. is founder and president of Quality Methods International, Inc. and the Visual-Lean Enterprise Institute. A Baldrige and Shingo prize examiner, she has been implementing, researching, and codifying the field of workplace Visuality for nearly 25 year. Dr. Galsworth is author of four books on the Visual approach, including her most recent, “Visual Workplace/Visual Thinking: Creating Enterprise Excellence through the Technologies of the Visual Workplace” (Visual-Lean Enterprise Press, 2005). The Visual-Lean Enterprise Institute, opening in January 2006, will train, license and certify companies in these technologies. More information can be found at www.Visualworkplace.com.