The Visual Pharmaceutical Workplace

Imagine a highway system without signs and you’ll understand why so many drug manufacturing facilities fail to reach their potential. Visuality is key to achieving operational excellence.

By Gwendolyn Galsworth, President, Quality Methods International, Inc.

2 of 2 1 | 2 > View on one page

  • What do I need to know? What information do I need in order to do my work?

  • What do I need to share? What information do I have for others to do their work?
  • Creating an I-driven environment. Notice that the two basic questions are anchored in “I” rather than “we.” The Visual workplace links each individual with his or her own information deficits and therefore puts him or her in charge of creating a Visual answer to them.

    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:
  • Establishing technical standards (specifications, values, dimensions) and the step-by-step process by which they are achieved — standard operating procedures, or SOPs.
  • In a workforce of Visual thinkers, people apply these eight building blocks to invent Visual solutions regularly, as a usual part of the workday. When they do, they liberate information that used to be hidden and restricted to just a few. The result over time is an aligned and empowered workforce of continuous improvement.

    A Visual blueprint: 5S and beyond

    The 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.

    The next step is to implement Visual standards, displays, metrics, problem solving, and controls and pull systems, each a method that creates a given outcome. This system of methods culminates in the most refined Visual application: Visual guarantees or error-proofing, which is imbedding vital information so deeply in the process of work that it becomes the work itself. These poka yoke devices override personal choice, and prevent inadvertent individual error from inhibiting performance excellence. Consider the automatic loom invented by Toyota’s predecessor, Toyoda, which was designed to shut down automatically when a misfeed or other error occurred.

    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.
    The learning process will take time. Be sure to factor overtime into your budget, or sanction operator time off for Visual efforts; and think of it as an investment in the future, rather than lost production time. People cannot improve processes and make product at the same time, so providing creative time is essential.

    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

    Corporate Enemy Number One: Motion

    Motion is often misunderstood. Managers may mislabel as motion some important activities that build community, safety and personal comfort in the workplace. Below are some guidelines for determining what motion is and isn’t.



    Motion IS NOT:

    Searching Recounting Taking a break
    Wandering Asking Going to lunch
    Wondering Answering Calling home
    Guessing Interrupting Going to the restroom
    Checking Waiting Chatting with a friend
    Rechecking Reworking  
    Handling Retesting  
    Rehandling Stopping  

    Whatever form it takes, though, motion indicates the presence of information deficits, and almost always looks like “business as usual,” resulting in the seven deadly wastes defined by the Toyota Management System: “making defects, delays, overprocessing, excessive motion on the plant floor, overproducing, making inventory WIP, material handling and missed opportunities.”

    Information hoarders can exacerbate motion problems, forcing employees to hunt them down to obtain information they need.

    A 5S Primer

    5S has typically been translated from Japanese as: Sort (Seiri), Set in order (Seiton), Shine (Seiso), Standardize (Seiketsu) and Sustain (Shitsuke). A more helpful definition might be:

    • S1: Sort Through/Get rid of the junk.

    • S2: Shine/Make it clean (and look for ways to prevent dirt).

    • S3: Secure Safety/Make it safe (and look for ways to prevent risk).

    • S4: Select Locations/ Implement smart placement based on an accelerated flow.

    • S5: Set locations/Install automatic recoil — the Visual "where" — through borders, home addresses and ID labels.

    2 of 2 1 | 2 > View on one page
    Show Comments
    Hide Comments

    Join the discussion

    We welcome your thoughtful comments.
    All comments will display your user name.

    Want to participate in the discussion?

    Register for free

    Log in for complete access.


    No one has commented on this page yet.

    RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments