Visual Workplace, Excellent Enterprise

Dec. 17, 2008
The liberation of information through visual devices and mini-systems is a powerful mechanism for liberating the human will and aligning it to the corporate intent.

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 dramatically improved quality.

What precisely is a visual workplace? 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. 

In a visual workplace, information is converted into simple, universally understood visual devices and 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, eloquently and precisely, about how to use it effectively and efficiently.

What happens when the workplace speaks, when formerly voiceless work stations, equipment, tools, machines, and material can communicate freely with those who use them? What happens when employees can know vital information—the details of work—at a glance, without speaking a word, without asking (or answering) a single question? 

When a work environment becomes a fully-functioning visual workplace, each employee has instant on-demand access to the information needed to do high quality, low-cost, timely, and safe work. The workplace is infused with intelligence, visual intelligence that illuminates and drives the corporate intent.

In a visual workplace, floors do not exist simply to walk on. Floors are there to help us do our work, repeatedly and with precision. Benches are not merely surfaces on which to place the implements of work. Through visual order and the subsequent installation of the visual where, floors and benches provide precise visual location information for all the “things” of work. 

Through visual standards and visual controls, tools are not restricted to merely helping us convert material, they also tell us how to use them properly, when they need to be calibrated, and when they are unsafe. They become even more vocal partners in the production process through the technology of Visual Machine—the same visuality that enables equipment to assist in its own quick changeovers. 

The Problem: Information Deficits

In an information-scarce workplace, people ask lots of questions and lots of the same questions, repeatedly—or they make stuff up. Either way, the company pays in long lead times, late deliveries, poor quality, mistakes, accidents, low operator and managerial morale, and runaway costs.

Looking across any such organization, if workplace visuality is not firmly in place, then these occurrences are not rare. They happen “all the time”—day in day out, week in/week out, year in/year out. Every day is simply another variation on the same struggle.

In the pre-visual workplace, everything and everyone is forced to exist within a narrow definition of their capability. The physical work environment is devoid of definition or conveyed context. There is no common purpose. Attempts to improve the process of work invariably fail because even the smallest gains disappear overnight. 

This unhappy state of affairs devolves into a single problem: deficits in information. The production floor is saturated with questions asked and unasked.

Visuality Aligns the Culture

The visual workplace is also about the culture of work—because when we implement workplace visuality, we liberate information in the process. And when we liberate information, we liberate the human will. 

This is a conversion of a company’s culture on a uniquely powerful level. Culture structures our beliefs and values about two things: power and identity. More specifically, culture reflects how power is used and distributed, and who you think you are and who you think the other person (any other person) is.

When we free vital information formerly imprisoned in the binders, reports, books, computer files, and data systems of the company—and in the hearts and minds of that company’s information specialists, managers, supervisors, engineers and technicians, and line employees—we liberate ourselves.  

Information is power. More than ever before, when we work in a fully-functioning visual workplace, we understand that. Go to work everyday in a visual work environment and you cannot help but feel powerful. The information empowers us. We become powerful. We become self-leaders. We take responsibility. We hold ourselves accountable—because at last we can. We become powerful members of the company’s infrastructure.

*Adapted from Dr. Galsworth’s book, Visual Workplace/Visual Thinking (Visual-Lean Enterprise Press, 2005. Available through:

About the Author

Gwendolyn Galsworth | President