Posted by Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth   |  

Some companies think about the visual workplace as a series of point solutions—visual devices that are clever and useful. Similar to a hammer—clever and useful, especially when you have a nail and some wood. But what happens if you have two slabs of metal instead; ooops, that hammer is not so clever now.

We should expect more from workplace visuality—because we need more. In fact, visuality is a language—an imbedded system of the vital information we need to do our work. The purpose the visual workplace is (among many, many other things) to capture and make functional the elements of your current operational system. This is as true in health care and offices as it is in manufacturing, food processing or an open-pit mine. On its most effective level, the visual workplace allows you and your company to see information in all its telling detail. If you can’t see that, the organization has a problem—a big one—and a ton of struggle. I call that problem information deficits: missing answers. Info deficits at work can be chronic and pervasive. They are the enemy. But, by definition, this enemy is invisible. To find them we must look for their footprint, their symptom: motion/moving without working.

In visuality we make information visible by creating visual devices—answers that are available at a glance, easy to pull to us, when and as needed. The workplace that speaks—and with that come dramatic increases in safety, productivity, quality, and the satisfaction of employees and customers alike.

Here are five other things that you might not know about visuality: 

  1. Lean does not include Visual. There is understandable confusion on this point because nearly every early training session on lean has a built-in 5S module, which has a visual component (namely “labels and lines”—a case of mis-naming). This leads us to mistakenly believe that visuality is a sub-set of lean. It is not.
  2. birdVisuality and Lean are Equal Partners. Visuality, on one hand, targets adherence and operational flow by building information into the physical landscape of work, enabling us to work more safely and with greater precision. The workplace becomes increasingly self-regulating. Visual’s metric is motion. Lean, by contrast, defines and directs the critical path. It focuses on pull and its metric is time. Like the two wings of a bird, visual and lean are partners of equal importance. Each needs the other if the bird (your company) is to reach its destination: operational excellence.
  1. Visuality puts 5S on steroids, and goes on from there. In fact, applying 5S solely within the context of lean not only gives us a false belief that we are implementing workplace visuality, it also vastly reduces the impact that 5S can contribute both in terms of improved quality and safety. But when you help your value-add associates systematically add visuality to their 5S, the transformation of people and their performance is dazzling. In over 30 years of hands-on/in-the-trenches visual conversions, I have never found a more powerful and complete process for empowering and aligning the workforce…not just value-add employees but all employees, including managers and executives. When you liberate information, you liberate the human will.
  2. Visuality provides a wholesale upgrade of your expectations and results. Effectively deployed, visuality populates your operational landscape with hundreds, even thousands, of visual devices and visual mini-systems that entirely re-define the way work gets done, waste is reduced, employees are involved, customers are served, and profit is made in your organization. Nearly without exception, we continually see a 15% to 30% increase in productivity. Partner that with lean and you achieve a transformed enterprise.
  3. Visual Thinking becomes a new core competency in your organization. Visuality offers the promise of a new enterprise, one that reaches for and gains excellence as a way of doing business, as part of daily work. That excellence is founded upon the emergence of a new core competency in the corporation, one that I call visual thinking. Simply defined, visual thinking is the ability of each employee to recognize motion and the information deficits that cause it—and then to eliminate both through solutions that are visual. Done iteratively, cycle after cycle, the enterprise, every person, and every desk, machine, tool, wall, and bench speaks with a clear and precise voice—your voice, the voice of the enterprise.


Visual Thinking is the doorway to achieving—and then imbedding—the operational excellence you seek, whatever the industry, whatever the level. Let the workplace speak.

This post is based on material in Chapter 1 of Dr. Galsworth’s Shingo award-winning book, Visual Workplace/Visual Thinking. Click here to order.