Posted by Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth   |  

The entire world of work—whether assembly plant, hospital, bank, airport, military depot, government agency, retail store or pharmaceutical factory—is striving to making work safer, simpler, more logical, reliable, linked, and less costly. Central to this is the visual workplace.

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.

But most people do not understand the tremendous power of workplace visuality. Instead they treat it as an add-on to some other improvement effort, whether lean or six sigma. “We know what visual is…. Let’s put up some signs, stick on some labels, and put down some lines—color-coded!” This is not just a mistake in thinking; it is the loss of a huge improvement opportunity.

Definition of a Visual Workplace.

What precisely is a visual workplace? Here is 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 devices.

This definition, which evolved over a decade of implementations, is worth a closer look.

The First Half of the Definition

The first half (the top line)—“a visual workplace is a self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating, and self-improving work environment”—describes the outcome in terms of functionality. When a workplace gets visual, it functions differently—safer, better, faster, smoother…for everyone. Like the gas pump you see on the right, where even my 93-year older mother can pump her own gas accurately and safely. Specifically, a visual workplace:

  • Is in order—order you can see, order that functions.
  • Harnesses the power of order you can see for business advantage—a cultural and a bottom-line advantage.
  • Your local gas pump is covered with visual information sharing.
  • Explains itself to anyone and everyone in it…sharing vital information about what to do/what not to do, how and when to do it, and how to respond if something (including yourself) goes wrong.
  • Is transparent…because it explains itself, a visual work environment can regulate itself—through high impact/low-cost visual devices.
  • Gains the capability, over time, to correct itself—to become self-improving because visual devices are constantly providing feedback on our performance and the performance of the company itself.

Definition of a Visual Device

The fact that a workplace that is visual explains itself is due to the visual devices that populate it. They are defined as: an apparatus, mechanism, item, or thing that influences, directs, limits or controls behavior by making information vital to the task-at-hand available at-a-glance, to anyone and everyone who needs it—without speaking a word.

The closer we get, the more we can do—independently.

The level of information visual devices can carry is as wide in scope and detail as the world of information itself. Few companies understand this and so their deployment is marginal, even slight.

The Second Half

The Second half of the definition—“where what is supposed to happen does happen, on time, every time, day or night—because of visual solutions”

describes a broader outcome: a company that can, through visual devices, ensure the precise execution of standards—both technical and procedural standards. The result?  Work is executed with precision, reliably and predictably translating perceived value (what the customer wants) into received value (what the customer buys).  Look at the definition of a visual device in the box.

A Gigantic Adherence Mechanism.

Visual devices translate the thousands of informational transactions that occur every day at work into visible meaning and imbeds that into the living landscape of work. This visible meaning doesn’t just impact performance—it creates performance.

Here are two more visual devices that share information visually on aspects of day-to-day work (the smallest demonstration of the power of workplace visuality.
A visual workplace is made up of hundreds—even thousands—of such devices, created by the workforce that needs them. Added up, these devices create an operational language of excellence in the enterprise—a language that speaks to everyone and anyone who wants to listen.

Is your workplace speaking the language of operational excellence to you?

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Read The Visual Thinker next week when we look at exactly how visual devices let the workplace speak. Comments? Questions? Your own examples? We’d love to hear from you.  Contact us at [email protected]