Speed Isn’t Everything: Visual and Lean Defined (Part 1) by Gwendolyn Galsworth
Summer with its balmy evenings and long talks with good friends, lemonades in hand, is drawing to an end. And I return to my day job: weekly articles in The Visual Thinker. Let’s set the groundwork for our new season and get our definitions in place, once again—the difference between visual and lean.
What is Lean?
Technically speaking, lean is a predetermined set of improvement tools that squeeze time and space out of the route that work (the product) follows as it moves through a company’s operational landscape and gains value.
Whether you call this route the critical path or the value stream, lean’s purpose is to identify and then eliminate barriers and constraints in that route. The shorthand for this is: The Seven Deadly Wastes, an improvement model with roots in the Toyota Production System—making defects, delays, over-processing, motion, over-producing, making inventory/WIP, and material handling…plus all the opportunities we miss because our resources are caught up in the wastes, themselves.
Time is lean’s macro metric; and its corollary is speed. The key methods in the Lean Tool Box are: standard work, quick changeover, level material consumption, and pull. These four tools are so tightly aligned as to be nested in their logic and outcomes, with a powerful impact on all four key performance indicators: safety, quality, cost, and on-time delivery.
Today, lean has become a wide mix of improvement tools and practices that make it, for some, hard to find lean’s beating heart. There are those who regret the blurring of the sharp edges that lean had in the early days. Others celebrate the expansion.
What is Visual?
The visual workplace (or visual for short) is an improvement methodology that focuses on the struggle that results from information that is missing, incorrect or incomplete at work. In a pre-visual workplace, these info deficits are chronic but rarely noticed—because they are invisible. Missing answers simply are not there. They are an invisible enemy.
The visual workplace is as different and distinct from lean as information is from time. Both time and information are indispensable parts of the life of every company—but they are not the same. And so the methodology for improving each is distinctly and most definitely different.
When a company embarks upon the visual journey, it hunts down the unseen enemy in the only way it can: by identifying its footprint. I call that footprint motion/moving without working, a deadly waste but one that I focus on the struggle caused by missing answers in all its thousands and perverse forms: searching, looking for, counting/counting again, wandering, wondering, waiting for information, asking questions, asking again, being interrupted to answer the same question…again.
Motion in the pre-visual workplace is an insidious array of micro transactions that the unaware barely notice and so never think to eliminate. Not so for a workforce that has learned how to think visually—how to see motion and know that it is always caused by missing information. Visual thinkers also know that the way to remove an information deficit (and the motion it causes) is to turn that missing answer into a visual device. The device then holds the answer visibly, for anyone and everyone who needs it to pull to them, without speaking a word.
The most complete example of this outside the workplace is our system of roads and highways. In the USA alone, 150 million cars are on the road every day—150 million killing machines. Yet relatively few people die, proportionally only the tiniest fraction of the sum, thanks to visual information sharing.
Next week, we put more meat on these bones as we explore highway visual devices further and build visuality’s definition.