To Get Lean in the Workplace, Get Visual

Oct. 25, 2011
Visual workplace expert Gwendolyn Galsworth shares tips on developing a visual workplace.

By her own reckoning, Gwendolyn D. Galsworth has been immersed in learning and sharing the benefits of visuality for some 30 years.

It shows in her both her knowledge and her very language, which is imbedded with imagery. For example, Galsworth, the author of several books including Visual Workplace, Visual Thinking, describes the visual-lean enterprise as the two wings of a bird. She describes peeling away layers to discover the endless benefits of visual thinking.

The founder of Quality Methods International and the Visual-Lean Institute spoke recently during an IndustryWeek event, during which she shared some of her thinking on visuality.

It is not, she says, a set of point solutions. Instead, it is a language.

[Visuality] is about embedding information into the physical landscape of work so that it speaks. And it speaks in a language that we can understand and a timing and pacing we can understand because we designed it that way, explains Galsworth.

Galsworth defines the visual workplace as a work environment that is self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating, and self-improving.

It has a built-in PDCA [plan-do-check-act] loop, she notes.

The visual expert shared the basic concepts of the visual workplace in a presentation filled with visual examples and several case studies.

Two questions drive the visual workplace, Galsworth says. They are: What do I need to know to do my work? What do I need to share?

She provided two additional definitions important to the discussion of the visual workplace. Visual aids, she explains, are intentionally designed to influence, direct or limit behavior by making vital information available as close to the point of use as possible. Also, they should be available to anyone who needs them and understood without speaking a word.

Hundreds and even thousands of visual devices populate the visual workplace, and they are invented by a workforce that thinks visually, she notes.

What is visual thinking? Galsworth describes it as the ability of a person to recognize motion, [the enemy] and the info deficits that trigger that motion -- and then to eliminate both through solutions that are visual.

The Visual-Lean Enterprise

Galsworth touched on the link between lean and visual thinking. Think about visual and lean as the two wings of a bird. One wing is about pull and the critical path, she says, while the other [wing] is about information and adherence.

Galsworth says she prefers to call the so-called lean paradigm the paradigm of the critical path because I think it is very important not to put everything under lean and let it be all things to all people and all companies, but rather to identify its distinct contribution.

She says the biggest obstacle to developing a visual workplace is ignorance. Companies either underestimate the benefits of a visual workplace or they simply attach it to another initiative, like lean.

Lean is not about embedded information. Its about pull. Its about the critical path. Its about identifying and cleaning up the value stream. Visual has a whole different functionality, she says. You have to understand it; you have to apply it.

To view the entire presentation, click here, and go to the presentation The Visual Workplace: You Cant Get to Lean Without It.

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