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Starting A Visual Workplace – Pt. 1

Starting A Visual Workplace—improving efficiency with Visuality. Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth explains better work flow through visual devices.

Dr. Galsworth

Dr. Galsworth defines the Visual Workplace as “A work environment that is self ordering, self explaining, self regulating and self improving where what is supposed to happen does happen on time, every time, day or night, because of visual devices.” She expands on this definition, and describes how Lean, 5S and Six Sigma can compliment the system set forth in a visual workplace.

Antonio Ferraro interviews Gwendolyn, and she tells of her time with the industrial engineer from Japan, Shigeo Shingo, who is regarded as an expert in efficiencies in manufacturing and TPS, the Toyota Production System

Gwendolyn is the president and founder of Visual Thinking, Inc. and The Visual Lean Institute.


Brandon Nys: Welcomed to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at

Introduction music

Dan Clark: Hello everybody. This is Dan Clark, with Safety Experts Talk. On this podcast, my colleague, Antonio Ferraro talks with his guest Gwendolyn Galsworth. Gwendolyn is an award-winning author and visual pioneer, transporting Fortune 500-level companies into powerful, effective and visually smart enterprises. She is the president and founder of Visual Thinking, Inc. and The Visual Lean Institute. Gwendolyn is also the author of the 2006 Shingo Award winning book “Visual Workplace, Visual Thinking,” and the 2012 Shingo Award winning book “Work That Makes Sense: Operator Led Visuality.” Here is Antonio with Gwendolyn.

Antonio Ferraro: Gwendolyn, thanks for coming on the program with us. How are you doing today?

Gwendolyn: I’m great. Thank you, I’m entirely delighted and thank you, Antonio. And thank you for the lovely introduction.

Antonio: It’s an honor to have you on the show today. Our podcast topic for today is about Visual Workplace. Oftentimes people associate a Visual Workplace to buckets and brooms, or posters and signs. Gwendolyn, can you explain to us what is involved in creating a Visual Workplace, but first, can you explain what a Visual Workplace is?

Gwendolyn: Yes. So, I have a specific definition of the Visual Workplace that I’ve been crafting for years. And I like it very much. I think it serves very well. This definition of a Visual Workplace is: “A work environment that is self ordering, self explaining, self regulating and self improving, where what is supposed to happen does happen on time, every time, day or night, because of visual devices”.

(1:55 )
And those last four words, “because of visual devices”, is what makes the whole definition work. Because, in order to have an environment that is self regulating, it has to explain itself. It’s explained through the devices. The devices hold information, and that information is what tells us: What to do, and how to do it, and when to do it, and how much to do. And when to start, and when to stop and how well we’re doing. And these devices give feedback on our own performance. So, that’s the basic definition, and a little bit of the logic behind it.

Antonio: Ok, great… Gwendolyn, can you tell us what is involved when integrating a Visual Workplace?

Gwendolyn: The first thing you have to do, if you want to create a visual environment, is you have to train your eyes to notice what is not there. You have to train your eyes to see the behavior that occurs when Visuality, when information, is missing. And that is one of the best diagnostics that you can imagine.

So, most people think they need a Visual Workplace because they’ve heard they needed it. It’s some kind of marketing. “Oh, wow, we’re Lean, now let’s get Visual.” But actually, you can ascertain your need for Visuality simply by standing in the workplace that you are thinking of converting, whether or not that be an office, a hospital, it could be a factory. It could be a continuous process flow where you have lots and lots of machinery. And you stand—you just stand still in that environment—and you look all the way to your left. And then I’m looking through, I’m looking to the center, I’m looking all the way to the right.

And while I’m doing that, while I’m doing that, I’m asking my questions. What I can I tell merely by looking? What can I tell merely by looking? And if you can’t tell anything, WHEREVER you’re standing, you have a real need for Visuality. But usually, you can tell something. There are usually departmental signs.

And you take five steps forward, and then you say “Look, now, what can I tell merely by looking?” And then you take five steps forward until you actually can tell something merely by looking. And it usually takes us until we’re really face-to-face with the bench. You can’t tell anything without asking questions, about “What is this?,” “What is that?” “Where am I?” “What are you doing?” “How many are you doing?” “When are you doing it?” “Who’s doing it?” “Which machine is doing it?”

These are all questions, but the problem is: These questions exist under a vocalized level. They’re called subvocalized. They’re questions that we ask in our head, or we really just mutter. And because we’re not asking the question actively, and out loud, we don’t realize that there’s an information deficit. But that information deficit—whenever there’s vital information that is missing—we have, as a result, struggle.

The name that I’ve given to that struggle, is “motion”, which is one of the classic Toyota wastes. Motion, moving without working. But where it is active in a Visual Workplace is that you are struggling to figure out things. You’re struggling to feel even confident that you can move forward on your own information. You’re beginning to worry about “Am I going to make a mistake?”

And all of this exists in an internal space we call the psyche, or the psychology, of a person. But it’s because the outside isn’t clear. It’s is because the outside isn’t speaking to me. It’s because the workplace itself is keeping its secrets. So, when you are thinking about a Visual Workplace, you get ready, you go out into that environment and say “What can I tell merely by looking?” And if the response is nothing, then you know you need a Visual Workplace.

So, you need to really validate the need for Visuality yourself. After you’ve validated that need, Antonino, then you can begin to apply a methodology, because, in fact, a methodology is needed.

But I really object to people just kind of buying in to Visuality without understanding the impact that non-visuality, the absence of Visuality, has on their workday. Both on a personal level, and also rolled up on their key performance indicators, on the KPIs. It’s very serious. It’s very tangible. It’s very, very costly. When you apply a Visual Workplace, we always see a 15% increase in productivity. But this applying it thoroughly. Always a 15%. Many times a 30% increase, which is enormous.

Antonio: That’s great information. Based on your experience, Gwendolyn, when you go in and create a Visual Workplace, what are some of the common mistakes companies make when they try to implement one?

Gwendolyn: Yes, the mistakes are there almost always before you start. There are mistakes of thinking. Or the mistakes of the mindset, of the paradigms. And the most frequent mistake is: “If I see some cool visual devices in a book, in a video or someone else’s plant… Maybe in a webinar, I can bring those devices in and I will have created a Visual Workplace.”

And so, the person who thinks this way brings them in. And people either don’t pay attention to those visual devices, we call those “point solutions”… In other words, they have a very narrow application, but they’re very, very cool. They’re very “wow”. You bring them in, and they don’t seem to have an impact. People either ignore them, or they use them a little bit. But they don’t really make an impact. The impact either in taking the struggle out, or on the key performance indicators, your KPIs.

That’s the biggest mistake. Thinking that you can import these point solutions and get a change. For one thing… I’m going on a little bit about this because it’s important. It was a very important question… Which is, the first part is people expect far too little of the Visual Workplace. So they think if they maybe they solve one point problem, through a point solution, that they’re doing the Visual Workplace.

And the other thing is that they don’t realize that a Visual Workplace doesn’t have hundreds of visual devices. It has thousands. And these thousands of devices are invented by a workforce that is thinking a different way. The thinking is different.

In an environment that is visually rich, it’s because people understand motion—the enemy, moving without working—and they understand that motion is caused by information deficits. And so what they’re getting rid of is the information deficit. They’re not putting point solutions in place. They are eliminating the information deficit. And that slight shift in mindset makes you understand automatically: “Wow. What I’m doing is creating a new work environment.”

It is overlaid on the existing work environment, but the new work environment is a work environment that’s speaking. That is speaking about the work environment underneath. Speaking about our operating procedures, our change of products, our finding of the tools. All of the components, those vital details, that make up every production system, every operational system. I am absolutely talking about hospitals, and offices as well.

And I want to now put a little ribbon on this, Antonio. I want to say that what you’re actually doing, when you create a Visual Workplace, is you are putting language in place. You are putting an operational language. And that operational language, instead of being made out of words, and commas, and capital letters and sentence structure—the way we do when we speak—is being made from visual devices, that are strung together, to allow the workplace to speak. You’re putting that language in place, but your alphabet is visual devices. And that’s why you can have thousands of visual devices. And that’s also why it is a change in people’s thinking.

In a moment I’ll give you a little exercise that your listeners can use, and right away they can put this into action and they’ll have a very positive experience. But if you get this idea that when we’re creating a Visual Workplace, we are embedding our operational language—you could even say we’re embedding our operational intelligence—into the living landscape of work, then we begin to shift away from the big mistake which is: “Visual Workplace is just about these point solutions. I can just paste them in place like you put a Band-Aid on a hurt toe.” It’s not like that.

Antonio: That’s great. And if we go back earlier, you mentioned a beneficial sort of tool in the beginning of our podcast, when you said that you should walk into a facility and look to your right and listen. And then you said turn your head and look to your left and listen. What other tools do you find the most beneficial when implementing a Visual Workplace?

Gwendolyn: I’ll be happy to do that. And, by the way, the “scanning to the left and scanning to the right” is not exactly a tool. It is a way to start re-grooming your mind. Re-grooming your mind. So that your mind begins to see differently. And so, it’s not exactly a tool. It’s a little exercise that will give you a chance to understand that even though you’re looking, you’re not seeing. And it’s only when we can see into the workplace that we can notice that Visuality is missing. Because we can’t tell anything.

And I also wanted to add to that, to the scan, is that in grooming your mind differently, you are actually beginning to see in a way that’s very important for Visuality. And that is to see what is NOT there. I call it inverse thinking. You’re seeing what is NOT there.

And it’s often a shock for people because, you know, normally, they look out on the work floor and if it’s a machine shop, they see a lot of machines. A lot of tools. A lot of WIP in process. They see all things that were, up to this moment, very important to them. And so, when we say “I want to you see what’s NOT there,” they say, “Well, you know, all I see is what IS there. Because there’s a lot, and it’s in the right, you know, it SHOULD be there.”

But when you begin to see what’s not there, you begin to see that information is missing. And it’s the glue that holds the whole operational system together. And if you can’t see that glue, you know because you’re beginning to understand where there is no information that is visible and available to me, at the point of use, at a glance, immediately, I’ve got struggle and I’ve got questions.

Now, I’m going to talk about a true tool. A little tool. This is not methodology. This will not create a Visual Workplace—a fully functioning Visual Workplace—but it will be a nice step in the right direction. So if we are looking at what is not there, and we begin to realize that what’s not there is information, if we take a deep breath, we’ll say to ourselves “Well, how do we get the information that we need?” And we realize that we get the information we need through questions. A lot of questions. Hundreds of questions. From each person, every day.

And if you look at the KPI of that—if you look at the metric of asking hundreds of questions—you realize that when you ask a question, you’re not just stopping your own work. You’re not just hesitating in the process of your own work. But you’re about to interrupt another person so that they will stop their work in order to get your answer. So, there’s this multiplier effect of questions that is really disastrous to the bottom line.

Now, often that person you’re asking is going to be a supervisor. But, I say the job of the supervisor is not to answer those questions that are repeated day, by day, by day, again, again, and again. Supervisors have a completely different role that they can play if the organization wants to create an opening for this.

Supervisors can actually become leaders of improvement. They don’t need to expedite and firefight all the time. But unless you get the questions out of people’s minds and into the work environment itself through visual devices, the only thing that supervisor can do is to be available to answer questions all the time. Because people will have them.

“What am I supposed to be making now, boss?” And “What do I make now, and where’s the material?” And “Boss, isn’t this the wrong tool? Do you know where the other tool is?” And “Boss, you know, I don’t think that part came. Can you go… I can’t, I can’t finish this assembly.”

Or, you know, “I think, actually, the wrong patient is in the right bed. How do I get rid of this patient because it shouldn’t be (laughs). Can you help me out, boss? I’m in trouble.” Right?

Antonio: Right.

Gwendolyn: So it’s the utilization of supervisors to make up for the information deficits that are in the workplace, and gives that person their job description. And, you know, you might be thinking, if you’re a supervisor, “Wait a minute. If I help create a Visual Workplace, I’m going to be out of a job because the answers will already reside in the living landscape of work.” And we ask ourselves “Wait a minute. This is a very capable person. We don’t want them to go anywhere else. We don’t want them to work for another company.”

“So, what should their job description be? Ahh. How about we make them a leader of improvement? What would that do? How would that help us with our production goals and our operational outcome? Oh, wow. We could use someone with this level of experience who would also help to lead improvement.”

So, that was a kind of a footnote to talking about another tool. So we understand that these questions are what’s driving the supervisor so we can get the answers we need to do our performance, you know, to do our job.

So, here’s a little exercise. You get a memo pad. And I prefer a memo pad, you know, the kind that you put in your pocket. Very small, so you can walk around with it. I like the kind that flips. And on the cover side, all I want you to do is keep track of the number of times you’re asked a question every day. The number of times you’re asked a question. Every time you are asked a question, you make a little mark. Every time you are asked a question, make a little mark.

If you want to, you can also write down the question. And I’ll tell you why in a moment.

On the flip side, on the side where the cover isn’t, you flip and you keep track of the number of times you ask a question. You just keep track, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. And just use that as a metric to have so that you have an understanding of what we mean by “information deficits”. Because information deficits, if you’re lucky, will trigger questions. If you’re not lucky, people will start making stuff up or they’ll stop work completely. They won’t ask a question. They don’t want to seem like they don’t know. Or, maybe they don’t like you. So they don’t want to ask a question and honor you with their question, they don’t want to seem weak in front of you. Or, whatever kind of mind stuff there is floating around.

So, keep track of the questions that you are asked, and the questions that you ask. And you do this as a metric in supervising, you can do this for yourself. And supervisors, you can ask one or two people to do it, or you can give memo pads out. At Office Depot, they cost about .75 a piece, a little bit pricey. You give memo pads out to the whole shift, and you say “Just do this, would you please? We’re conducting a study.” This is such an important tool.

I’m going to give you one more after this, but let me go on with the memo pads, because this is not methodology. This is not a step-by-step procedure for converting to a high functioning Visuality. But, it is a step to lift the veil from the eyes so that we begin to understand that we’re surrounded by missing information. We are surrounded by the power of what is not there.

So, if you want to, while you’re making this marks, also write down the question. You know, “Gee, he asked me ‘what am I supposed to make next?’ She asked me ‘what am I supposed to make next?’ He asked me again ‘what am I supposed to make now, boss?’” And you’ve got the questions. And you see that “25 times today I’ve been asked that same question.”

Then you have the rational for saying “I need a visual device” so that I never have to answer that question again, and those poor souls won’t have to ask the question again. I never have to answer, they never have to ask. Because the answer already resides in the living landscape of work because I have made it so.

And then, if your operators do the same thing, they will create visual devices and that answer will reside in their living landscape of work because they have made it so.

So, Antonio, can I go on to my third so-called “tool?”

Antonio: Oh sure, absolutely!

Gwendolyn: Ok, great. I know I’m on a roll, but, you know, what I want to say to you next is underneath all questions in the workplace are the two questions that drive a Visual Workplace. They drive chronic, costly struggle in their absence. And they drive bottom line results, cultural alignments, high morale, excellent output, and timely when they are present. And those two questions are “What do I need to know that I don’t know right now in order to do my work?” And the second question is “What do I need to share that others need to know for them to do their work more safely, higher-quality, more on time?”

“What do I need to know?” “What do I need to share?” And those are basically what you’ve tested in your little memo pad. On the front, you’ve done “What do I need to share?” because there are people asking you questions. Things that they come to you so that you can share the answer with them.

On the flip side, “What do I need to know?” Those are the questions that you ask. And this is a very interesting study, and this will give you a sense of the need for the Visual Workplace. But also what I mean by a population of visual workplace, not hundreds of thousands of visual devices.

Antonio: Gwendolyn, we’re coming to the end of part 1 of your podcast. How do we access your radio show?

Gwendolyn: Oh, there’s a lot more to say. You can listen to my radio show. I’m in my third year. It is nothing but tutorials, like 110 tutorials, about these very things. I’m going to give our website, I know you’re going to ask me in a moment, but this is very, very valuable. If you’re tracking with me so far, you can get the tutorials and podcasts, they’re on our website, which is, and learn about these things. Because, even though you may have to get other materials and read some of my books to create a Visual Workplace, you can start in this very simple way with the memo pad.

Antonio: Ok, well, that’s it for part 1 of our podcast with Gwendolyn Galsworth, the president and founder of Visual Thinking, Inc. and the Visual Lean Institute. In part 2, we’ll ask Gwendolyn… if a Visual Workplace is so efficient, can it eliminate your job? Until next time, thanks Gwendolyn.

Gwendolyn: Thank you, Antonio.

Antonio: Look for part 2 of our podcast with Gwendolyn right here.

(Outro Music with Voiceover)

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