Most people have a notion about the visual workplace that is much too small for themselves and for their companies. They think of it as a series of point solutions that are helpful, even clever. Yet they should expect more—because they need more.

In fact, visuality is a language—an imbedded system of information detail. Its purpose (among many many other things) is 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 how you think—and where the gaps are. I call these gaps information deficits and they are barely visible on their own. To find them we must look for their symptom: motion/moving without working.

Visual devices and systems are the words and grammar of your new imbedded language. The result is a workplace that speaks
—whatever the venue—along with dramatic increases in productivity, quality, safety, 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 lean includes visual. It does not.
  2. birdVisuality and Lean are Equal Partners. Visuality, on one hand, builds operational information into the physical work environment, enabling people and machines to work with greater precision because they are each increasingly self-regulating. Lean, by contrast, defines and directs the flow of work that visual spells out, dramatically reducing lead-time and flow distance. Visual partners closely with lean by imbedding improvement gains into the physical workplace. Like two wings of a bird, visual and lean need each other—in equal and balanced synergy. Neither is more important; they are of equal importance.
  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 they are implementing workplace visuality, it also vastly reduces the impact that so-called “5S” can contribute to the company’s journey to excellence, both in terms of improved KPIs and employee engagement. To put a finer point to it, in over 30 years of researching and implementing visuality, I have never found a more powerful approach 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 see a 15% to 30% increase in productivity on the micro or departmental level. Partner that with lean on the macro level and those results are stabilized and actually hit the bottom line.
  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 and every cabinet, desk, machine, tool, wall, and bench speaks with a clear and precise voice—your voice, the voice of the enterprise.


Visual Thinking, which fits hand in glove with lean principles and practices, is the doorway to achieving—and then imbedding—the operational excellence you seek, whatever the industry, whatever the level.

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.