John Bicheno reviews Gwendolyn Galsworth’s Work That Makes Sense: Operator Led Visuality, Visual Lean Enterprise Press, 2011

Visual management, 5S, surfacing problems, clear standards, clear placement and location, idea progression. All of these are core lean foundation concepts but, apart from 5S, have a common issue: where to look for good guidance? If that is the case, look no further!

Gwendolyn’s book is a real treasure trove of material on “visuality” (a new word in the lean vocabulary). Even the most experienced lean practitioner will discover numerous insights, ideas and examples and will be able to draw inspiration from Work That Makes Sense. Appropriately, of course, colour photographs lavishly illustrate the book.

The sub title of the book is pertinent: “operator led”. So the theme of the book is that operators generate the best visuality ideas at the gemba.

Numerous personal stories are told throughout the book. Some may find this annoying, but the stories reflect the humility of the author, reinforcing the theme that good visual management ideas can be created by anyone. The trick, of course, is to plant the seeds and to water them. Planting the seeds comes from the huge number of “wow, what a good idea!” reactions that any reader will experience. Watering the seeds is handled by a theme that runs throughout the book on the role that leadership needs to play, and suggestions that help keep momentum (the theme of leadership and visuality will be taken up by Gwendolyn at the Buckingham Lean Conference).

Sections that I particularly liked include:

  • The insight that motion waste is connected with interruption, and that there is a multiplier effect as it spreads from person to person;
  • The idea of the “value field”. So if people are in the wrong place they cannot add value (obvious? Maybe, but provocative);
  • Placement principles, all of which are “common sense” (like no doors or drawers, put in on wheels, store things not air), but a very useful checklist nonetheless;
  • “Mini systems” that are clusters of visuality where a complete workplace is re-engineered for visuality.

There are carry-overs from other books by Gwendolyn, but these are useful reminders. I have long been a fan of her “four power levels: visual indicators (like a railway crossing warning), signals (where flashing lights are added), controls (a railroad barrier), and guarantee (a bridge to separate rail and car – a fail safe). The idea is to move up the levels over time. Poka-yoke is level four and is becoming more prominent in both manufacturing and service as the predominance of mistakes is realised.

If there is some criticism of this book it is that with so many ideas, locating them for any given situation takes time. I found the index not too helpful in this regard, so a cross-referencing classification framework would be most valuable. However, the book contains a very useful Appendix where various vendors of visual products each have a page.