The following is the second of two excerpts from Visual Workplace-Visual Thinking, by Gwendolyn D. Galsworth, Ph.D. The first excerpt, which ran in May, introduced some of the ways in which the visual workplace complements and helps sustain gains in lean manufacturing.

A visual workplace is populated by hundreds, even thousands, of visual devices and mini-systems invented by a workforce that knows how to think "visually," i.e., how to recognize wasted motion and the information deficits that cause it. At the heart of visual thinking is a set of principles called the Eight Building Blocks of Visual Thinking. These include things like "I-Driven Change" and the lean concepts of work, motion and standards. They also include the idea of the "Value Field," i.e., the place where an individual is able to add true value.

This latter building block serves as a remarkable aid in helping people use motion as a diagnostic. Simply put, when a person is not in his or her value field, they are not working. They are not in a location where they can add value. They are somewhere else. They are in motion.

Naming the Value Field

Realizing where one's value field actually lies is an emerging recognition. At first, people tend to think of their departments as their value field, and they measure their motion in relationship to that. Over time, however, this notion gets redefined as people begin to notice their motion in detail.

My favorite story of how the location of one's primary value is redefined over time happened in the mid-1990s at Skyworks Solutions Inc., a Boston-area semiconductor plant. I was working with a team of a dozen associates and their supervisor to roll out a demonstration cell for workplace visuality. The department in question was responsible for performing a wafer-bonding process with the help of electronic microscopes. As the team moved through the steps of visual order and began to notice their motion, we asked: "Where is your value field?" To a person, the group responded: "This department, Bonding." Accordingly, people began to notice their motion-all the times that they left their value field (the bonding department) in order to be able to continue to work. They kept track of these times and of the reasons they had to leave; they tracked cause.

The causes were many and, for the time being, perfectly understandable:

  • Looking for parts.
  • Getting a missing tool.
  • Going to get a work order clarified.
  • Washing off parts in a vented sink in a neighboring work area...and so on.

Next, people began to bring as many of these activities as they could inside their value field, inside the bonding department. They succeeded in every case but one: They still had to leave the department to wash parts in the vented sink in another area.

Once all but that cause was resituated inside the work area, the question of value field was again discussed, only this time Bernice Santos, a bonding specialist, commented: "I've been thinking. I'm not certain my real value field is this department. I think it might be my workbench. That's really where I add value." Nods all around.

Bingo! The group had its next step: Track all the times you have to leave your workbench-the newly-defined value field; track the reasons or causes and then see how many of these causes could get visually installed on or near that workstation. The bonding group did an excellent job.

A few weeks later, we reconvened and saw that these tasks were done, splendidly. To the question, "Are we done? Has all workbench-related motion been eliminated?" came nods. "Shall we check by videotape?" I said, and a few minutes later, a video camera was set up, directed at Paulette Benedictus, a veteran bonder who had volunteered to be the subject of the video. The tape would reveal whether all motion had been eliminated from the bonding department-or not.

Later that day, the full team gathered and watched the video. All eyes in that darkened room were on the screen, looking to see if Paulette would leave her value field, her bench-if she would engage in motion.

As we watched the tape, suddenly something truly remarkable happened, so remarkable that the entire group gasped in unison, loudly. We gasped because we had all seen the same thing, at the same moment. What did we see? This:

  • Paulette peering into her microscope, working.
  • Paulette reaching for a Q-tip.
  • Paulette unable to reach the Q-tip.
  • Paulette looking up...GASP!

We had all seen Paulette in motion. Suddenly, motion was no longer leaving the department. Motion was not even leaving the workbench. Suddenly motion had become looking up. That's right. In a single moment in that darkened room, with 14 pairs of eyes trained on the screen, every single person understood what they had not known before: The real value field in the bonding department was the postage-stamp size square platform at the base of the microscope. All motion had to be measured from there.

[Editor's Note: Gwendolyn Galsworth is president and founder of Quality Methods International Inc. (Portland, OR), a training, consulting and development firm specializing in the technologies of the visual workplace. For more information, or to order a copy of Visual Workplace-Visual Thinking, call 888 550-5449 or visit