The first Doorway into a Visual Workplace is visual order/visual inventiveness. This doorway is wholly-owned by value-add associates (aka, operators) and typically opened before any of the other ten doorways for three main reasons: the mission-critical need for visual where, empowerment on the value-add level, and a flood of high-impact visual inventions.
The Mission-Critical Need for Visual Where
The most visible outcome of Doorway 1 is the visual where. Value-add associates need the where visibly and firmly in place if they are to do their work correctly, completely, and on time. That means borders, addresses, and ID labels that are thoroughly implemented, not merely occasional. Another term for this is visual order. Many of you know firsthand that the absence of a robust application of the visual where is the single greatest information deficit on the value-add level. If the company has not yet gone lean, then this absence is a daily disaster: accidents, material mix-ups, shoddy quality, struggle, frustration, anger—and more accidents. If the company has embraced lean, then standard work is installed and a ton of time and distance wrung out of operations; but lean does not and cannot install a level of visuality that is sufficiently transparent or complete. As a result, lean is limited in its benefit—and its gains will begin to erode in only a matter of months.
Empowerment on the Value-Add Level
The second reason Doorway 1 is almost always opened first is because most companies are, to some degree, crippled on the value-add level. Operators neither have the power nor the capability of making a meaningful contribution beyond their everyday work. In such companies, empowerment is, at best, a vague notion, not sufficiently defined to be acted upon or tracked. While some strides in the past decade have been made in galvanizing employees to participate, the empowerment bid is often diluted either by tying it to an event-based schedule—a Kaizen Blitz every month or so—or by not teaching individuals how to think powerfully: how to invent. Empowerment is as empowerment is defined and I define it as: the power to think, decide, and act—the power to invent and contribute. Managers and executives engage in these activities all the time. The telling change is not just to make those part of an operator’s job description, as well, but also to prepare the operator to make powerful contributions—useful, relevant, consequential. Empowerment is meaningless if employees are not provided opportunities to make powerful contributions. An authentic re-distribution of power can only occur if operators are provided new tools for thinking. That is the heart of Doorway 1. It is this that creates an entirely new work culture—one in which operators become scientists of their own process because they have learned a new way of thinking. I call it visual thinking. Visual thinking should not be neatly packaged as just another improvement method. It is a new thought system, with principles and practices that teach value-add associates how to identify the micro-problems that plague the workday and then how to solve them permanently through visual devices—visual inventions. Operators are asked to re-think and re-create the workplace, balancing their own needs with the corporate intent. Operators become self-leaders.
A Flood of High-Impact Visual Inventions
When Doorway 1 is fully and effectively opened, visual inventions flood the work environment, responding to information deficits that are most directly experienced by operators. These inventions—high impact visual devices and mini-systems—minimize or even eliminate information deficits. They also satisfy a deep human need to simply think—to think even as we work. Work should require this of us in ways that are rewarding to us and to the enterprise that pays our salary. A visual workplace is a work environment that is populated not by hundreds but by thousands of visual solutions, invented by a workforce that has learned how to think visually. These inventions are not cookie-cutter devices that we paste into a work area. Instead, they express the high-minded vigilance of operators who have learned how to discover, diagnose, and eliminate simple and complex information deficits on increasingly more refined levels. This process is iterative. That means that the solution that satisfied last week will go through a second cycle of inventions on week three and another by week six. The red-apron invention illustration presented in this issue is one such example.
When effectively deployed, Doorway 1 often feels to operators as though 90% of the visual journey is achieved—a testament to the crucial need for visuality on the value-add level. Indeed, I once thought of Doorway 1 as 5S on Steroids, having spent nearly a decade investigating 5S successes and failures. But I now know that, effectively implemented, Doorway 1 redefines adherence and expands the scope and impact of empowerment, cultural alignment, and continuous systematic improvement itself. Operator-led visuality is, first and foremost, the imbedded language of performance excellence, and that changes everything. Doorway 1 never disappoints.