I’ll bet you can hardly wait to learn about the solution to last week’s puzzler! The question was: How to help people move forward with their ideas on converting a shared space to visuality—without having to deal with competing notions of what constitutes good, bad, dazzling, practical, left-handed/right-handed, needed, and so on? In short, even though employees will be engaged in making a shared space visual, how can you avoid worrying about how to balance visual inventiveness with the territorial imperative called “mine?” The solution that follows means you won’t have to settle for good enough—cookie-cutter visuality—instead of visual solutions that are dazzling and oh so practical.
The answer to last week’s puzzler is what I call: the Prototype Solution. A prototype is a model—a process or thing that has been thoroughly worked out so it functions very well. The goal is an array of, for example, high-performance visual benches resulting from many and continuous individual inputs—and lots of visual thinking.
In my experience, the prototype approach is the method of choice when you seek robust visuality for work spaces that are shared. Five machines that operate 24/7—whether CNCs or sewing machines. Nine packing stations in a catalogue company, with packers using whichever station is handiest in the vast SKU warehouse. The three nursing stations in the children’s recovery ward. The 1,200 sewing machines in a T-shirt factory in the Dominican Republic. All shared workspaces. All the location of work that can be sizably supported and advanced through the implementation of a robust, coherent set of visual workplace principles and practices.
Here’s how the Prototype Solution works, using “benches” as the improvement focus.
- Get your department into teams of 2-3 people each. (Stay alert to those who want to go solo—and let them.)
- Ask each team to select one of the many benches. (It helps if you have numbered them in advance: Bench 1, Bench 2, etc.) This will be each team’s prototype bench—their improvement focus for the next two months. Make sure each team understands that others may use that bench without limit, as always—but only their team gets to improve it. Other teams have their own benches to improve.
- Each team now begins to apply the principles and practices of operator-lead visuality to its bench, step-by-step: smart placement; borders; addresses & id labels; visual mini-systems, the four power levels, and so on.
- Each team stays alert to motion on and around its bench (motion/moving without working is the enemy). The team members stalk motion and the information deficits that cause it—and invent visual solutions that eliminate both. They apply visual thinking. They experiment. They invent.
Over the course of those two months (and you can go through another and then another two-month cycle), teams check out the prototype benches of the other teams and make easy-going comparisons, borrow ideas, build on them, and always say thank you. They keep going. They keep inventing. They keep stalking motion.
There’s lots you can do to promote and support a spirit of adventure and creativity. By all means harness the natural competitiveness when people work together—and also our natural desire to collaborate. Run contests-of-the-week—the most innovative solution or mini-system, the most practical, the most quality-oriented, speed-based, ergonomically sound, and so on. Focus on the quality of individual solutions and avoid picking a best bench. Why? Because if you name the best, the contributions will stop. You want the creativity to continue along with the thinking and experimentation.
Don’t be surprised when benches gradually begin to look similar. Appreciate that. But also make a point of letting the differences remain. It’s the newbie manager that promotes standardization for its own sake, wanting everything to be uniform and on the same level. The savvy manager recognizes uniformity as a trap that will rob the company of robust performance through visual inventiveness and rob people of their opportunity to think, innovate, contribute—to express themselves as personalities.
The prototype approach does not ask people to dilute their creative ideas in order to get other people to accept them. It aims, instead, at I-driven inventiveness: creativity anchored in individual differences. In so doing, we see and appreciate our own unique improvement contribution and that of our colleagues, our co-workers. And the enterprise prospers—visually.