UX at the Gemba:


In today’s post I am looking at UX (User Experience) at the gemba. Generally, usability (how the end user can effectively and efficiently complete the tasks needed) and UX (the meaningful and relevant experience the user has from effectively and efficiently completing the tasks needed) are two terms that are associated with product design. I would like to see how this applies at the gemba.

ISO 9241 (Ergonomics of human-system interaction) defines Usability as – a measure of the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users can achieve specified goals in a particular environment.

While UX is defined by ISO 9241 as – a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service.

We should use the same ideas at the gemba for the operators. How easy is the operation in making a product? How is the work station laid out? How is the process flow? At the gemba we can view Usability as – the operator making a good product with ease, and UX can be viewed as – the operator enjoying making the good product.

Some of the terms that are associated with usability are:

  • Task oriented – objective values
  • Functional – works as intended
  • Reliable – always works as intended
  • Usable – can be used with without difficulty

Similarly, some of the terms associated with UX are:

  • Experience oriented – subjective values
  • Convenient – easy to work with and does not give grief
  • Pleasurable – an enjoyable experience
  • Meaningful – adds to personal value and significance

At the Gemba:

Marie Kondo, the great Japanese organizing consultant is famous for her question – “does it spark joy?” To me, this is a great UX question. Does your operation/process spark joy?

When you are at the gemba, observe an operation. Take a note of how many times the operator takes a tool and put it down, only to take it again for another step. Take a note of how many times the operator has to look around and reach for a tool. Take a note on whether the operator is in his or her ‘zone’. Or is he or she getting frustrated with the steps?

As Lean leaders/engineers, we owe it to our team to design a good process. This was the theme of Industrial Engineering pioneered by Taylor, Gilbreth et al. At best, this approach falls right under usability. My challenge to my readers is to consider UX for the operators. We should minimize the cognitive load on the operators. The complexity of an operation is generally a constant. A good operation absorbs this complexity through easy to manufacture design, good fixtures, poke yoke, well laid out work stations etc. This way, the operator does not have to absorb the complexity, leading to a good UX model. This idea is explained here.

One of the ideas in UX is visibility. This aligns very well with Lean. This idea is about being able to know the state of a system just by looking. Is it working properly? Does it say what is going on? Are the signals easy to interpret? Are the correct parts visible and are they conveying the correct message? By seeing that something is wrong, we can stop to correct the problem.

We should design the process for the operator and not for the product. This means that we should work with the involved operators from the start, making improvements as we go along. We should be open to their input and ideas. The UX approach requires empathy. The UX view is a big picture holistic view. Making an operation consistent, intuitive and easy for an entry level person can actually make the operation easier for the most experienced person.

Some of the UX based questions you can ask yourself (along with the ones already posed in this post) are:

  • How do people learn to assemble our products?
  • What makes a step easy or hard to remember?
  • Why do people make errors?
  • Are our products easy to manufacture, again and again?
  • Are problems easy to see?
  • Do we have the right tools? Do the tools fit what they are used for?
  • Are they more likely to assemble the product the wrong way? Is it more easier to assemble the right way?
  • Is our product easy to inspect? Do we rely on 100% visual inspection to catch problems?
  • Would you do the operation? What would make it easy for you?
  • Above all, Does it spark joy?

Final Words:

I will finish with the great Don Norman’s words on UX from his wonderful book, “The Design of Everyday Things.” Don Norman is a pioneer of UX.

It is relatively easy to design things that work smoothly and harmoniously as long as things go right. But as soon as there is a problem or a misunderstanding, the problems arise. This is where good design is essential. Designers need to focus their attention on the cases where things go wrong, not just on when things work as planned. Actually, this is where the most satisfaction can arise: when something goes wrong but the machine highlights the problems, then the person understands the issue, takes the proper actions, and the problem is solved. When this happens smoothly, the collaboration of person and device feels wonderful.

The above passage has underpinnings of Jidoka where the idea is to stop the line or the machine when a problem occurs. The same idea is important in UX as well. Norman continues:

Human-centered design is a design philosophy. It means starting with a good understanding of people and the needs that the design is intended to meet. This understanding comes about primarily through observation, for people themselves are often unaware of their true needs, even unaware of the difficulties they are encountering.

My take on this passage again is Lean-oriented. Toyota teaches us to go to gemba to grasp the facts. Going to gemba and observing, identifying waste and solving problems is an excellent way to develop oneself.

Great designers produce pleasurable experiences. Experience: note the word. Engineers tend not to like it; it is too subjective. But when I ask them about their favorite automobile or test equipment, they will smile delightedly as they discuss the fit and finish, the sensation of power during acceleration, their ease of control while shifting or steering, or the wonderful feel of the knobs and switches on the instrument. Those are experiences.

Experience is critical, for it determines how fondly people remember their interactions. Was the overall experience positive, or was it frustrating and confusing? When our home technology behaves in an uninterpretable fashion we can become confused, frustrated, and even angry—all strong negative emotions. When there is understanding it can lead to a feeling of control, of mastery, and of satisfaction or even pride—all strong positive emotions. Cognition and emotion are tightly intertwined, which means that the designers must design with both in mind.

Norman’s above passage to me captures the essence of UX at the gemba. Our processes must be user friendly, and should always yield positive experiences for the operators.

My post has barely covered the basics of UX. I encourage the reader to research further on this topic. Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Wittgenstein’s Ladder at the Gemba:


Tesler’s Law of Conservation of Complexity:


In today’s post, I am looking at Tesler’s Law of Conservation of Complexity. Larry Tesler, who came up with the law, worked at Xerox PARC, Apple, Amazon, and Yahoo in different capacities. He was one of the brains behind “cut/copy and paste” functionality in word processors. The basic premise of the law is as follows:

“Every application has an inherent amount of irreducible complexity. The only question is: Who will have to deal with it—the user, the application developer, or the platform developer?”

This is an important idea in the user interaction with a software application. One of the best examples to explain this further comes from Dan Saffer’s excellent book, “Designing for Interaction.” Think of the email application. It needs a “From address” and a “To address”. Without either of these two items, the email cannot be sent. All, if not most, email applications will automatically populate the “From address”, thus not requiring the user to enter it all the time. This “complexity” was addressed by the software application designer. As Dan put it; The complexity isn´t gone, though – instead, some of it has been shifted to the software.

Larry Tesler was a firm believer that the user interaction is almost as important as the application itself.

In the early days of our field, when I worked at Xerox PARC, the idea of user interface consistency was new and controversial. Many of us realized that consistency would benefit not only users, but also developers, because standards could be encapsulated in shared software libraries. We made an economic argument: If we establish standards and encourage consistency, we can reduce time to market and code size.

I postulated that every application must have an inherent amount of irreducible complexity. The only question is who will have to deal with it.

Because computers back then were small, slow and expensive, programs were designed to be compact, not easy to use. The user had to deal with complexity because the programmer couldn’t. But commercial software is written once and used millions of times. If a million users each waste a minute a day dealing with complexity that an engineer could have eliminated in a week by making the software a little more complex, you are penalizing the user to make the engineer’s job easier. (Source: Dan Saffer Interview with Larry Tesler in “Designing for Interaction”)

With this law, we are not trying to make things simple. A complex situation requires that the solution is also complex. This goes back to Ross Ashby’s Requisite Variety principle – “only variety can absorb variety.” The variety is described as the number of possible states of a system. If the “problem” requires that you need 7 states, then the solution should address it by providing at least 7 states. Tesler’s law recommends that we keep this complexity away from the user and absorb it at the programmer’s side. This makes the user interaction favorable leading to a positive user experience. We should focus on making life easy for the user.

The user experience is related to the cognitive load that is placed on the user. The application should try to minimize this load to avoid any potential errors or slips. The more steps a user has to complete, the more likely an error can occur. This may not be a big problem if we are drafting an email, but if the user is a pilot, then the whole scope of the problem changes. Providing a consistent interface and eliminating unnecessary actions minimizes the cognitive load on the user, and ultimately reduces the errors and slips by the user.

This makes me think about the concept of “muri” in Lean. “Muri” refers to the unnecessary burden on the operator or the system. Muri always leads to Muda (waste). When we are designing an interface for the operator at the gemba, we should try to make that interface as user-friendly as possible in order to minimize the cognitive load on the operator. As Tesler’s law suggests, the designer should absorb the complexity so that the operator does not have to worry about it. Many of the concepts of user experience are applicable in designing a work station. The focus is not to make things “simple” but to match the complexity needed and embed it in the interface in an efficient and effective manner so as to reduce cognitive load on the user. This leads to a satisfactory experience for the user and minimizes the chance of errors. When trying to save money, don’t try to cut corners with technology. Think of it from the time saved by the operators and the minimization of cognitive loads leading to better products and processes.

The other side of the coin is an elaboration that Bruce Tognazzini made with Tesler’s law. Bruce is another great User Experience pioneer. He postulated that when we remove the complexity from the user, the user will try to attempt more complex tasks. The reduction in cognitive load on the operator leads to the user engaging in more ideas for improvements that ultimately leads to better and more efficient operator interface. This may also lead to better cross training, and increase in employee morale. There will be more interest in engaging in the improvement culture, which is at the heart of lean.

I will finish with a great Don Norman story about user experience. Don Norman is the director of The Design Lab at University of California, San Diego, and has written numerous books of designing and user experience.

Don Norman is a proponent of designing things so that the conceptual model becomes easy for the user. The conceptual model is the mental model that the user creates when interacting with a designed object. The conceptual model allows the user to understand how the object functions. Don talks about the experience his son had with the first Macintosh computers. At that time, the file storage was mainly done with floppy drives. His son was trying to save a file and got the error message. “Sorry, there is not enough room to save your file.” His son looked at the folder and saw that there were many folders within the folder and they were arranged in a haphazard fashion. His son using the conceptual model he had came up with a solution – rearrange the folder icons in the folder towards the left so that “there was lot more room on the right side.” He tried again saving, and got the same error message. He was puzzled because the folder obviously had more room now. Don stated that his son was using the wrong conceptual model. The “room” on the picture on the folder was not the same as the “room” on the floppy disc.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Kufu Eyes: