Virtual Reality and Lean

Most of you are probably aware of at least some of the virtual worlds that now exist where people can visit, play games, and/or take part in a whole range of other activities.

Perhaps the most well-known is
Second Life, where you can create your own identity through an avatar, view entertainment, meet other visitors, “build” a house – in short, spend time in a different world.

While I’ve never done that myself, I’ve certainly read about it. And I know some businesses have set up virtual operations in Second Life, as part of their marketing strategy. (However, I am unaware of any such operations having a significant impact on business.)

For gamers, there are many online communities where you can play your favorite video games (with impressive, lifelike graphics), and do so against other players who may be located throughout the world.

I had always assumed these virtual worlds attracted primarily young players, or at least the hard-core geeks who love technology.

However, I read recently about a new game world that I believe is targeted to a slightly broader, less hard-core audience. It got me thinking about how these virtual communities may have business applications that go beyond having a presence in Second Life.

It is called
World Golf Tour. It is an Internet sports league where you can play virtual golf on simulations of real golf courses. And you can do so as part of a foursome whose members may actually be thousands of miles apart.

It is still in demo form, but is scheduled to go live within six months or so with a virtual version of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. A half-dozen courses will be online by year-end.

Josh Quittner of Fortune magazine predicts that once the site is live, “white-collar productivity will fall through the floor like a Looney Tunes anvil dropped from a skyscraper.”

That remains to be seen. But think about how this kind of technology could be used to create factory simulations for testing improvement efforts.

There is nothing new about using factory simulations. However, with a virtual world, all members of a cross-functional team could be on the “floor” of a virtual factory, each with the capability to take action in their particular area. A floor supervisor could make changes to production, and someone in distribution could experience and respond to the impact of those changes in the warehouse.

You could conduct a kaizen event without any disruption to actual operations because everything you do is virtual. When you finally come up with the best solution, actual implementation is faster and easier.

Do you agree? Does anyone know of technology already being used in this way? I look forward to your comments.


aer said...

WOW! Wouldn't a product like this be nice for all of the lean champions out there (including myself) that struggle to "prove" lean works. They hesitate to pull people out of production and they have questions that can't be answered unless we're able to go through the process.

Alice said...

That's a great idea! Surely some manufacturers out there are doing it, right?

BTW, I really like reading your blog. I feel bad that you don't get many comments. Your postings are very insightful to me. Please keep it up!