Virtual Reality and Lean…the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Can Virtual Reality (VR) be effectively utilized to help drive Lean transformations?  Due to the COVID-19 crisis, nearly every business in every industry has had to adapt to these unprecedented conditions.  How can we work more efficiently in a remote setting?  How do we provide scalable training in a controlled and cost-effective manner?  Can VR help achieve a transformational change at a fraction of the cost?  How do we best embrace change, take risks, try something new, fail fast and pivot quickly?

Recently I had an opportunity to attend a 5-day immersive VR learning experience led by globally recognized Lean Leaders in Lean thinking.  The participants were transported into a virtual world via Oculus Quest wireless headsets where they were joined by other participants and an instructor.  Each participant received an avatar that used sensors in their VR headset to mimic their body movements as well as enable speaking and hearing via microphones and speakers.  We were able to move, explore, interact with objects (i.e. – whiteboards and virtual pens), and engage with fellow attendees.  The presentations and small group activities were done in 3D in a large virtual room as well as smaller break-out rooms.  Overall, the  experience was a blend of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The GOOD

  1. Virtual Reality is cool! It was fun to learn something new and experience new technology.  Hey…even my kids thought I was “somewhat” cool!
  2. No distractions…VR is a fully immersive experience that is active. Active learning allows the participant to be more engaged thus improving overall learning retention.
  3. ..the technology allows participants to seemingly interact together in a common room despite being miles apart.
  4. No travel required resulting in significant cost savings. The average business trip costs $1,293 per person according to the 2019 Cost of Business Travel Report by Motus.

There are many benefits to be gained from utilizing Virtual Reality.  Whether it’s an improvement in the productivity of your workforce or a reduction in training costs across your organization, VR offers a convenient and scalable learning experience.  In comparison to other e-learning methods, VR has the capability to show learners environments in 3D, prompting higher levels of engagement and learning retention.  An example of this benefit in practice would be the ability to go on Gemba walks within a virtual factory environment.  Users can utilize VR for training in simulated work environments, thus learning from mistakes in a safe and controlled environment.  This could dramatically improve the effectiveness of the onboarding training process.  While useful for simulating manufacturing and engineering tasks on virtual shop floors, VR is also beneficial to design engineers, researchers, data scientists, and other support staff due to its ability to aid large teams with concepts that are not easily visualized.

The BAD…

  1. It is difficult to take notes when wearing VR glasses. Currently you are unable to type or write notes simultaneously during the training without removing your headset.
  2. Vision-impaired participants who wore eyeglasses, found the VR glasses to be inconvenient and uncomfortable.
  3. Weight of VR devices
  4. Affordability
  5. Networking capability is limited.

Although Virtual Reality provides a platform/meeting space for collaboration and learning it does not replace face-to-face collaboration and interaction.  Some participants also found the VR devices heavy and uncomfortable, especially those who wore eyeglasses.  Affordability remains an issue as fully immersive, 3D virtual reality typically requires an investment in user headsets and off-the-shelf software, or custom development built for specific company needs.

The UGLY…

  1. Motion sickness
  2. Eye Strain and Headaches
  3. VR “fog-like” symptoms

When exposed to a Virtual Reality environment, some users display a type of motion sickness called VR sickness.  Just like other types of motion sickness, people experience the following symptoms when immersed in a VR environment:  balance problems, nausea, sweating, vertigo, sweating, eye strain, headache, and disorientation.  Significant improvements have been made to design for the mitigation and prevention of VR sickness, however limitations still exist and need to be closely monitored.

In summary, Virtual Reality is a good learning tool and exploration platform to drive business transformations however there are challenges to overcome for VR to reach its full potential.  For organizations with geographically dispersed employees, VR provides an effective, easy-to-use option for scalable learning and collaboration.  Also, with the likely continuation of remote work even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends and the ongoing shift away from classroom learning may result in even broader uses of VR training in the future.  In the meantime, why wait for things to “get back to normal?”  Instead, embrace change, take risks, be flexible and explore new ideas…why not?  This is a perfect time.  Let’s not just survive, let’s thrive!

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