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How Legos Became a Data Tool for GM

Let’s face it. Data is often hard to visualize. Most of the data we view and analyze is in 2-D– it’s just information on a computer screen or piece of paper. But GM is using a fun, easy way to visualize data in 3-D: Legos.


Tim Herrick, global chief engineer with General Motors, came up with this practical way to visualize data. He says that his reports didn’t really show what he needed; the conflict lay in the fact that the reports were two-dimensional, but the processes he used every day were three-dimensional. After discussing the problem with colleague and friend from the medical field, Dennis Pastor, the two exchanged ideas and sketches and GM had the first Lego prototype ready to go in a matter of days.

Now whenever problems arise with vehicle testing, GM not only files a paper report, but also includes the case on the Lego board. In this way Legos are used for problem resolution tracking. The system is simple: different color legos indicate the area of the vehicle, while Legos in different sizes denote the severity of the problem.

Besides the 3-D visualization of data, the Legos also bring teams together for daily or weekly meetings to discuss plans for action. Being able to track progress in a visual, hands on way makes analyzing the data more fun. As Tim said, “Legos never lie.” And because they never lie, they bring teams together in transparency and accountability.

But perhaps the biggest advantage to using Legos? They’re fun. What better way to handle real-world problems than by using an icon of our youth? The playful and fun visualization helps workers approach each problem or dilemma with an attitude of flexibility and creativity; models made with Legos are by nature meant to be rebuilt, and because of that patterns don’t have to be stuck in stone. Who knew that analyzing data could be this fun?



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