Should lean start with 5S? Or somewhere else?
Bruce’s story was between himself and a workshop participant debating whether 5S or kanban should come first in a lean journey. Here’s how the story begins:
Some time ago, while speaking at a conference in the land down under, I was taken to task by a participant for suggesting, â€œ5S is usually the first improvementâ€ in Lean implementation. I had carelessly adopted this posture because, as a consultant I had found that workplace organization was usually the most palatable way to demonstrate improvement on the shop floor. (Iâ€™m not sure of this, but I think the sixth S â€“ safety â€” was added at U.S. manufacturers in the 1980â€™s because improved safety was the only thing management and labor adversaries could agree on.)
â€œThat may or may not be so,â€ my friendly heckler responded, â€œbut just because 5S is easy, should that make it first?â€
I recommend you read the rest of the post.
Here is my reaction:
As it applies to 5S, I think people start here for the wrong reason – because it is easy. It is easy to implement (sometimes), but it is hard to sustain. That’s why the average life of a 5S effort is about 1 year. Here’s the problem with starting with 5S – when you fail to sustain it, then people learn unintentionally that lean is just a bunch of effort for very little gain. Not exactly the definition of lean we were looking for.
I think one of the true motivations for starting lean with 5S is from a consulting point of view, 5S looks like progress. It might not be progress, but it looks like progress. It is impossible to argue that you’ve had an impact, because just look around you. However, there is a difference between what we call aisle lean, and true lean. Aisle lean means you look lean from the aisle. But that doesn’t mean you have the right thinking or behaviors.
I hate to give non-answers as well, but I think the answer to this question is “it depends.” I think it depends on a great deal of inputs, and therefore is not yet formulaic, at least not yet to me. Maybe someday I’ll understand the problem well enough to codify it, but I don’t understand it that well yet.
But here’s my formula for now. Wherever you start, it has to accomplish two things. First, it has to solve real problems that you have. If it doesn’t, then it’s window dressing, or wallpapering, or whatever cosmetic improvement analogy works for you. If it doesn’t have a real impact, people will lose interest in either your intentions or your efforts.
Second, it has to force new thinking.The first steps have to create more questions than answers. It has to expose the fact that there is a lot to learn here. It has to create some pull; not pull of material, but pull for more learning. That’s why the participant liked starting with kanban; it was in part the right answer for them because it forced them to ask a lot of questions and take new actions.
Where to start? This is not an easy question. And the answer shouldn’t be easy either. And as many times as I’ve gotten this question, I’ve never found the answer easy.
When it comes to questions about the lean journey, such as:
– What’s the best way for leaders to be engaged?
– How should I train my team?
– Should I start in one site or many at once?
– Who should champion the effort?
â€¦there are no pat answers. That’s why, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, we promoted the idea of a roadmap instead of a recipe for lean. A roadmap, in the literal sense of the analogy, does not tell you where you are, where you are going, or how to get there. All it gives you is the lay of the land. But you still have to figure out where you are, where you want to go, and how you should get there. There are some guidelines, some truisms, some rules-of-thumb. But there is no one set of answers that covers all organizations.
All organizations are different. They are different mostly because they are made up of people, one of the most highly variable factors on this planet, but there are more reasons on top of that. Organizational change is too complex for recipes. If someone comes to you with a pre-packaged answer, I recommend running away.
Thanks to Bruce for his usual candid writing, and a great example of where simple questions such as “5S first?” are not always so simple.
Reflection question: Where did you, and your organization, start? Why? Did it give you what you intended?
I would love to hear your comments here. Please share your experiences with other; it makes this a better blog, and a better lean community.