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Lean does not start with 5S, here is why.

Many people and organizations jump towards the implementation of Lean Methodologies without understanding or appreciating the core essence behind the virtue of the Toyota Production System (TPS).

So let me reiterate that back-bone virtue and primary guiding principal once again … there is no sense in the application of any methodology unless it advances the corporation’s capability to improve inventory velocity through the process … either the Finished Good or Service you provide or the elements (Parts & Components) you need to create your product or service.

Many of the methodologies look dramatic and can deliver dramatic results based on their own virtue but unless it directly contributes the primary guiding principal (Velocity) it becomes a waste of time, investment and ultimately money. This results into 2 effects …

1) Methodologies are applied but do not deliver the repeatable holistic results desired so it it becomes a veneer application of Lean or …

2) it does not deliver at all and the organization has determined that the application of Lean will not work for their organization.

To better understand the core principal of TPS (velocity) we need to go back in history to better understand Toyota and the birth of TPS. After the second world war the campus of Toyota was devastated but Toyota was committed to the culture of providing Life-Time employment to their employees … but with no product and 50,000 employees how could this be accomplished?

In a back corner of the Toyota campus an internal combustion engine was being developed that would ultimately be used to power the weaving looms that Toyota was then known for … so after some brain-storming it was decided to incorporate the engine into a vehicle … just a slight problem … Toyota was near bankruptcy.

So off went some Toyota executives to visit Henry Ford to observe the assembly line and during the visit also became fascinated with the power of Supply Chain and how it fueled Supermarkets … Supermarkets being a brand-new exciting concept to them. They were used to a minimum of 6 levels of distribution in their culture which made any item very expensive and slow to get.

So Toyota decided on designing a process that in essence would allow them to

1) procure products needed to assemble a vehicle …

2) Assemble the vehicle …

3) Sell the Vehicle to the end user (which in Japan was done by door-to-door salespeople)

4) Deliver the vehicle and collect the cash before

5) Pay Suppliers before they expected to be paid.

That was it … their perfect process but then how to execute?

No time could be lost during execution and where set-ups Had to be completed to adjust to customer desires they had to Be either quick or non-existent …

Lean is not a Silver Bullet methodology but rather several co-mingled methodologies with common attributes. Toyota categorized all of the components and products into 3 sections …

  • Runners … common, used and consumed daily

  • Repeater … regular use either weekly or monthly

  • Strangers … irregular use .. Quarterly or annually

This then translated to an operating philosophy of how and where tools and components should be placed …

  • Runners … accessible within 30 seconds or less and conducive to muscle memory

  • Repeaters … accessible within 2 minutes and may require some process reminders

  • Strangers … accessible within 15 minutes … people are willing to pay more and wait more so delays are affordable.

With these definitions the under-pinning of 5S+1 have been created …

As a personal homework assignment that you can complete while reading this newsletter we challenge you to do the following;

  • Grab 3 different colour pads of post-it notes and assign 1 colour to a velocity section (Runner, Repeater, Stranger)

  • Observe all of the items on your desk and begin to categorize using the post-it notes

  • Tag your Runners, Repeaters and Strangers

  • Now … Sort your Strangers and most of your Repeaters off of your desk and …

  • Sanitize !!! Observe the additional space you have created

But Wait !!!!! … Do not forget to turn-on your computer and review all of those icons on your desk-top and perform the same function … now you may be able to see an unobstructed view of your actual screen saver !!! Identical to what we want to accomplish with our process.

As you begin to Sort you also need to think ahead for next steps especially Set-In-Order and give consideration to the following;

Cross-Contamination – A primary discipline understood within the food industry it is definitely a concept that can be applied to any process. Consider the power of colour coding where for example when it comes to cleaning that cleaning tools are segregated for Fllor Cleaning, Non-Product Contact machine surfaces and finally Product Contact areas …. Any potential introduction of a foreign item into your process will result in a quality concern so minimize potential at a subtle source.

One Size does not fill all requirements – Proponents of of Lean and 5S+! Love the aspect of standardization and will focus on having the identical items used everywhere …because it looks nice. However, you need to size items like garbage cans to simulate time … how big a garbage can do I need to hold 24 hours of waste? You can use the same design and colour but different sizes. Remember a key attribute of 5S or the visual factory is to be able to quickly visualize normal from abnormal at a glance from 50 feet.

Sort to Clean – acknowledge that people are very lazy and if an area is not easily accessible by cleaning tools then it will never be cleaned to test each are you have sorted to determine just how easy is it to clean? And adjust if necessary.

Clean to Inspect – the touch of the human hand while cleaning is the world’s most sensitive instrument and is the best detector of abnormalities that can be immediately corrected while you are cleaning.

Finally begin to think about Flow …

To stimulate your thought pattern start to imagine “Bus Routes” running within your operation … what frequency will your route run? Where will be the Stops? Are their going to be Transfer Points? And finally what kind of capacity will be required to seamlessly complete your Bus Route?

Start with our simple homework assignment at your desk … and BTW this stuff is actually more powerful within office environments but will provide incremental process improvements within operations.


We do more than just blog. We're active Lean practitioners who would love to help you achieve your productivity goals.

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