Categories : Lean Manufacturing Principles


It’s important to understand the difference between doing and living Lean Principles.

I was talking with a potential client last week and they gave me their history of Lean over the last ten years. “So, you’ve been doing lean for ten years?” I asked. “Yes, we have, and proud of our achievements, too” replied the CEO.

According to my JIT training over the last 27 years I assumed the best for them and me.

lean principles

Lean Principles

However, I had a nagging feeling of uncertainty in the back of my mind about their reasons for asking me to discuss their lean program. I started the visit with the customary tour of the facility, which took about an hour. During the tour a supervisor acted as guide. He told me of all the great things that had been achieved by implementing Lean principles. They had trained all of their employees to understand the seven types of waste and how to eliminate them. I asked several employees about their understanding of the and found that about 2 out of 10 knew something about them.

5S Lean Principles:

When we returned back to the conference room the CEO along with the rest of his management team asked for my opinion about the facility. I suggested we first talk about the reason for asking me to meet with them and then we can move into a discussion about their facility as part of the same conversation. The CEO reluctantly agreed with my request and started to tell me why he had asked me to visit his facility. He wanted to improve the by implementing a 5S and system throughout his facility. I was a little surprised. I decided to counter his declaration by asking a question: “What have you been doing over the last ten years with this process?” He replied “We have not been focused on 5S because we felt it was too difficult to implement, therefore we decided to leave it until we felt the organization was ready for it. We improved our processes by implemented other lean tools such as Continuous Flow, SMED, Pull System, Problem Solving, etc. Now, I think we are ready for the next challenge on our lean journey, which is 5S.”

Toyota Lean Principles:

I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts. How was I going to reply to this statement? “OK, here we go,” and I began to speak. “I would like to thank you for inviting me to visit your facility. I am interested in hearing more details about your experiences and how you arrived at this point in your lean journey. However, the fact that you have been on this journey for ten years and only now considering implementing a 5S process is a little unsettling for me.” The Production Manager looked at me with surprise, and asked, “Why?” This led me to believe he had at least read the section in the lean text about using the “5 Why’s” to uncover the root cause of a problem.

Six Sigma Principles:

In my opinion, the real problem was this company’s approach to implementing lean. I believe that workplace organization, which is an integration of a 5S and visual management system, is the foundation of any lean implementation. Any business that cannot implement a robust 5S system as one of the main tools for identifying and eliminating waste does not have the internal discipline to implement a sustainable lean process. Many companies see 5S as one of the most difficult lean techniques to implement, so they often avoid it. Why is this? The main reason is because the company is not ready for the impact of the culture change that is required to implement 5S. This is because these changes will affect the way an organization runs its business on a day by day basis. Workplace organization requires a structured and disciplined approach from all levels of the organization.

Sort, Set in Order and Shine are directly accessible to every employee on the shop floor, however Standardize and Sustain needs executive leadership support to ensure the 5S process is fully integrated into the business model as a standard practice. Anything less than this will only result in a failed attempt at implementing 5S and will become nothing more than a glorified housekeeping process. 5S is not housekeeping, it is much more than this. 5S with visual management is the ability to detect the occurrence of a abnormal versus a normal situation at a glance.

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