I swear, my intentions were MOSTLY pure. I had just had my first lean training, an all-day affair on 5-S.  As an executive, I was ready to make things happen! I have to say that I wasn’t going in TOTALLY unprepared. After all, I had already 5s’d the heck out of my desk. No, it is not weird at all to label my computer monitor as MONITOR. What? You don’t like my crime scene like chalk outline of the place where my computer mouse should be located?

I even brought my new found knowledge home! I was able to create a cool new area where my shaver, toothbrush, and floss are neatly labeled and hung up on the peg board, a perfect complement to our Caesars Palace bathroom decor. I red-tagged my teenagers. Quite liberating. However, I knew I had to branch out after my wife put her foot down after I stapled a cardboard sign that says CAT to the cat. What bothered her most is that we don’t even own a cat.


-Record Scratch Moment-

If you are reading this and have gotten this far and have no idea what I am talking about, then I have some explaining to do.  Thanks for reading this far Mom.  The 5s philosophy is deceptively simple, and was coined by the Japanese with Japanese words.  At the most basic and overly simplistic level, it is a business practice used to clean up an area so that waste can be reduced and abnormal conditions can be identified easily.  It is a philosophy, not a one time event.  Here are the 5 according to the Lean Enterprise Institute.

Sort – Keep the stuff you need, get rid of the stuff you never use.

Straighten – (Set in order) – keep needed items where they should be.

Shine – Keep everything clean and easy to identify.

Standardize – The difference between a project and a practice, make it repeatable.

Sustain – The Holy Grail of 5s in America.  This is the heart of true 5s, a sustainable work process and problem solving tool.  Unfortunately, this is where we fail as American management.  The Japanese are mostly too polite to mock us for it.

– Back to the Music-

After my mixed success at 5s-ing my environment, I decided to play it safe.  I volunteered myself to lead a 5s team out on the shop floor.  What could possibly go wrong when inserting myself into someone else’s work space?  Tom’s area was my target.  Tom worked in a confusing area of hoses, clamps, tools, wrenches, ghetto blasters, measuring devices, and corrosive liquids.  Tom’s area was targeted by me because after an internal safety audit, our auditor found the remains of Amelia Earhart’s plane hidden beneath a pile of timbers that belonged to Noah’s ark.

Luckily for us, Tom was gone so this was going to be A LOT easier!  We sorted, straightened and shined!  We got rid of the stuff that Tom didn’t need and we set in order the things that Tom needed.  We even bought Tom a new toolbox where we put his tools in a cool tray where each tool was labeled and fitted exactly to the drawer.  We took photos of how the area should look and posted them conspicuously for the world to see.  We put together a check list for Tom so that at the end of each day he could verify that his area was in great shape.  We gave his boss the same list so that he could check up on Tom’s checks.  I couldn’t wait until the next day when Tom came in to give him his big surprise!


Tom was NOT happy.

I honestly don’t know why Tom didn’t flat out walk off the job.    We did Kaizen!  We continuously improved!  We reduced that mess by 90%! What did we miss?

I forgot about Respect For People.  To be honest, respecting people was obviously not a part of my mental state to begin with.  Poor Tom  hadn’t even heard of Lean, 5S, Kaizen, and couldn’t have cared less!  How receptive do you think Tom was to learning about those things?

While your stupidity may not be as dramatic and outrageous as mine, in the never ending quest for continuous improvement, don’t we sometimes find ourselves with tunnel vision?  Do we just try to communicate the policy or tool instead of putting the policy and tool in the hands of those who are doing the work?  Worse, do we find ourselves sick of playing Yoda and just go out and do it ourselves?  Bleh.  Time to clean up the mess.  I have some red tags around here somewhere.