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I have seen it presented and stated many times that 5S is the first step in lean. For many, that will ring as a true statement in both a theoretical and a practical sense. I am also willing to bet that in most, if not all cases, that initial effort was not sustained over the long term. Your effort was generally similar to this path:

  1. A proposal was made to some level of leadership to implement 5S.
  2. A 5S kaizen was conducted in selected pilot area.
  3. Everyone was impressed at the transformation of the area at the event conclusion.
  4. For the next several weeks a lot of attention was paid to the area.
  5. As the weeks pass the area begins to slowly revert back to what it was.
  6. Either, a second 5S kaizen (followed sometimes by either a third or fourth, etc.) is conducted in the area; or it is determined that lean is not for us.

So is the problem 5S? Lean? The people?

If you answer “Yes” you can stop reading now!

While indeed 5S can be very useful early in lean transformation as the tool is easy and fairly inexpensive to implement, and additionally provides quick dramatic visual results. 5S cannot be an island unto itself if you want the new normal to sustain.

The concept developed by Toyota was called 4S. The fifth S and the most difficult (Sustain) had to be added as lean began to proliferate. Why sustainment of 5S, or other initial efforts in lean is difficult, is the underlying lean education and developement of people is missing or incomplete.

Display HandoutLean requires a change in current state behaviors and actions at all levles and positions in the organization. This means that everyone in the workforce will need development in their knowledge of lean, beyond just what it is. Why we are doing it, how it will benefit both them and the orgainization, and what the expectations are for everyone (CEO’s through operator) must also be understood.

Using our 5S example, here are some questions that you may want to ask:

  1. What is the purpose for 5S (or other lean tool) being implemented?
  2. What does everyone need to know for this change to sustain and be successful?
  3. How will the required knowledge and skill be developed and transferred?
  4. How will problems that arise be resolved and by who?
  5. What behaviors and actions will be needed to sustain and improve the process?
  6. How do we know that there is high agreement from all involved parties about the above?

In my experience the only places where I have seen a committed and sustained effort in lean transformation have been those that have invested significantly in lean education at all levels. There are many ways to transfer the knowledge but until you make that investment sustainment of lean initiatives will be a struggle; no matter what is first.

Lean Learning Center
The Lean Learning Center was founded in 2001 to address the gaps and barriers that are holding back companies from successful and sustainable lean transformation. In addition to the advanced curriculum, the Center has developed a learning environment designed specifically for adult learning utilizing techniques that include discovery simulations, case studies, personal planning, and reflection – ultimately engaging people at a deep and personal level. We bring our unique lean understanding in creative ways to executives, managers, supervisors, change agents and front-line employees.

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