Archive for category 5S & Visual Management

Newsflash: Behavioral Benefits of 5S Are Clinically “Proven”

Larry Loucka, a close friend and colleague, recently pointed me to a February 16th Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article.

Now, before you roll your eyes and give me the WSJ-isn’t known-for-getting-the-lean-thing-right look, hear me out. What the Journal published is really, really good stuff…even if lean, and 5S in particular, was the furthest thing from their brilliant mind(s).

The title of the WSJ article is “Messes and Wrong Guesses.” Much of the content is ostensibly gleaned from a work written by Boyoun (Grace) Chae and Rui (Juliet) Zhue, entitled, “Environmental Disorder Leads to Self-Regulatory Failure.” It was published in the December 16, 2013, on-line Journal of Consumer Research.

I’m guessing most Gemba Tales readers aren’t very familiar with that journal.

But, I digress! Here’s the pertinent stuff.

Chae and Zhue conducted several revealing experiments with two different populations of volunteers. One group of participants was placed in a messy and chaotic environment. The other group was placed in a more organized environment.

Both groups were subjected to several tests. The results reflected that the folks in the messy environment, in comparison to those in the more organized environment:

1) were willing to spend more for a variety of products (including a high end TV, vacation package, and pen),

2) took longer to complete a tricky, brain teaser type test

3) demonstrated less stamina when attempting to solve a difficult (actually unsolvable) puzzle.

Now, I don’t know what the sample size was, but the WSJ article stated that, “[i]n each case, volunteers in the organized environment did better…”

The researchers, Chae and Zhue, “say the results show that disorganized surroundings threaten people’s sense of personal control, which in turn taxes their self-regulatory abilities.”

So, next time someone challenges you on why 5S is a good thing, look them in the eye and tell them it’s (sort of) proven that it lowers stress and enhances the self-regulatory abilities of everyone in the workforce. That sounds like respect for the individual AND a greater capacity for execution and daily kaizen.


Related posts: What Happened to 5S’ Fourth S? Let’s Standardize! [Guest Post], Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes


What Happened to 5S’ Fourth S? Let’s Standardize! [Guest Post]

I’m admittedly a bit of a 5S curmudgeon. I blame it mostly on the fact that I have routinely witnessed well-applied 1S, 2S, and 3S, evaporate in the absence of any meaningful 4S. It’s like so much in lean, when we fail to understand that any technical change requires a management change, bad things happen.

In other words, the first 3S’s matter little if we don’t do some of the things that 4S requires – assigning 3S responsibilities, integrating 3S duties in regular work duties, and checking on 3S maintenance levels (not to mention preventing things from getting dirty in the first place). Here, our guest-blogger, Tony Ferraro, talks about another critical part of the fourth S – standardizing the lines, labels, shadows, presentation, etc. that was developed beforehand.


5S is one of the most effective tools within the realm of workplace organization. Since its inception, 5S has gained a loyal following in many different types of work environments. Companies that have truly embraced 5S enjoy high levels of organization and efficiency.

For those of you unfamiliar with 5S, it is an acronym used to describe five different, yet integrated practices that all begin with the letter S. They are as follows:  sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. It seems that most businesses engaged in the practice of 5S do a rather nice job implementing at least the first three S’s. However, the fourth S, standardize, consistently seems to lag in the background.

Why is this?

Is it that standardize is hard to implement? Misunderstood? Undervalued?

An Example – Standardize in an Auto Shop

Here’s a quick story about standardization, also known as standardized cleanup. The setting for this story is an auto shop.

Now, auto shops have a well-earned reputation for disorganization and uncleanliness. Originally, this one was no different.

The primary purpose of standardization is to ensure that work stations and equipment are set up in a similar manner, kept clean, and maintained in line with 3S responsibilities – including regular work duties and maintenance. For more information, please refer to Hirano’s book entitled “5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace.” One important goal is for associates to be able to walk up to any work station and locate any needed tool or item quickly and easily since all stations are consistently organized.

Our auto shop had made some great progress and had a good handle on the first three of the 5S’s but struggled with the fourth S. However, due to the individualized organization of tools and equipment, employees were unable to use different work stations to and perform the same high level of work efficiency.

In a nutshell, everyone had their station set-up differently according to their specific likes and dislikes. When other employees needed to use a different station, they would spend unnecessary time reorganizing the space and equipment to meet their needs. Some common problems included misplaced tools, disorganized workspaces, and overall losses in production time. The sad truth was that a lack of standardization was eroding the success achieved with the first three S’s.

Consistent with the notion of 5S, we employed a visual approach towards standardization. We gathered the employees and set-up the ideal, universal workstation by taking each employee’s opinions and thoughts into consideration. A photo of the pilot workstation was then posted at all of the other workstations.

Employees took ownership of the workstations by setting them up in the specific and uniform manner according to the agreed set-up and photo illustration. Foam tool organizers were extremely useful in the effort. The organizer helped to keep all tools presented similarly at each work station and then also made each employee accountable at the end of his or her shift to have all tools back in their predetermined locations. Just like the saying goes, every place has its tools and every tool has its place.

Don’t Overlook the Benefits of Standardization

Even though standardization may seem trivial, don’t underestimate how it can help create and help maintain an effective and efficient work space. Standardizing workspaces can help engage employees and create a universally organized and well understood workplace for all stakeholders. Please familiarize yourself with the fourth S and re-energize your 5S culture.

Antonio Ferraro, on behalf of Creative Safety Supply based in Portland, OR (, authored this guest post. Tony strives to provide helpful information to create safer and more efficient industrial work environments through 5S, six sigma, kaizen, and applying a lean mindset.

Related posts: Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes, Scrunchie Lean, Visual Controls, Spider-Man, and Do Hotel Chains Really Care About Saving the Planet?


Visuals and a Bit of Drama

Labels, lines, and shadows have little personality. Their job is largely around identification, location, and quantity.

Visual performance metrics provide insight into the health of a process or value stream by comparing actual performance versus target within the context of people, quality, delivery, and cost.

Andons are dynamic in nature. They visually (and often audibly) signal abnormal conditions and trigger problem-solving…or at least, most immediately, problem containment.

We could go on and on about the various types of visuals and visual management systems. Their job is to be self-explaining, typically worker-managed, self-correcting things that:

  • inform,
  • align,
  • highlight abnormal conditions,
  • prompt lean behaviors (including adherence), and
  • spur problem-solving.

It’s not often that someone comes up with a visual that one could characterize as dramatic or entertaining.

As far as I know, there are no rules against that! In fact, it can be a good thing relative to attention-getting, imparting a desired message, and fostering certain behavior(s).

A friend and colleague recently captured such a visual on camera while on the road (at least he wasn’t driving and texting!). As he stated in the email that had the following picture attached, “[n]o question here on the potential consequences of not following the standard while passing this guy.”

I can’t agree more. That, and the pun within the visual ain’t too bad, either.

What do you think?

Related posts: Another Classic Lean Question – “Do You See What I See?”Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, Airline Carrier’s Visual Management – Branding and LOL


Visual Controls, Spider-Man, and Do Hotel Chains Really Care About Saving the Planet?

In many ways, visual controls are a 24/7 mirror of leadership’s competency and credibility.

That’s pretty scary if you think about it.

It’s like voluntarily living in a fishbowl. Not that everyone truly understands the gravity of that.

It reminds me of the Spider-Man quote (allegedly borrowed from Voltaire or someone before him), “With great power comes great responsibility.”

So, with the application of visual controls comes great responsibility.

Effective visuals are a universal, self-explaining, unapologetic proclamation to anyone within eyesight and possession of some basic (lean) thinking, that this here, taken together as a system, is our current process health and level of process adherence and sufficiency. This is the established standard, providing insight into one or more of the what, why, where, when (timing, sequence, conditions), how much, how long, who, with whom, targets, and trends. It necessarily highlights the abnormal condition(s)…and prompts correction.

Of course, a lack of competency is belied by visual controls that are tool-driven. We’ve all seen the hodge-podge of stuff  – disconnected visuals that are not part of a system and not applied within the context of a lean management system.

Silly “eye candy.”

Or the visual that is not, as it’s supposed to be, worker-managed…and thus is not maintained, or not maintained consistently, or not maintained properly…and leadership doesn’t seem to care.

So, no one cares.

It may be because the visual control is not sufficient. Or it’s an adherence issue. Or both.  Or perhaps, when problems are identified, no one knows what to do next.

Problem-solving, anyone?

Either way, it turns out to be a leadership competency AND credibility thing.

Naked, for the world to see.

And, the world judges.

The world, whether it’s customers, community, associates, managers, or executives eventually come to a conclusion that lean doesn’t work, the company doesn’t care, leadership doesn’t know what they heck they’re doing, the folks don’t have any discipline, etc.

This leads me to the hotel towel thing.

I’m sure most folks who have stayed in a hotel have seen the rather ubiquitous sign or placard that says something about saving the planet. The verbiage, however clunky, seeks to appeal to our sense of social (and environmental) justice.

Yes, washing towels needlessly is MUDA!

So, I always hang them up after each use.

And, about 80% of the time, housekeeping takes the towel away (and presumably washes it)!

So, I judge the hotel and its leadership. They don’t care about saving the planet!

Make me cynical.

Not a very lean feeling.

Related posts: Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, Visual of the Visual?, Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes

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Scrunchie Lean

I never anticipated posting something about scrunchies (you know the decorative pony tail holding device) or quoting Coco Chanel. But, here I am.

Heck, it’s Friday, why not share something light about lean?

Truth be told, I LOVE really simple and creative applications of lean. Even better when it’s the voluntary work of a relatively new lean convert, like my friend Lisa.

During a recent kaizen activity, I took notice (how could I not, it was visual…AND functional) of Lisa’s laptop power cord.

Take a look at the following pictures. Note the visual differentiation of her plugged in cord versus that of others. It can be a drag trying to figure out what plug goes with what laptop. Do I pull this one, or that one, or…?

And, then there’s the challenge of wrapping up and stowing your power core (and adapter), if you have had the misfortune of losing your velcro strip or rubber band thingy. The scrunchie is an excellent and visually differentiating replacement.

Now I am not saying that the scrunchie is for everyone. I, for one, would feel a bit self-conscious using one (in my insufficient hair or as a power cord accessory), but we can probably all agree with the late French fashion designer, Coco Chanel:

Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”

Related posts: Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes, Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining


Cutting Edge Visual (and Sensory) Control

This past weekend I made a quick visit to see my parents. It was my mom’s birthday and a great opportunity to share some time with my ailing father. And there was a glimpse of some domestic lean

I was grilling steak and grabbed a knife to check the center. Yes, I know real cooks don’t do that. I am not a real cook.

Anyway, as I picked up the knife by the handle, there was something poking my hand. It was a twist tie!

I gave my mother an incredulous look. She explained.

Seems my father tends to put the wood handled knives in the dishwasher. High temp water bath and wood – not a good combination. So, my mother slapped a twist tie on the knife to remind him that it is not a candidate for the dishwasher (unless he’s the dishwasher).

Now, I usually prefer a more self-explaining control, but the gemba-based population within my folks’ house is pretty small. Overall, inventive and a little bizarre.

Visual and tactile control – zero dollars. Time with my folks – priceless.

Related posts: Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings


Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining

I’ve driven past the building pictured below well over a dozen times. It appears commercial in nature, but with the lack of descriptive visual controls, I had no idea, until now, what it is.

Commercial signage typically provides folks with more insight into the name and type of business. The lack of ABC information was driving me a bit crazy…which of course made me think about the self-explaining attribute of effective visual controls.

Among other things, gemba-based observers should be able to understand, unassisted, what a given object, process or system is. If relevant, a visual control should also share the subject’s purpose, and related operating rules, including a definition of the normal condition (and often, what to do in response to an abnormal condition).

…Back to ABC. Turns out it’s a liquor store (a.k.a. “package store”). Seems that in North Carolina, the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Commission controls the sale of alcoholic beverages in the state. There’s a bunch of ABC stores throughout the state.

It certainly was not self-explaining.

How many mysterious ABC’s do you have in your plant, office, lab or hospital?

Related post: Visual of the Visual?


Airline Carrier’s Visual Management – Branding and LOL

Visual management is typically applied for the purpose of indicating process and system performance so that everyone can tell, at glance, whether the situation is normal or abnormal. Abnormalities should prompt an appropriate response.

Well, the low-cost South African airline Kulula, has taken a whimsical approach to visual controls. Actually, it’s a branding strategy with really nothing to do with lean thinking. But, it is pretty funny. Enjoy the pictures, below.


Point of Use Storage – Sometimes It’s REALLY Important!

Point of use storage is an excellent strategy for reducing the waste of motion (and transportation). Sometimes motion is a minor inconvenience. Sometimes motion is a bit more problematic.

The picture to the left is real. No Photoshop here! The name of the location is withheld to protect the innocent people who have to use the “workstations” and the guilty (it’s just not worth it) who established the “system.”

It’s kind of funny…if you don’t think about the implications for the employees whom we should respect.


Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes

visitor badgeI just had an experience that prompted me  to think about the effectiveness, or sometimes lack thereof, of visual controls. Yesterday I was at a client site. No kaizen, just training. I was sporting a vistor’s badge (see picture), when one of  the class participants said something like, “Hey, you’re expired!” I came back with an intelligent, “Huh?”

It seems that the badge uses a time sensitive sticker that is white when the badge is first given to the visitor. After 24 hours or so it displays a red tiger stripe to indicate that it’s expired – meaning you need to show your ID and sign in again. Presumably, it’s a visual control to better identify the normal versus abnormal (unapproved) visitor.

Didn’t know that. I was walking around the facility for three days with my expired badge. I routinely walked right by the security folks and everyone else. No one said a word until the fourth day! Why didn’t the visually controlled badge  “work?” Why do visual controls fail consistently or intermittently?

Here’s my incomplete list of the root causes of ineffective visual controls (in no particular order):

  1. Introduced without training. Oftentimes new visual controls are deployed with nary a word to those who are supposed to manage them or respond to them. Stealth deployment is not successful.
  2. Not worker-managed. Visual controls are supposed to be worker managed. It’s silly to expect someone else (a supervisor or manager) who is not there real-time to reliably trigger a visual…in a timely manner. And it takes the worker out of the equation. So much for engagement and ownership.
  3. Not self-explaining. If a visual control cannot be immediately deciphered as to its purpose, operating rules and status, it ends up being a guessing game. No one has time for that and no one has a gemba decoder ring.
  4. Not visual/visible. Visual? What visual?  Some visual controls just are not very visual due to diminutive size, lack of color, poor location, etc.
  5. Too hard or complicated to use. Visual controls are designed to quickly, effectively and universally identify abnormal conditions so that those conditions can be addressed. They shouldn’t be adding muda. Visuals that are physically and/or intellectually a pain to maintain or trigger just won’t be reliably used.
  6. Obsolete. Sometimes the underlying system or process  is changed and the visual control is no longer used. Leaving it around is visual pollution and is confusing.
  7. Lack of discipline. It takes a level of discipline to maintain visual controls. Lean leaders must constantly reinforce their use and they should be an audit item within their leader standard work.
  8. Love of covert operations. Visual controls make things, well…visual. They promote an environment in which there are no secrets. For many reasons, some employees are not a big fan and purposely do not use the visual controls. Here, lean leaders need to hold folks accountable.
  9. Lack of faith. Oftentimes employees reliably maintain their visual controls and then give up when they determine that no one reliably responds to the abnormal conditions. Why the heck use a visual when no one seems to care?!  Apathy for abnormalities drive apathy for visual controls.

I’m guessing that I have missed some other root causes of ineffective visual controls. Any thoughts?

Related post: Visual of the Visual?

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