L.A.M.E.: 5S Making Things Harder on Employees


Here's a follow up to my earlier post on 5S not being about neatness (or for neatness' sake).

A reader submitted this anonymous comment that's worth highlighting:

Our plant has started a 5S program that is very counter productive. Tools and parts used for changeovers were moved off the shop floor. now instead of walking 3 feet they have to walk 700 ft. to get what they need. changeovers have increased by over 2 hrs. we look nice. They tell me we are going to start a quick changeover program soon. I can't wait to see it.

What a misapplication of 5S and Lean methods. It's “Lean As Misguidedly Executed.”

There are so many things gone wrong in that one paragraph. For one, changeover times should not get longer with a 5S initiative. How does this help employees, the customers, or the company to move needed tools 700 feet away?? The extra motion, the extra setup time, the extra cost will all drive LARGER batch sizes and less customer response.

Looking “nice” is not the goal with 5S, it should be about being effective, organized, and productive (and safe). It might look “nice” that the tools are hidden, but again that's not the goal. It's a workplace and the tools required to do the work should be right at hand, especially if changeovers are done often (and hopefully they are).

Notice how they first implemented 5S and now they're going to come back and do “quick changeover.” The tools-driven approach to Lean (let's implement one at a time) doesn't seem to be working really well. Isolated misinformation and misapplication of 5S let them to make decisions (move tools far away) that will probably be countered by the quick changeover approach (get tools closer to point of use).

Finally, if you implement things like that, your employees will think you (the managers or Lean implementors) are idiots. And I wouldn't blame them.

Trying to take a more balanced view — it IS possible that the plant re-arranged the workplace into a cellular layout. If that's the case, having setup tools only 3 feet away might have been getting in the way of the smaller, tighter production cell. If the dies or tools are huge, you might want to move them out of the direct production flow path (if those tools had kept you from moving machines or operations as close together as you would like). That said, you'd have to think you could find a tool storage area closer than 700 feet away.

Either way, it sounds like this employee, the one leaving the comment, didn't have a chance to give input or wasn't listened to.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I will be sharing this post with a division next week. They too were badly burned by consultants in a LAME 5S engagement. At least management had the foresight (or mercy?) to pull the plug before implementation got worse. But, more consultants have come and gone during which time they hired me – as the lean village idiot FTE dedicated to the journey. Our “redo” of the last 5S is coming up in a few weeks and I’m using your article as a springboard for staff engagement and ownership. Since I can’t escape as easy as a consultant (without screwing others over and experiencing guilt in the process), there is actually some accountability and measurement for me, the facilitator. We’ll see how it goes – I’m looking forward to it to energize staff around lean. Thinking positive thoughts…


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