Be Careful Overdoing the "Shine" in Your 5S Efforts

1 | Drinks | Yeast goes wild in Trappist ale

One of my favorite discoveries in the past year is a Belgian “Trappist Ale” called Orval. A friend in Toronto saw this article/review in the local paper and it reminded me of 5S.

I'm we've all been involved in a Lean 5S effort where somebody was overzealous and threw out some piece of equipment or old spare part that really was needed by somebody (but the person who knew this wasn't around). Once you've had that happens, it reinforces the need to have a “buffer zone” often called a “red tag area” where items are held for a week or two until everybody can review and bless the removal of the items.

At the Orval brewery, they had a bit of a mishap during a deep cleaning (not a “5S” in name, but I'm seeing a parallel).

The brewmaster at the time – not a Belgian monk, but a German layman named Martin Pappenheimer – decreed that the tank used to brew the beer shouldn't be washed too thoroughly. During the 1950s, as part of a modernization of the brewery, Pappenheimer's advice was ignored. Cleaning crews wiped out the tank with harsh cleansers, paying particular attention to a calcified deposit left at the bottom. The new, sparkling clean tank produced a beer that was less than, well, sparkling.

The lustrous, white head and wild, tart complex flavour of Orval was gone. That calcified deposit, it turned out, was more than just an inert lump. It was also home to several strains of wild yeast, including one called brettanomyces.

Can you imagine the horror? You'd think that was an error that, unlike ordering some more spare parts, could not be undone. Maybe it speaks to the “can do” spirit of monks, but they managed to recreate that deposit of wild yeasts through research and dedication.

Thankfully, we still get to enjoy their ale, even if it's not quite exactly the same as it was before that cleaning mishap!

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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 used to brew my own beer and I studied it pretty thoroughly to learn about yeasts, hops, malts, etc. The Belgian Trappist ales are awesome, but the exception to “wild yeast” strains. The vast majority of wild yeasts will turn your beer into undrinkable swill. Your story reminded me of a manager I worked with informally a couple of years ago who told me he did not want his plant to get “too clean” or his customers might think he didn’t have much business!


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