More “Lean Office” Silliness From a Friend’s Company


An old friend of mine (whose name and company remains confidential) recently saw me reference an old blog post on Facebook. I had posted a link to this old post about Kyocera's “Lean Office” initiative that focused on neatness and, among other things, said employees could not hang sweaters on the back of their office chairs.

Being a “5S cop” and telling people what to do with their office space doesn't seem to have any real benefit to customers, so I question if it should really be called Lean. God forbid that somebody decorates their cubicle wall a bit (as pictured at left).

The Kyocera efforts still seem more like what I have dubbed “L.A.M.E.,” or Lean As Misguidedly Executed. My friend's story is pretty bad, as well.

She writes (and allows me to share):

“A good portion of our office facility was recently made-over ala Kyocera-style (fortunately not where I sit!) and the designers took away everyone's wastebaskets (along with personal effects, assigned work stations, and letting people sit in chairs they find comfortable…all chairs have to match).

Anyway, wastebaskets are tacky and uncool and hold unsightly trash which is clutter and not what [the company] stands for because we're all 5S and besides, it's the digital age and all offices are supposed to be paperless, right?

HR was on hand when all these changes were announced, and a friend asked what she's supposed to do with all her used Kleenex because she goes through about half a box a day (she has crazy seasonal allergies).

The HR rep snapped, “You're supposed to just stay home when you are sick, and that will solve your tissue problem.”

My friend pointed out she's not sick, just allergic, and got told that maybe she should get shots or find a better pill or something.

So, instead of throwing her snotty tissue in a wastebasket like normal, she keeps a spare paper tray on her desk to pile her used tissue in and then empties the tray in the hidden communal bin half a building away at the end of the day. 5S silliness!!!

Lean is supposed to make things better for customers (you know, like quality, on-time delivery and cost). It's also supposed to ensure the company's long-term success by creating a safe workplace full of highly engaged employees who participates in continuous improvement activities (as we wrote about in Healthcare Kaizen).

5S *can* meet all of these goals and I've helped lead 5S improvement teams in healthcare settings – with benefits to patients, staff, and the organization.

What my friend describes sounds like a misguided top-down directive that comes from somebody who likely doesn't have to live by similar rules. And, it sounds like they don't have a very understanding HR rep, either.

5S silliness like this gives 5S and Lean a bad name. If people are being FORCED to follow rules instead of choosing to follow them because the rules are good for patients (or customers) or staff and the organization itself. 5S isn't about neatness and tidiness – it's about being more effective. I don't see how a pile of used tissues on somebody's desk (instead of a trash can) helps one bit. Is the woman who is mad about this situation likely to be highly engaged and productive?

You might also want to check out my “Office 5S Gone Wrong” post and video.

What do you think?

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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. Comments on Twitter:

    Glenn Whitfield -@glennwhit
    @MarkGraban Need to find out who the “consultant” was that recommended this & call them out. These are people who give Lean a bad name

    Glenn Whitfield -@glennwhit
    @MarkGraban Unfortunate. I talk w/ people about Lean, and most of what I hear about is LAME. Wish we could stop the madness!!

    Don Chappell -@LeanShaman
    @MarkGraban Bizarre! LAME! I fired a consultant who demanded similar BS. This crap gives lean a bad name.

  2. Dan Markovitz -@timeback 26
    How do people look themselves in the mirror?

    My response: They don’t. The mirror has been removed, as it does not add value for the customer

  3. In the HR rep’s defense, finding a better allergy pill that alleviates the sniffly symptoms of allergies would be error-proofing and eradicating the issue that causes the Kleenex pileup.

    However, that’s a pretty inappropriate thing to tell someone to do. Respect for people was certainly not being followed.

    Additional response:

    All of the chairs are standardized – does that mean all of the people are standardized too? Everyone is male, blond hair, blue eyes, 5’11”, graduated from the same school, drives the same car…

    The outcome is the important thing to receive focus, not the tool that got you there.

    • Thanks, Chad. I agree we should be looking for effectiveness, not the implementation of tools.

      I’m sure half of the problem with the HR person’s response was tone. There’s a difference between a snippy “then get a better pill” to a thoughtful response of “our employee health plan has very generous benefits and I’m sure your physician can work with you as part of an overall wellness plan… blah blah blah.”

      As for chairs… I’m sure most chairs are designed to be adjustable for heights and weights covering a large majority of the population… but there will always be a matter of preferences (color, type of chair padding, type of adjustments, etc.). I would lean toward letting people choose chairs that are in a certain price limit (so the employee is happy and comfortable) more so than worrying about them looking identical. You could have standards like “it must be adjustable to proper ergonomic settings” or “do core training balls, because people fall off.” But that’s why I’m more of a startup guy than a “big company” guy.


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