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Supply Chain News: Is 5S Really the Way to Begin Lean Transformation?


Depends on How it is Perceived from the Perpsecpective of Shop Floor Employees, Pracitioner Says

Sept. 12, 2017
SCDigest Editorial Staff

The following column comes through special arrangement with the Lean Enterpri se Institute. It was authored by Dale Savage, Injection Molding Supervisor at Dayton, OH manufacturer Mahle.


Pick up almost any book on the topic of starting your lean journey and you'll probably find the suggestion that the place to begin is implementing a 5S program. The reason for this is understandable. There are certain attitudes, mindsets, and habits that are required for employees to have if a company is to be successful in its lean implementation.


The principle or tool of 5S is intended to help to develop those attitudes, mindsets, and habits. There's no arguing that in order to be able to implement other tools such as TPM, visual management, and even kanban there needs to be good workplace organization, In addition, employees need to not just understand the concepts of standardized work and that everything has a place; but also make them a part of how they do their jobs daily.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

his manager simply didn't understand how 5S was supposed to work. He saw it as more of a control mechanism than a way to help employees be more efficient in their daily work.

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So, I am not arguing with renowned and revered senseis who advocate 5S as a starting point because I get it. I get the fact that there is more to implementing 5S than just going in and throwing things away and laying down some lines on the floor or putting up shadow boards.

The overarching lean principle of Respect for People also has to come into play. If that is missing, then starting with 5S can have disastrous results that may derail your efforts to implement any other tool or principle related to lean. A real life example will demonstrate what I mean. (Unfortunately, this example happens more than we may like to think.)

Company A

Company A decided that they needed to get on board the lean train. Their main customer was actively looking at implementing lean and their suppliers would be expected to follow suit. Having read the standard materials available about how to begin their lean journey, management decided to start with a 5S program.

After all, 5S seemed relatively simple to put into place. All you needed was some peg board, hooks, and a black marker to draw outlines. What could be easier? And the books implied that the payback would be a change of mindset and habits of the employees in preparation for the next step on the journey.

So the peg board, hooks, and black markers were purchased and the shadow boards were prepared. When ready, they were taken to the production floor and hung up in various places. Of course this raised questions in the minds of the employees as to what the purpose of these boards was. Now was the opportunity for the manager to enlighten the employees and to take that first step in changing mindsets and habits. The conversation went something like this:

Employee: What are those boards with the pictures of our tools for?

Manager: Those are shadow boards. You are not going to be allowed to have tools at your workstations anymore. All your tools need to be put on that board when they aren't being used.

Employee: But we have our individual tools that have been issued to us. Can't we still have those at our workstations?

Manager: No, everything has to be kept on that shadow board. I guess you won't be able to have your own tools anymore. You'll have to share tools with the other employees.

Employee: Well that doesn't seem very sanitary. So do we have to put them on the board when we go to breaks and lunch?

Manager: Whenever they are not in use they have to be on that board.

Employee: You mean I have to walk all the way over there to get my tools? Why are they so far away from our workstations? And what if more of us need to use the broom or other tools at the same time? There's only one on each board.

Manager: They have to be centrally located so everyone can get to them. You'll just have to learn to share.

After the manager walked away the conversation continued between employees. They weren't buying into this new 5S idea. Instead they were plotting ways to make sure that they could keep their own tools. After all, it was stupid to have to walk so far to get what you needed.

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After the manager walked away the conversation continued between employees. They weren't buying into this new 5S idea. Instead they were plotting ways to make sure that they could keep their own tools. After all, it was stupid to have to walk so far to get what you needed.

Obviously there were multiple components missing from this 5S implementation. A couple of them are:

Lack of understanding by management of how the 5S tool is supposed to be used in supporting lean processes: 5S is not an end in itself. This manager simply didn't understand how 5S was supposed to work. He saw it as more of a control mechanism than a way to help employees be more efficient in their daily work.

Lack of the Respect for People principle: Employees were not involved in this implementation of 5S. They were not asked where the tool boards should be placed, how many tools would be needed, or what should be on the board. Management assumed that they knew best what was needed. In addition, there was not any explanation of the "whys" behind 5S so the employees would understand the principle.

So, do you think there was a change in the attitudes, mindsets, and habits of the employees? Yes, definitely. A few of them are:

An attitude of distrust of management grew: Obviously managers did not have the best interest of the employees in mind. They must have an ulterior motive for what they were doing because this was not helping the employees at all.

The mindset was developed that management was going to be doing things TO the employees, not FOR or WITH them:
The lack of worker involvement solidified this mindset which made moving forward with other parts of the lean difficult. This, together with the distrust factor, practically derailed this company's lean journey for a couple of years.

The habit of hiding things became prevalent:
Hoarding of supplies and tools, putting tools in personal lockers, and hiding whatever the employee thought may be thrown out next became commonplace. Again, this is the result of the attitude and mindset above. And not only were items hidden, but employees were resistant to standardized work when standard operating procedures (SOPs) were introduced. When being watched they were compliant, but when management was not around, they did as they wanted. Can you guess whether employees were involved with writing SOPs?

After a couple of years of not being able to move forward much on their lean journey, this company decided to hire someone full time to implement lean. 5S was again emphasized, but in a different manner. Audits were conducted, but they were used not to penalize individuals or departments, but as opportunities to teach why 5S is important.

After approximately a year or so, 5S began to improve and became a part of the language and habits of employees. They even began to point things out in audits that needed to be worked on to improve areas. Although some were still skeptical, the habits of the employees did improve although an underlying attitude of distrust still remains in some. This has created a challenge during kaizen events, VSM creation, and standard work. This could have been minimized if 5S was better understood and implemented in the beginning.

Is 5S the way to start your lean journey? That depends on how it is implemented and sustained from the employees' perspective.

Does Savage identify real problems with the way Lean is often rolled out at manufacturers using the 5S apporach? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


Your Comments/Feedback


Senior Consultant, Infosys
Posted on: May, 22 2016
Great article. I am a little suprised not to see BNSF in the mix while I understand their financial mode/operation is a little different. 

That would only give a complete perspective with all the players in the pool.

Mike O'Brien

Senior editor, Access Intelligence
Posted on: May, 26 2016
Surprised to see Home Depot fall off the list; thought they were winning with Sync?

Julie Leonard

Marketing Director, Inovity
Posted on: Jun, 27 2016
Using the right tool for the right job has always been a best practice and one of the reasons, we feel, that RFID has never taken off in the DC as exponentially as pundits have been forecasting since 2006. While these results may seem surprising to those solely focused on barcode scanning, the adoption of multi-modal technologies in the DC makes perfect sense for greater worker efficiency and productivity.

Carsten Baumann

Strategic Alliance Manager, Schneider Electric
Posted on: Aug, 19 2016

The IoT Platform in this year's (2016) Hype Cycle is on the ascending side, entering the "Peak of Inflated Expectation" area. How does this compare to the IoT positions of the previous years, which have already peaked in 2015? Isn't this contradicting in itself?

Editor's Note: 

You are right, Internet of Things (IoT) was at the top of the Garter new technology hype curve not long ago. As you noted, however, this time the placement was for “IoT Platforms,” a category of software tools from a good number of vendors to manage connectivity, data communications and more with IoT-enabled devices in the field.

So, this is different fro IoT generally, though a company deploying connected things obviously needs some kind of platform – hoe grown or acquired – to manage those functions.

Why IoT generically is not on the curve this year I wondered myself.



Jo Ann Tudtud-Navalta

Materials Management Manager, Chong Hua Hospital, Cebu City, Philippines
Posted on: Aug, 21 2016

I agree totally with Mr. Schneider.

I have always lived by "put it in writing" all my work life.  I am a firm believer of the many benefits of putting everything in writing and I try to teach it to as many people as I can.

This "putting in writing" can also be used for almost anything else.  Here are some general benefits (only some) of "putting in writing":

1. Everything is better understood between parties involved.  There are lots of people types who need something visual to improve their understanding.
2. Everyone can read to review and correct anything misunderstood.  This will ensure that all parties concerned confirm the details of the agreements as correct.  This is further enhanced by having all parties involved sign off on a hard copy or confirm via reply email.
3. Everything has a proof.  Not to belittle the element of trust among parties involved, it is always safest to have tangible proof of what was agreed on.
4. There will be a document to refer to at any time by any one who needs clarification.
5. The documentation can be useful historical data for any future endeavor.  It provides inputs for better decisions on related situations in the future.
6. This can also be compiled and used to teach future new team members.  "Learn from the past" it is said.

There are many more benefits.  Mr. Schneider is very correct about his call to "put it in writing".

Sandy Montalbano

Consultant, Reshoring Initiative
Posted on: Aug, 24 2016
U.S. companies are reshoring and foreign companies are investing in U.S. locations to be in close proximity to the U.S. market for customer responsiveness, flexibility, quality control, and for the positive branding of "Made in USA".

Reshoring including FDI balanced offshoring in 2015 as it did in 2014. In comparison, in 2000-2007 the U.S. lost net about 200,000 manufacturing jobs per year to offshoring. That is huge progress to celebrate!

The Reshoring Initiative Can Help. In order to help companies decide objectively to reshore manufacturing back to the U.S. or offshore, the nonprofit Reshoring Initiative's free Total Cost of Ownership Estimator can help corporations calculate the real P&L impact of reshoring or offshoring.


Transportation Manager, N/A
Posted on: Aug, 30 2016
 Good article!  I am sending this to my colleagues who work with me.  We have to keep this in mind.  Thanks!

Ian Jansen

Posted on: Sep, 14 2016
SCM is all about getting the order delivered to the Customer on date/ time requested because happy Customers = Revenue. Using the right tools to do the right job is important and SCM is heavily dependent on sophisticated ERP systems to get right real data info ASP.

I've worked in a DC with more than 400,000 line items and measured the Productivity of Pickers by how many "picks" per day.

I've learned that one doesn't have to remind Germany about your EDI orders.

Don Benson

Partner, Warehouse Coach
Posted on: Sep, 15 2016
Challenge - to build and sustain effective relationships at the level of the organizations that are responsible for effectively coordinating and colaborating in an otherwise highly competitive environment 


Admin, Fulfillment Logistics UK Ltd
Posted on: Oct, 02 2016
Of course we all need to up our game. We need to move with the times, and always be one step ahead of what the future will bring.

Mike Dargis

President of asset-based carrier based in the Midwest, Zip Xpress Inc. (at
Posted on: Oct, 03 2016
Thanks for the article, but I know there's a lot more to this issue than just the pay rates. Please check out my blogs on the subject at


Inventory Specialist, Syncron
Posted on: Nov, 16 2016
Lora, great article! I agree that companies choose the 'safe' solution more often than not. My solution is a bolt-on for legacy ERP's and we even face challeneges of customer adoption. Most like to play it safe and choose an ERP upgrade, which is more costly, time consuming, and has lower ROI across the board. Would love to learn more about your company, we are always looking for partnerships.


Bob McIntyre

National Account Executive, DBK Concepts LLC
Posted on: Nov, 21 2016
This is a game changer in GE's production and prototyping.  It also has huge implications across the GE global supply chain with regard to the management of their support and spare parts network. 

Kai Furmans

Professor, KIT
Posted on: May, 22 2017
I am referencing to the comment that leasing of warehousing equipment (beyond forklift trucks) is a vision for 2030.
Just recently in Europe, such a business model has started, see here:

I am following with a lot of interest, how the business develops.

Stuart Rosenberg

Supply Chain Consultant, First Choice Supply Chain
Posted on: Jun, 05 2017
If we limit the standard on judging or determining the best supply chain to just three calculations it does not tell the entire picture.  Financial performance metrics are valuable as they capture the economic consequences of business decisions.  But supply chain managers make decsions and use organizational resources that impact a company's financial well being.  Where is a firm's earnings over a period of time determined by sales less product costs and general/adminsitrative costs?  Where is the metric for determining the sources and uses of cash from three perspectives - operational, investment and financial?  Where are these supply chain metrics: on-time delivery, lead time, response time to customers, product returns, procurement costs, network distance, inventory carrying costs, forecasting accuracy, sourcing time, etc,.  Without knowing the results of all these supply chain calculations the there must be a question as to the accuracy of the 25 top supply chains.

Dustin Calitz

Project Commercialization Manager, Mondelez
Posted on: Jun, 06 2017
I feel this ranking misses the mark in SC. It does not seem to consider a key indicator in days inventory on hand, which is key to determining a SC company's ability to forecast, manage inventory costs and reduce aged stock. In additiion I realize it's difficult to understand what goes into the customer survey, but would I assume specific metrics are being asked. For examples customer's opinion on service level differentiation and the ability to deliver the right product on time, which should then be allocated a bigger weighting than 10%. It would also be interesting to take a view of the above list's SKU portfolio complexity, seasonality and launches/promotions. I would again assume some companies on the list above have a far more complex SC to manage and lead, ultimately requiring a lot more innovation within a SC to stay ahead of competitors, and ultimately satisfy their customers demands.  I understand above metrics are difficult to measure, as mentioned in the article, but they somehow need to be considered to give a true reflection. 

Michael Hurd

Lean Consultant, Unemployed
Posted on: Jun, 10 2017

A Very Good Article...

While some feel that lean is a scam that pushes for more out of the personnel and out of the companies through reduction of waste and adding value for the customer, there are several things to remember:

1) Lean methodologies are designed and implemented to reduce time wasting, so this may seem that you are working harder as an employee.

2) Lean methdoligies only work when everyone from the janitor to the owner of the company get involved and back the program.

3) Lean methods are there to make you work smarter not harder, although it may feel you are working harder.

4) YES... Sometimes lean methodologies fail! This is due to project overun or taking on too large a problem and trying to fix it all in one go and not taking the smaller problems that are associated with the large problem and fixing them first. Sometimes fixing the small problems leads to resolution of the larger problem.


Director Supply Chain , skuchain
Posted on: Jul, 31 2017
The Supply Chain technology is not considered a problem because traditionally supply chains are thought to be cost centres unlike sales functions. The tendency, in general, to limit expenses and cost cutting on upgrades for technology and for talent have been hindering progress for the businesses. Supply chains lack real time visbility and above all trust across the value chain (not that the participants are dishonest) rather it's about the cascading effects referred to as the bull-whip effect which causes higher magnitudes of disruptions. 

Supply chain real time information should top the list .

Another problem is that of multi homing as so much data is available across several feeds of IOT/Email/Internet /Mobility/ERP that organisations tend to have issues around finding a single platform to collate them for meaning analysis. 

Blockchain (if deployed appropriately) can be a great solution for solving the issues around the supply chain.

Mike Ledyard

Vested Program Faculty, Vested Way / University ofTennessee
Posted on: Aug, 04 2017
Excellent article.  It very much points to the need for Shared Risk / Shared Reward as we teach at Vested.  Suppliers will respond when they are made part of the team, and they have a lot to bring to the game.  The service provider is the subject matter expert in the services provided, and in an excellent position to enhance the capabilities and services offered by the shipper.

Andrew Downard

Managing Director, AD Supply Chain Group Pty Ltd
Posted on: Aug, 05 2017
As the article points out it is not a lack of technology that is holding back performance but rather a failure to form the right sort of relationships.  As well as the length of such relatiohships, practitioners should consider employing arrangements that incentivise both parties to innovate and deliver levels of performance and profit that neither thought possible.  By far the best model I have come across to achieve this is the Vested Outsourcing model developed by researchers from the University of Tennessee.  See for information on the model and case studies that show how others have benefited from creating a Vested deal.


logistics, threelineshipping
Posted on: Aug, 23 2017
Very informational article. The major focus of logistics is on e-commerce. There is a need to optimize every component of logistics by following the latest trends and technologies. Thanks for uploading this article.



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