Lean Manufacturing Isn’t The Tools

Rick Bohan

I’m putting together a short training program for something I’ve done a lot over the years, 5S.  One of my issues is that most of the reading I’ve done and training I’ve seen on 5S simply digs into the easiest, “toolsy” part of it.  You know…first you Sort, then you Set in Place, then you Shine, and it provides a safer more productive workplace.  What’s not to like, right?

Well, very little of what I’ve seen really digs into the core raison d’etre of 5S.  What’s it really, down deep for?

I’ve run into the same thing with other lean tools.  I never have found a really satisfying explanation of takt time.  Or kanban.  And don’t get me going on heijunka…I don’t think even a half-way decipherable explanation of that tool exists at all.

Here’s my point…very little of the lean literature (and, to be sure, I haven’t read it all) does a good job of telling us what lean methods are really, down deep intended to do and then  tell us how the methods help us achieve those ends.

Let’s go back to 5S as our example.  What’s it supposed to do?  What’s it supposed to provide?

An orderly workplace?  Sure, but that’s true of good ol’ everyday housekeeping and if 5S is just housekeeping, why the new name and all the training?

Easy to find, easy to put away?  Of course, but that’s just an extension of good housekeeping.

So…what then?

The core purpose of 5S is so that I (or you or him or her) can tell at a glance whether the process is in control or not. And, if it’s not, to make it easier to see and easier to get it back in control.  That’s it.  (Well…that and safety.)

Same thing with pull scheduling and production.  The core purpose is so that I can tell, at a glance, whether the process is in control or not.  And, if it’s not, make it easier to see and easier to get it back in control.

Same thing with takt time.  The core purpose is to make it easier to keep the process in control and easier to see when it gets out of control.

So, lean is ALL ABOUT designing the process so that it does what it’s supposed to do with little loss and is easy to control.  That definition applies to manufacturing, banking, healthcare, hospitality, education…and on and on.


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