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Making Things Better - 5S-ing the Community

by Tony Heath
October 5, 2016

Making Things Better - 5S-ing the Community

by Tony Heath
October 5, 2016 | Comments (2)

LEI asked the Lean Community: What are you doing to make things better? Below is one of many great replies. Stay tuned to the Lean Post over the next few weeks and months and see more of what the lean community is doing to make things better.

In my first couple of days of company-provided Six Sigma Yellow Belt training years ago, the teachers included a few minutes on Lean. My ears perked up and I asked the teachers how I could learn more. They recommended that I start by reading The Goal, for reasons I still don’t understand. But reading this excellent book on the theory of constraints excited me and from then on I read everything I could find about Lean.

Eventually I got a job as a “Six Sigma Black Belt” in my company’s vision and dental insurance division. During the few hours of included lean training, I learned the basics of (and was sold on) the 5S method. My first use of this concept was in our company’s eyewear-manufacturing facility. This facility had a serious (and expensive) problem with scratching the lenses of glasses during the assembly process. My boss/sensei and our team of three Black Belts walked through the facility and quickly noted how dusty and disorganized it was. We hypothesized that ambient dirt was causing the scratches, so over the next few months we showed the employees how to sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain until we reduced the number of scratches occurring in the assembly line.

Like many other lean tools, you can also 5S to the same effect outside the gemba. I certainly do.

Today I have the good fortune of working a mile from my home, so I walk to work on most days. I walk along a couple big roads and I noticed that there is a lot of roadside trash. So six months ago I decided to 5S my roadways for my community. I set myself a standard: pick up ten pieces of roadside trash on each leg of my walk. That's 20 cans, bottles, Styrofoam peanuts, and plastic straws per day. It's a small thing I do to shine my community.

When I finish each walk, I sort the refuse into recyclable items and non-recyclables. I feel that I do double duty for every item I recycle because it’s literal waste prevention.

It's a joy to notice how much neater the roadside is at mid-week. I do it as a lean guy who believes in 5S. It's a small form of continuous improvement – but maybe someone will notice and join me.

Do you use lean tools to improve your community? What are they and how do you use them?

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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2 Comments | Post a Comment
Christin October 05, 2016

Tony, thank you for sharing a story about how lean tools can apply to the community. I believe there are many applications of lean that would serve to improve our communities. 

I would encourage you to also think about why there is so much trash around the community. Perhaps there are no trash cans or recycle bins? Perhaps the trash is not getting picked up in a timely manner and animals are getting into it? Maybe littering has become habit around the community?

Getting things cleaned up is the first step but consider actions that help keep things clean so you don't have to do all the pick up. 



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Tony Heath October 05, 2016

You raise a great point Christin. I've thought a lot about the root causes of the roadside trash and my guess is that the causes are many.

My project reminded me of one of the great successes in changing human behavior, the Texas "Don't mess with Texas" campaign that led to a 34% reduction in roadside trash between 2009 and 2013. Google it for more info.

Thank you.



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