As I’m sure a lot of self described “Lean Thinkers” have, I have had a bunch of discussions about where to start at with Lean. My mostly philosophical point of view is that 5-S isn’t the best place to start because you can’t do the Sort step until you define what is really needed in a work area. Taking that a step back, you can’t define what is needed in a work area until you have defined and somewhat smoothed your production/demand. I have seen several points of view that 5S is a great place to start because “If you can’t do 5S you won’t be able to do anything else.”*
I have come face to face with the harsh reality again that what matters most is that you are committed to it, not where you start. I realize that this isn’t news or even a question for most Lean folks. Sometimes in our journey of preaching the Lean gospel, we are confronted with people who aren’t at all ready to change who they are to follow the Lean path. They may want to overlay a few tools for show or toss terminology around as the latest buzzwords. At most levels of the organization, people that think like that can be worked with, developed, or, at the very least, worked around for a while. When the lack of commitment is at the top, it makes you wonder why they even pretend.
For the record, I don’t mean this as any sort of contempt for those that don’t want to do Lean. I have no problem with people that aren’t interested in Lean and are honest about it. My concern is for people that fake an interest and only want to toy around with Lean. That type of activity does a great disservice to not only Lean as an effective way of doing business, but to the people that work under them and are forced to take part in things that are clearly unimportant to their managers. The whole charade is a giant waste of resources.
In the situation that has brought this brush with reality, I could just simply back out and not “help” this person any more. But, I do worry about how many extremely bright, talented, and capable future Lean leaders are stuck in situations that they can’t get out of as cleanly for whatever reason. The concept of wasted human potential has long been a fundamental of true Lean. I wonder how much potential has been wasted by the fake committed.
*I believe this quote or something really similar was in the book, “The Gold Mine”, but I can’t seem to find it. I try to not use unattributed quotes or statements, but I couldn’t find exactly where I first heard this. I apologize if I incorrectly assigned credit for this. If anyone remembers or can source the origin, please let me know and I’ll correct it. Thanks.