Blog Archives

5S – There is No Such Thing as Too Far

Awhile back I talked about whether 5S is really foundational and does it need to be done as the first thing on a lean journey.

Once an organization decides to journey down the 5S path, it shoud involve the people in the area.  The area should be understand that 5S is there to highlight abnormalities so issues can be addressed immediately.

A question that I am asked frequently is, “How far is too far?”  What they want to know is, what is the minimum they can do to have workplace organization?  Is there a point of diminishing returns?

I believe there is no such thing as too far.  Get it as clean and organized as possible.  Spic and span.  Henry Ford was known for not allowing a spec of saw dust on the floors of his saw mills.  This is the mentality and goal an organization should have when implementing 5S.

I have a couple of reasons for thinking this way.  First of all, a by-product of doing 5S well is discipline.  If everyone is putting things back in their place and maintaining an organized environment, they are following the standard work.  This is a good thing and we should keep pushing it.

Secondly, if someone is asking what is the minimum to do they are not seeking perfection.  Perfection may not be reached but we should always be striving to get better.    Good enough conveys that once a level is reached we don’t need to improve.  Looking for what is good enough is not a mentality that lean organization should want.

There is a good example of a company in Japan from a tour summary on Evolving Excellence that some people might think is taking it too far, but I see it as being disciplined and seeking perfection.

5S done well does not mean the organization is lean.  Understanding why they do 5S and the benefits they have gotten from it can give clues about how they view lean though.

Don’t short cut the benefits and effort in implementing 5S.  You will end up back sliding in the long run.  Stay disciplined and seek perfection.

Bath Fitter Has Vertical Integration

The other night while watching TV I saw the commercial below for Bath Fitter.  Bath Fitter is a company that retro-fits new acrylic bathtubs, showers, and surrounds to give an updated look to your bathroom.  Can you pick out the things that caught my attention from a lean perspective?

I can’t speak to the quality of their product because I have never used them, but there two things that caught my attention.  The vertical integration of the supply chain and the lifetime guarantee.  The commercial is only 30 seconds that I checked out their website and it mentions the the vertical integration and lifetime guarantee also.

Bath Fitter has control of the product from raw material to installation.  This control allows them to better guarantee the quality by knowing exactly how it is made, not outsourcing it to someone that could take shortcuts to manufacture the product without Bath Fitter knowing.  Also, they control the measuring, installation, and customer facing representative.  By doing this, Bath Fitter would be able to get accurate and fast feedback about how the product is being used, quality issues, or the ease of installation.

This is very similar to Henry Ford controlling everything from the raw materials (mines for metals and saw mils for wood) to manufacturing to the first dealerships.  The tighter control over the supply chain allowed costs to be reduced AND quality improved.  Not just one or the other.

The lifetime guarantee Bath Fitter promises indicates the confidence in their quality of product and installation.  I know some companies (and Bath Fitters could be one, I don’t know) play games with the lifetime guarantee making it impossible to actually get a claim on the guarantee.  A reason they can make the guarantee and feel good about it is because they controlling the supply chain from start to finish.

What do you think?  Does Bath Fitter have some lean like qualities?

Vertical Integration of the Supply Chain

Kevin Meyer over at Evolving Excellence had a post earlier this week about about how some companies getting involved in vertical integration of their supply chains.  This gets back to the basics that Henry Ford started in the earlier 20th Century.  Henry Ford was very interested in creating a vertically integrated supply chain that he controlled.  He owned the forestry area to the lumber mills to the assembly that used the wood.  He controlled the entire supply chain.  Because of this he was able to use the waste in the lumber mills to create new and different products which generated more revenue.  Henry Ford saw that he could get a better product to his customer faster when he controlled the supply chain.

While this may not mean companies are bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., it does have the same principles as bring the “on-shoring” movement.  It is about getting the supply chain closer to the customer and having better control over it so the company can reduce lead time, waste, and cost.   The more integrated the supply chain is, the more important it becomes to have it location regionally where transportation isn’t a large factor in lead time.

Imagine if the fresh produce (tomatoes, lettuce) you bought at your grocery store was grown in Asia and shipped by boat over to the U.S.  I know that is on the extreme end.  So where do you buy your fresh produce?  My wife and I don’t buy much, if any, from Walmart anymore.  Why?  Because, it doesn’t really seem that fresh.  Walmart has contracts with farmers all around the country and it takes a lot of time to get through their supply chain.  We buy our produce from the local/regional chain, because they have contracts with local/regional farmers so it gets through the supply chain and to the store shelf quicker.  An even better way is to buy directly from the farmer at the farmer’s market.  That is just about as fresh as it gets, because the farmer picks it and that week brings the produce to the market to sell.  Typically, it isn’t any older than a week.

I, for one, am glad to see some companies start to get more vertically integrated.