Quick: What aspect of lean implementation is given the most lip service and the least helpful information? I’m willing to bet most of you thought: “It’s culture change!” (Or some variation thereof.)

Let’s talk about 5S for a moment as an example. It’s the simplest, most straightforward of the lean tools: Organize the workplace and keep it organized. It’s even broken down into five steps! What could possibly be easier, right? 

Now, another question: How many of you, no matter how small your operations, can say you have 5S licked? The few of you raising your hands have been working at it a long time, I’m sure. I’m also certain that you’ll be the first to agree that you didn’t really make progress until you recognized the importance of changing your company’s culture as part of the implementation.

It’s easy to talk about the need for culture change but a lot harder to actually achieve it. Training and education will help, of course, but it’s not nearly enough. The first rule of culture change is: It doesn’t start until somebody does something differently. Culture change doesn’t stick until nearly everybody is doing something differently. So long as everyone is doing today just what they did yesterday, none of the lean tools will be effective over time.

Here’s a story that illustrates my point: I once made a call on a good company that asked for “5S refresher training for our supervisors.” 

“Why do you need 5S refresher training for supervisors?” I asked. 

Because they had a two-hour workshop on implementing 5S and they aren’t doing it. They need to be trained again.

“Did the training include specific instructions about how to implement 5S?  Did it include, say, whether or not they could paint the labels and home addresses on the floor and where to get the paint?” 

We don’t want them painting the floor.

“Has anyone followed up with the individual supervisors to find out why they aren’t implementing 5S?” 


“Has anyone developed goals, timeframes, and schedules for a 5S implementation?”


“Is there a process in place for tracking progress on 5S?”

Not really. We just know they aren’t doing it.

“If a supervisor did take the initiative to implement 5S, how would he or she be recognized or rewarded?”

We haven’t thought much about that.