5S in the Supermarket (not Kanban!)

I was picking up some high cost wheat, corn and my ration of rice the other day in the supermarket. There was a 5S application that caught my eye near the checkout lane.

When I was in high school, one of my jobs was working in the grocery store. One of the clerks' tasks was to return all of the unwanted, damaged or overbudget items to their appropriate locations in the store and warehouse. These items are all tossed indiscriminately into a shopping basket. The job typically starts out like this:

Needless to say, the job takes a long time, simply because you visit aisles multiple times to return many items to shelves. It resembles the often used "spaghetti" diagram we use in manufacturing processes to better understand workflow. In general, the exercise of making a plate of spaghetti on your paper layout highlights in plain view the waste of motion.

The thing that caught my eye in the supermarket was a solution to make this job easier, efficient and effective.

It was a simple wire rack, probably taken from surplus material handling area in the warehouse. It was then populated with the common hand held shopping baskets we are all very familiar with. On each basket was a simple label: "Aisle 1", "Aisle 2", "Aisle 3", etc.

Here are some potential problems solved with this approach.

1) Anyone can grab a basket with a few items, anytime.

2) Because anyone can do the job quickly, the workforce is more efficient. This eliminates the waste of waiting - for that bagger you sent off 1 hour ago who is bored and frustrated after visiting the soup aisle 14 times. Now anyone who is walking down aisle 4 can just grab the basket and kill two birds with one stone.

3) Because the new system is made up of baskets, there is less clutter and damaged product for customer's to see. Customer's with an eye for quality like to see orderly workplaces.

4) A basket with a half dozen items does far less damage to product at the bottom than a full size shopping cart full of two hundred items. Once I was returning items and slipped in some broken eggs dripping from the bottom of the cart. A few curse words later, a simple job turned into a clean up job. The cost of damage and spoilage goes down with good 5S practices in this case.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this post. I thought it was a great example of 5S in the real world.

Slightly politically related, but not really, comment:

Speaking of high prices for corn and wheat, and the announcement of rice rationing....when is Congress going to take on "Big Corn", "Big Wheat" and "Big Rice" in the same way they want to take on "Big Oil"?

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New Book - Lean Hospitals by Mark Graban

Mark Graban of the Leanblog has released a new book available at www.leanhospitalsbook.com I'm ordering mine today, there are many lessons that can be learned by other industries as they face their problems head on. The common theme we all can relate to is continuous improvement and Mark does a great job of leading this effort in the healthcare industry.

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Atul Gawande - "Checklist" update

Good news. Mark Graban of the leanblog points us to an article that reversed the decison that prevented checklist being used to prevent infections due to catheters in hospitals. The link is here:


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Lean Healthcare Follow-up to "The Checklist" by Atul Gawande

If you didn't see this article check it out here....this is standard work 101 in healthcare, with phenomenal results:


Here is the extremely dissappointing conclusion of this pioneering work in healthcare process improvment:


Please note the following emphasis (mine) from Gawande's op-ed piece:

"this past month, the Office for Human Research Protections shut the program down.," Gawande writes. "The agency issued notice to the researchers and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association that, by introducing a checklist and tracking the results without written, informed consent from each patient and health-care provider, they had violated scientific ethics regulations. Johns Hopkins had to halt not only the program in Michigan but also its plans to extend it to hospitals in New Jersey and Rhode Island.

'The government’s decision was bizarre and dangerous,' Gawande adds. 'But there was a certain blinkered logic to it, which went like this: A checklist is an alteration in medical care no less than an experimental drug is. Studying an experimental drug in people without federal monitoring and explicit written permission from each patient is unethical and illegal. Therefore it is no less unethical and illegal to do the same with a checklist. Indeed, a checklist may require even more stringent oversight, the administration ruled, because the data gathered in testing it could put not only the patients but also the doctors at risk — by exposing how poorly some of them follow basic infection-prevention procedures.'"

Blinkered logic, indeed. I think the government has a tail-light burnt out.

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Mogensen article by Ben Graham

It's two weeks since I last posted...I've been busy with my company's annual Lean Summit. We visited Autoliv in Ogden, Utah. If you haven't seen this facility, you should contact the consulting arm of Autoliv and get in there. I've been involved with continuous improvement for about 10 years now, and this is the BEST application that I have seen. It should be, they won the Shingo prize at multiple facilities. Anyway, great job Scott and folks at Autoliv!

I'll be uploading all of the great TWI, Inc. stuff I found at WRHC back in March. Need to get the rest of it scanned in.

In the meantime, check out this great article by Ben Graham about Allan Mogensen -




5S Prescription for Waste

I've been publishing some articles on how 5S is NOT a housekeeping program...the notion that it is cleaning campaign among many managers should be classified as an epidemic in the business community. Attached are some prescription labels you can put on bottles with placebos - hand them out to your managers tomorrow! Stop this treacherous disease in its tracks!

Click on image to see full size!

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Lean Mfg News

Two key points in the article link below:

A new production plant, “while relatively small in scale, goes against a trend of auto manufacturing leaving the state for lower-cost regions.”


“The low value of the U.S. dollar made it competitive for Tomcar to establish production here.”



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Industry news

Developments in the current AAM strike…nobody knows what it means except some bloggers think that now AAM provided the cost justification for the $14hr wage proposal less benefits. If true, what does this mean for UAW negotiations.

This strike is causing plant shutdowns as we speak….


Question: what problems are getting solved here by shutting down plants?


Other industry news:

Dell Computer, known for its configure to order business model is announcing plant closures.


Necessary? Who knows, I’m not an expert and don’t know Dell’s finances. But I’ve always heard of Dell’s agile manufacturing systems and profitability, how is closing a plant a good thing for Americans? Here is the sick and twisted part: analysts are encouraged by this news. Unemployment? This is good news? I guess only on wall street, eh?

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SME Lean Registry

Check out the new Lean Registry. I'm a member and encourage you to join the community where the lean community can come together, learn and share.

SME Lean Registry - Sign Up Today!

Funny UFO guy in the airport

Funniest darn thing I've seen in a long time...

Here are three travel KEY POINTS for people who think they have seen UFO's:

1) Don't take hallucinogenics in major international airports, bad things can happen.

2) During your travels, don't tell people you have seen alien graveyards and that you are planning an upcoming trip to visit them: that's creepy. You may get arrested for vagrancy or worse.

3) If by chance you happen to break rule #1 and you also resemble a resurrected Andy Kaufman - wear a disguise - else a TV reporter will stick a microphone in your face. That's one of the bad things I mentioned.