Posted by Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth   |  

The case has been made and the defense rests. Over the last few issues of The Visual Thinker, I set out a number of arguments that can be summed up as follows: For 5S-in-the-West to make a permanent home for itself in a western company’s continuous improvement/employee engagement model, it has to move away from seeking simple compliance as its result (meeting acceptable levels of neatness, cleanliness, and order) and seek instead a dynamic, open-ended, learning outcome.

I realized this intuitively early on when applications of traditional 5S did not gain traction with my clients. But it took me several years to work out the framework. In due course, I integrated four new elements into 5S-in-the-West, creating a powerful synergy:

  1. Information Deficits. I named a different enemy: answers missing from the workplace—information deficits. Chronic info deficits became the foe we pursue, instead of dirt and disorder. Clearly, this pursuit requires a very different order of logic. As a result, operators have to call upon new aspects of their intelligence: They have to think. In addition (and please note that this is an added benefit and not the same as thinking), they have to learn.
  2. Motion/moving without working. I introduced a measurement system to track the behaviors we engage in when answers are missing from the workplace—searching, wondering, wandering, asking questions, answering questions, and so on. Missing information is already an invisible problem. We learn of its whereabouts only by noticing our motion—the easy-to-spot symptom: our motion behavior. Motion becomes the lever that operators use first to hunt down their own need-to-know and, later, their need-to share. In the process, they become scientists of motion.*
  3. Visual Solutions. There is one surefire way to make an information deficit disappear: Identify the answer that is missing and turn it into a visual device—a visual answer. The deficit then disappears and with it, its symptom, motion. In replace missing info with a physical device, we imbed a detail of our operational system into the field of work—into that living, dynamic landscape we call the workplace, whether factory, hospital or office. As we build and widen our array of visual solutions, those imbedded details become a language—the language of our operations. The workplace speaks.
  4. I-driven. In the process of cracking the code on traditional 5S and integrating the above elements into a new approach, I saw that value-add associates would be asked to contribute to the company good in a new and more powerful way. That power would come, in part, from an all-out attack on the newly-named enemy. But I also recognized that the motion triggered by information deficits results in very personal behavior: it is my feet that wander around searching, my eyes that scan the work area, my hands that move the object from here to there, and my mouth that either asks a question or answers someone else’s. I realized that the NEW 5S needed to be I-driven. The individual mattered.

These changes happened organically with one new element influencing the next—then feeding back on itself. My laboratory was my client sites where changes and their impact happened in real time. What did/did not work became quite evident—and quickly.

The year at this point is 2001. By then, the above elements were tightly integrated into my new approach, which I had christened 5S+1: Visual Order. The aerospace industry responded exceptionally well to this framework…Lockheed-Martin, Rolls-Royce Aerospace, Parker-Hannifin. As did giants in electronics…Motorola, Siemens, and Honeywell, to name a few. Small companies were also highly successful, many of which had tried Japanese 5S and failed badly. They wanted an authentic improvement role for operators—but they did not want Japan’s 5S. Denison Hydraulics, Marada Industries, Hitchcock Industries, to name a few, experienced what OEMs and their supply chain had: the power of 5S+1/Visual Order to generate and align a continuous improvement work culture—and consistently produced a 15% increase in throughput, often much higher.

But 5S-in-the-West required two other revisions to round out the new methodology: 1) Set aside the cleanliness-and-order elements of the process; and 2) Change the name to more closely match what outcome had become: operator-led visuality. While cleaning and housekeeping remains critically important, it is done prior to and in preparation for getting visual. Liberated from the compliance tasks of 5S, operator-led visuality equips value-add associates to become thinkers, designers, innovators, and implementers. The focus shifts to building a workforce of visual thinkers who create work that makes sense in your company.


Look again at the visual solution in last week’s issue—Gary Buys’ double-function border. See how it represents operator-led visuality (the “new” 5). Gary invented this, I-driven, so he could know at-a-glance when the models changed over at the top of the stream—even though his is the last operation in the welding cell, over 30 feet away. Can you hear what his question (his motion) used to be: “Hey, has the model changed over yet? I need time to get my tools ready.” Visual thinking of the first order!