I try very hard to watch definitions and be as accurate as possible. I’m not perfect, but I try.

An email came to my  inbox today. “Safety as the 6th S.” Something about safety as part of a “Lean technique.” People (editors/marketers/others) seem to love writing about Lean as if they know what they are writing about without even trying to be accurate. It’s like the Wall Street Journal writing about manufacturing.

Lean isn’t a technique. I cannot explain the entire book on the subject, but try this on for size. Lean is a way of life, a way of thinking, a guide to managing a plant (or many other things–it’s not restricted to manufacturing). Two foundations to Lean are respect for people and elimination of waste.

Now, there are some things that have found to be quite helpful. “5S” comes from transliteration of Japanese terms that deal with organizing your workspace. A well-ordered workspace will most likely be safe. But that’s another issue. Then there are kanban, one-piece flow, takt time, kaizen events and many more. These are not Lean. But someone living the Lean way will use these tools to help them use the talents and intelligence of humans in the process of eliminating waste.

That, by the way, is why robots will not replace humans in well run plants. Robots lack the intelligence, ability to reflect, talent, and imagination to suggest improvements.

When you see people trying to stretch a point on these issues, be wary.

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