5S and Relationships

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As I've been transitioning from the military to civilian life, I've discovered how valuable a resource LinkedIn is. There, I found Jen Lacy and Jesse Hernandez, a pair of Lean thinking leaders in the construction industry. I attended one of their web seminars on the 5S's of Lean as applied to relationships, and from there, I was hooked and needed to finish the rest of the series with them.

In this post, I'll share with you the genesis of the project, a few thoughts on Lean thinking, the concept of the 5Ss, and then give a quick preview on the rest of this blogging series on the 5Ss.

Culture change and Jesse's letter

And as I read it, I was like, oh my God, ... it is 100% a lifestyle. It's a way of thinking.

I enjoyed the web seminar series because there are two big goals that the hosts are after. First, they're after culture change. In the construction industry, cost and schedule pressure are constant tensions and the old way of doing things was to keep the pressure on the trades doing the work. I've worked in construction for a good portion of my military career, and this pressure goes up and down the project hierarchy from the company's leadership, to the project manager, to the project team, and down to the trades. It's not uncommon for team supervisors and site superintendents to push their people so that the project stays on cost and schedule.

The pushing and the pressure create a culture of disrespect for the worker. In this kind of culture, the "project" is the most important thing at the expense of the tradesmen doing the work. It should be the other way around. The trades and teams should be highly valued and highly regarded because the project goes nowhere without them.

The second goal of this collaboration has more "local" goals than the global goals of Lean culture change.  As you get to know Jesse, he reveals that he's made mistakes in his past and found an unlikely resource in a break-up letter.  And so the second goal was for Jesse to "do something" with this moment in his life related to his Lean thinking ways. 

This letter called him out on his behavior but did it in a way that spoke his language. She asked Jesse about the relationship but from a Lean perspective. Jesse came around to seeing "the value" he was bringing (or should have brought) to the relationship, that maybe their goals were misaligned, and that, in the end, ending the relationship was the best thing for the two of them.

Jesse's break-up letter was a catalyst for a deeper conversation about culture, leadership, Lean, and Lean thinking.

A quick introduction to Lean thinking

You can go to Wikipedia [insert the link here] and get an academic definition, but here's the short version: It's a way to think about activities and processes to create value while at the same time eliminating waste. The Toyota Motor Corporation created Lean to optimize their manufacturing processes, and a significant component of this method is its respect for people. Many of their production concepts depend on their workers taking action to fix a problem which only works if there's trust that the worker won't get in trouble for their efforts.

The Lean concept is popular in business and manufacturing because the ideas behind Lean have repeatedly proven it is possible to increase value through the lens of eliminating waste.

However, anyone can apply Lean concepts outside the workplace and job site. If you have a process involving waiting, defects, extra movement, extra transportation, or extra inventory, these are opportunities to "Lean out" your process. Lean categorizes waste into eight categories, and unless your operation is 100% efficient, that is, 100% of the inputs result in 100% output, then there are opportunities for Lean.

So reflect for a moment on your personal life. Are there wastes to eliminate and, therefore, efficiencies to be gained?  Absolutely! Jen and Jesse's work on 5S and relationships are a way to bring Lean thinking to the forefront and show that "it is 100% a lifestyle."

Lean thinking applications outside of work

This series of web seminars on the 5S's and relationships is interesting because it isn't the run-of-the-mill Lean applications to your personal life. Below is a small sampling of the research that I found online.

The common theme in these online resources is Lean's application to an organized family life or house.  Having a well-run family takes time, effort, and creates plenty of stress and more power for bloggers who put their efficiency ideas out there. And there are some great ideas for the standard shadow board, from implementing personal kanban, to even implementing a Heijunka box for task leveling around the house. But I never did find a post on how a Lean principle applies to personal relationships.

And this is the innovation that Jen and Jesse came up with and what makes their five-part series an exciting and worthwhile listen. Their work is in the same vein as all the other practitioners before them: Everyone wants a better life (value-added), and Lean efficiency practices are a way to get there. Jen and Jesse's innovation is their application of the 5S concept to personal relationships.

The 5S's

5S is a mnemonic to remember this organization system: Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. These are five steps5 for a more organized and efficient workspace. The 5Ss are initially Japanese words (seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke) translated into English versions.

  • Sort - Go through all of your items in an area and remove unnecessary things, keeping only necessary items.
  • Set - For the necessary items, set them in the right place, so they are easy to get to and use.
  • Shine - Once set, sweep or clean or inspect your workspace, tools, machinery, and other items needed for the work.
  • Standardize - For the first three steps (sort, set, shine), make the processes and procedures the same every time you or your team do the work.
  • Sustain - Make these processes and procedures so that you and your team carry out the work "without being told."

The list and definitions are all very work and factory-related. How do you apply these to the relationships with the people that you know and love?

The collabosessions

Jen and Jesse set out to answer that very question with a series of five web seminars they call "collabosessions" (a mash-up of collaboration and sessions) on the 5Ss and relationships. I've linked these shows down below. Each session they've hosted is a fun exploration into Lean's 5S's and how they apply in relationships.

I'll have future blog posts that explore each S independently with my Lean thinking in their applications for relationships, self-management (i.e., productivity), and any other esoteric applicability I find over the next five weeks.

For a sneak peek, you can check out each episode / colabosession on YouTube now.  Enjoy!


As always, I leave resources here if you're interested in learning more.

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