5S and Relationships: Sort

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Is that how this equates to not just those intimate, personal relationships at home, but our families, and those relationships on the job site, and those people that we have to interact with? Do we take the time to stop and look around us and look at our space, but also look at their space?

Back in November 2021, I discovered a fantastic series on applying the 5S framework of Lean to personal relationships. Here is the first article I published on the series, which gives you an overview of the overall project by Jesse Hernandez and Jennifer Lacy. Jesse and Jen are leaders in the lean construction community with a personal mission of changing construction through Lean implementation. One facet of their work is their web seminar series on the Lean concept of the 5S's and how this framework applies to relationships.

Each web seminar (aka, a "collabosession") is an educational, amusing, and (if you let yourself) an opportunity for self-reflection relationships both at work and personal lives. The impetus of the project was a past failed relationship of Jesse's. Jesse shares that his partner initiates mending the relationship in a letter appealing to his lean thinking ways. In the end, the relationship doesn't work out. Still, Jesse sees the value in his ex-partner's approach, which sets off his idea of lean and personal relationships and this particular online collaboration with Jen.

This blog post and the series it belongs to highlight Jen and Jesse's work in this novel application of the 5S framework. In 5S applications outside of work, you'll find use cases in either (1) organizing physical things around the home or (2) instituting a system for managing family tasks. The 5S and relationships webinar series is doesn't address either of those things. Instead, the duo demonstrates how Lean's 5S framework can be applied to relationships both on and off the job site.

Sort: The book definition

Let's start with the book definition of this first step of "sort." Sorting means to "separate and categorize all material and information and discard the unnecessary." We assume two things in this definition. First, we go into the 5S framework assuming that we know what the task is at hand. The materials and information exist for some job we are responsible for accomplishing. Second, the definition takes a physical space where the material and information are stored. These two assumptions are essential because, without a goal (the task at hand) or the context of the work (the physical space), separating and categorizing are just random actions with no purpose behind them—busy work.

Lean Love graphic provided by Jen Lacy.

Sort: As applied to relationships

Applying sort to relationships requires translating the two assumptions of "task" and "context." For relationships, rather than task completion as the goal, we all want to have a meaningful connection, to "know that we matter," as Jen and Jesse point out in their webinar. For the context assumption, rather than sorting through physical space (like a work area), sorting through a relationship requires that we sort from a common place of understanding. Throughout this webinar series, you'll hear Jesse talk about "meeting people where they are." This meeting place is a place of understanding where both people in the relationship speak the same language and understand the other's point of view.

With the goal and workspace assumptions defined, the "how" of sorting in a relationship can get started:

"Discuss what works and what doesn't. Get rid of what doesn't work, do more of what does.

  1. Discard any jealousy or distrust
  2. Discard fear and doubt
  3. Discard anger and resentment and forgive."

Use Case #1: Travel

Using the list of three things in the Lean Love graphic as their jumping-off points, Jen and Jesse provide a helpful example from their personal lives. As construction professionals, their job requires travel away from their loved ones. They both realize that their travel and work schedules had created past feelings of distrust or fear and doubt with their partner. But it wasn't the travel, in-and-of-itself, that was the issue. Instead, they both recognized the lack of communication while traveling "wasn't working."

For Jesse, it was a "mission first" kind of mindset while on his business trip. From the time he hits the airport to the time he gets back home, his priority is work, at the expense of his relationship with his partner. For Jen, the time away from her husband is a source of doubt as she's in a male-dominated industry. To counteract the feelings of distrust and doubt, both realized that increasing communication back home was the solution.

For this travel use case, they identified the "what wasn't working" (lack of communication) in order to discard the negative feelings their respective partners were experiencing.

Use Case #2: Daily Huddles

Another useful example to illustrate the sort concept was their experience using the daily huddle meeting format to "do more of what was working." The daily huddle is a meeting intended for small teams, usually at the start of a work shift. I have used the daily huddle format with great success because these quick-hit meetings allow for information exchange and status updates before the day begins.

The daily huddles are an example that was working, and Jen and Jesse explain why. Going back to the idea of workspace and places of shared understanding, their application of the daily huddle wasn't just a time for status updates and handing out task assignments. Their daily huddles also included asking for what help their team needed to accomplish their assigned tasks. In these conversations, the team leaders create a safe space where the team can raise their doubts surrounding a task, openly ask questions, or feel comfortable asking for help.

Jen and Jesse acknowledge that the old way of doing business in the construction industry is damaging to relationships on the job site. The old model handed out tasks and timelines to the team without an agreement from the team that they could accomplish what was being given to them. Lean construction practitioners understand garnering agreement of completing a task on time is key to maintaining successful relationships on the job site. The daily huddle format is their way of achieving that agreement.

(An interesting short discussion of a listener applying the daily huddle at home is at 54:30 with the format of "expectations, kudos, and kisses.")

Systematizing sort

One parting shot before closing this blog post is how to systematize sort. The idea with the sort step in the 5S framework is to separate all the things in a space into two categories of keep and discard. In practice, this is hard to achieve on the first go around, and so I offer to think of sorting into three different groups:

  1. Things to keep (and do more of)
  2. Things to discard (and stop doing)
  3. The maybe pile (and discuss and get curious about)

The last bit, "the maybe pile," wasn't discussed in the webinar, but sorting in practice results in these items and activities that we don't know works or doesn't right away. So it's worth discussing and getting curious about these behaviors, traits, and ways of thinking with your partner. And the term "getting curious" is deliberate because when you approach a potential problem from a position of curiosity, the interest you show is non-confrontational and invites the other party to share, open up, and be curious together.

The collabosessions

By the time this blog post is published, Jen and Jesse's collabosessions (a mash-up of collaboration and sessions) on the 5S's will have wrapped up. However, they've posted the recordings on YouTube, and each is a fun exploration into Lean's 5S's and how they apply in relationships.

I'll have future blog posts that explore the other S'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 several weeks.

Check out each episode / collabosession on YouTube now. Enjoy!


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

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