The Facade of Continuous Improvement

Sometimes things look good on the surface, but underneath they lack substance. In this newsletter we’ll peek under the veneer of continuous improvement and discover what’s really there…and what’s missing.

In the Old West, “Main Street” buildings had facades that gave an air of dignity and helped make them look taller. Though they served no structural purpose, the false fronts evoked the grandeur that residents remembered from their hometown commercial districts back east. It was all for looks and the emotional attachment to the past.

Many companies begin their Lean journey with 5S, a systemic approach to work place organization (the name stands for sort, shine, set in order, standardize and sustain) that teams can use to improve their work areas and set a foundation for Lean. Unfortunately, many companies are overly proud of their 5S projects because the workplace looks neat and organized, supplies are in order, tape on the floor shows isle ways and breaks down the work area by activity or department. Things look good, but the results don’t contribute to the company’s profit and growth and executives are frustrated. This is the facade of continuous improvement.

5S (properly applied) should improve quality, productivity and safety. If there is a place for everything and everything is in its place, people don’t need to waste time looking for materials. There are fewer or no tripping hazards. Building space becomes more useable, reducing the amount of floor space needed for day-to-day activities. It could even relieve the need for a new building and increase capacity without capital investment.

In my work with clients across industries, I’ve identified three factors that contribute to success with 5S:


5S needs to be built into a continuous improvement framework. This structure defines the future state, sets the vision and objectives and contextualizes the improvement effort. It integrates continuous improvement, JIT, the quality system and a safe workplace.

Operations Discipline

5S needs to be part of the operations discipline process in the work place. There needs to be a system for 5S outlining who does each activity, how and where. Clear rules and accountability ensure that things get done. (Operations Discipline oval here)


In order to keep 5S sustainable over the long run, upper and middle management can reinforce the changes, creating a culture that supports continuous improvement. The leadership and vision come from the top while the middle and lower levels of the organization are empowered to execute.

A good 5S system becomes self-renewing, makes work easier for everyone involved and generates excitement about the changes. In one company, even the union got excited about process improvement and workers began to drive change faster than management thought possible.

When 5S, Lean, continuous improvement and other productivity improvement initiatives are more than just false fronts, the organization’s culture becomes one of trust, partnerships and excellence.

From the Flight Deck

Are there facades in your company? Do you have the framework, ideas and personalization to drive exponential profit improvement and accelerate growth? If not, call me and we can discuss how you can break down the false fronts in your organization.

© 2016 – Rick Pay – All Rights Reserved