Lean Manufacturing

Where to Start the Lean Journey: 5S or With VSM?

By Jon Miller Updated on February 26th, 2021

From time to time the question comes up, as it did again this week, or where an organization should start their Lean journey. Should they do 5S first and remove the obvious clutter? Or should they Value Stream Map the entire process, identify key improvement areas, and develop a shared vision of the future?

How to Remodel a House

Both 5S and VSM are essential tools and both are good starting points. This debate usually centers on the question of which tool should be used first when building a Lean Enterprise. A good analogy is remodeling a house. Should you have a blueprint of the house you want to build first, or should you empty the house and tear out some of the old fixtures to see what structures are worth keeping, which walls are load-bearing, etc.

Both 5S and VSM are necessary. Just like in remodeling a home, both can happen at once. The plan changes based on what you find. The Value Steam Map should evolve as you learn more about Lean and more about your changing business and the people who work there.

The question of “5S vs. VSM?” misses the point that IT’S ABOUT THE PEOPLE (excuse me for shouting). Back to the remodeling example. If you start with VSM and no 5S then it is like having a crew standing and watching the architects and designers. The crew is getting impatient. If you start with 5S only with no blueprint (VS Map) then you risk having an eager crew spending time tearing out material that could be salvaged or didn’t need to be removed.

But most of us are not running a remodeling business. What does this mean for company in the early stages of a Lean journey? The point is that the Lean journey is about engaging every person in continuous improvement. On the one hand, it’s easier to get started with 5S. But the impact is localized. It’s not easy to see its relevance in every process, and 5S doesn’t lay out a long-term plan. The opposite things are true for Value Stream Mapping.

Two Considerations for Evaluating 5S vs. Value Stream Mapping

Practically speaking, there are two considerations when deciding whether to go with 5S or Value Stream Mapping:

First, consider what type of business you are in. If you are a steel mill, a chemical facility or fall into the category of process industry then an approach that is focused on 5S, TPM, OEE, SMED and quality tools makes more sense than looking for flow opportunities through Value Stream Mapping. This is because your assets are probably not as easily moved and the uptime of the equipment is the key thing rather than flowing one-piece at a time. If you are a discrete manufacturer then you first need to understand and see the wastes using VSM before you start doing 5S otherwise you might 5S an area that goes away or is drastically reduced in space, WIP, etc. through flow creation.

Second, the choice of starting with 5S or VSM depends on whether you want to create buy-in by showing impact, or if you already have buy-in and really need a plan (if you have neither, then a hands-on flow simulation and training may be the place to start). VSM and 5S are not really comparable in terms of Lean tools. VSM is diagnostic and does not really improve anything by itself. While it raises awareness, there’s no feeling of accomplishment other than wow, there’s a lot of waste. On the other hand 5S gives you immediate results, visual impact, and a sense of accomplishment that gets people motivated, but does not necessarily lead you to what is next. So consider what you want to get out of it before deciding where to start.

Start, Learn, Never Stop

It is not wrong to start with either VSM or 5S. One may be better than the other for your particular situation. The only wrong approach is to do nothing, or to start but not support and sustain. They key thing is to have a Value Stream Map, do 5S, start kaizen, and never stop.

  1. Mark Lawton

    July 1, 2006 - 12:51 pm

    Excellent article. It IS all about people. We are in an aerospace assembly environment and started with VSM. We are now looking to 5S for the regime / mindset. It is a visual statement. Sometimes things move slowly on VSM and 5S will show everyone that the journey continues.

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