5S is the First Step – Always?

I have seen it presented and stated many times that 5S is the first step in lean. For many, that will ring as a true statement in both a theoretical and a practical sense. I am also willing to bet that in most, if not all cases, that initial effort was not sustained over the long term. Your effort was generally similar to this path: A proposal was made to some level of leadership to implement 5S. A 5S kaizen was conducted in selected pilot area. Everyone was impressed at the transformation of the area at the event conclusion. For the next several weeks a lot of attention was paid to the area. As the weeks pass the area begins to slowly revert back to what it was. Either, a second 5S kaizen (followed sometimes by either a third or fourth, etc.) is conducted in the area; or it is determined that lean is not for us. So is the problem 5S? Lean? The people? If you answer “Yes” you can stop reading now! While indeed 5S can be very useful early in lean transformation as the tool is easy and fairly inexpensive to implement, and additionally provides quick dramatic [...]