While teaching the concept of 5S and visual management with lean thinking, I have successful used a simple technique I call “Think Milk”.
Ask the participants to close their eyes for a moment, and then ask them to visualize themselves back in their homes. Ask them to see themselves standing at the entrance of their kitchen. Ask them to look at their refrigerator and began walking towards it. Have them reach out and open the refrigerator door. Then ask them to pick up their milk. Finally, ask them to now open their eyes.
At this point, open the discussion by asking a series of questions. First question, “Where was the milk found in their refrigerator?”. Ask several individuals, expecting to hear answers like the right hand door, or top shelf left hand side, etc. Make the point that although each person my have different locations, each of us has a designated spot for our milk. This is associated the 5S principle of “A place for everything, and everything in its place”.
Ask the group, “Do you put your milk in other locations, like a cabinet, a pantry or cupboard?” followed by “Why not?”or “What if you did?”. This opens up points like spoilage, not finding it when needed or purchasing more milk when not need, etc. This leads to the principle of standardization.
Ask the group, “Do they put milk into their refrigerator dirty, i.e. milk running down the sides, or maybe food particles on the sides, or even without the cap securely fastened on top?”. Of course not and discuss why. This point to the clean step of 5S.
The next question, “What type of milk container do you have?”. It is possible to have several answers however the most popular is the gallon jug. Ask the group, “What do you notice about the container that is useful?”. Here you want to get the group to identify several features including the ergonomic handle, the clear plastic to see the milk level, the expiration date, the label with the type of milk (skim, 1%, 2%) and the color code for the type of milk (pink, blue, red). These features improve the visual management of buying and using the milk.
Ask the group, “What happens if the milk is not consumed oldest date first?”. Expect to hear that it goes bad, gets lumpy, smells bad, etc. Then ask “What do you do with this milk?”. It is thrown out which follows that you want to use the FIFO principle to minimize wasted milk.
Then ask the group, “How many gallons of milk do they purchase and store at one time?”. Usually only a couple gallons at a time are bought depending on family size. Ask the group, “What if you bought 15 or 20 gallons at a time because it was on sale?”. This leads to the discussion points of holding excess inventory, buying a second refrigerator, excess consumption, risk of spoilage, etc. which you can relate to holding inventory in your workplace.
Wrap up the discussion by stating that milk is a simple example of lean principles we follow daily in each of our own lives. If you look close enough, all the 5S principles are present along with visual management. By thinking milk, it is easy to understand and teach some of the basic lean principles. Please try the “Think Milk” techniques next time you have a training session and have fun with it. It really can get the group thinking lean.