6S, How to Make Any Space People-Friendly and Efficient

June 9th, 2018

Lean is a “journey” not a “state.”
— Earll Murman, Lean Advancement Initiative (LAI)

My parents are professional process people.

Dad leads manufacturing for hardware startups—currently for a smart baby-monitor. Mom runs infection control at hospitals—designing processes to reduce infection risks for both patients and staff.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always gravitated towards process heavy projects and tasks. It’s in my blood!


How can process support people power?

I’ve decided to embrace my proclivity for process.

Specifically, I want to learn more about how explicit processes help big groups of people work effectively and do ambitious things.  How do we design structure with both empathy and efficiency in mind?

Step one: learn about established tools and vocabulary from the world of “process.” So, two weeks ago I began working through this MIT open online course on Lean Thinking, a methodology for continuous process improvement.


Lean thinking and 6S

The central idea of lean is to create value and eliminate waste. But my favorite description of Lean Thinking from the class is:

“A focused application of common sense.”

One simple lean tool is called 6S (there are variations with different quantities of S). I see it as a mnemonic for effectively organizing anything—an activity, workspace, or resource.

In other words, 6S reminds us how to make a space people-friendly and efficient.

Here’s how I summarize 6S with actionable questions:

  1. SortHow do we get rid of unnecessary items?
  2. SafeHow do we remove the risk of dangerous mistakes?
  3. StraightenHow do we better organize or arrange items?
  4. ScrubHow do we keep our space consistently clean?
  5. StandardizeHow do we establish helpful models, guidelines or procedures?
  6. SustainHow do we keep this all up?
Before and after

6S applied to a surgical tray. (Introduction to Lean Six Sigma Methods, MIT Opencourseware)

Imagine applying 6S to a resource portal, training, shared space, or communication channel. What are all of the ways we can improve the use of and interactions around that space?

I love frameworks like this. They help me build on intuition. To look at a problem from more angles more quickly. Watch out, world. I’m going to 6S everything.

P.S. Thanks to MIT and LAI for making this course and all of the materials available! I love this stuff.

Tagged: lean thinking, MIT, process improvement