Broken Windows and Lean 5S

In 1982, an article appeared in Atlantic Monthly that suggested that merely fixing broken windows and cleaning the streets would reduce crime. A building with broken windows would invite further vandalism that would lead to squatters and drugs and crime. Litter on the streets would give even regular citizens permission to toss their used bottles and bags on the ground, not in the trash. Graffiti on subway cars would lead to escalating violence on the trains.

Preventing petty crimes of vandalism and littering encourages solid citizens to stay in the neighborhood which prevents the escalation to more serious crimes.

In my local neighborhood, I take my dog for a walk every day. I invariably find bottles, cans and fast food restaurant bags along the streets, creek and canal I walk. I've taken to carrying a plastic bag not just for the dog's waste, but for people's as well.

Although there are many factors that affect crime, the data suggests that rapid repair of vandalism and cleaning up the trash does reduce petty crime and ultimately major crime.

Sounds a lot like Lean's 5S strategy.

The 5S Strategy
Doing the 5Ss once is easy, keeping it up takes persistence:

  1. Sort everything into what belongs and stays and what needs to be recycled.
  2. Straighten everything so that you can find it when you want it: inventory, tools, etc.
  3. Shine everything so that there are no "broken windows" in your office or production line.
  4. Standardize the process of doing the first three Ss.
  5. Sustain the 5S process until it becomes a part of your strategy. This is the persistence part.

Attention to the "broken windows" and "litter" in your work environment will send a message to employees about the quality of their work which will prevent the defects, delays, waste and rework that devour your profit margins.

Isn't it time to start fixing your broken windows?

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

Free Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt TrainingTake our FREE Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training online.