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6th Edition   

The topics for this edition are:
  • Stop the Treasure Hunting with the 5S's
  • Choosing By Advantages - Lean "Standard Work" for the decisionmaking process - Part 2 of 2 - Complex Decisions 

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Stop the Treasure Hunting with the 5S's

Waste in Lean Construction is defined as any activity that does not add value to the project--anything the owner/customer is not willing to pay for. Hunting, searching, or looking for anything, whether at the jobsite, shop, or in the office, is one type of waste that reduces our productivity and makes us less competitive. In our "Lean Gang Box," the 5S tool is the answer to this type of waste.

by Dennis Sowards

Take a walk on any jobsite and you will see many workers treasure hunting. They are looking for material, tools, equipment, where to work, or other information.  From a customer and Lean standpoint, this is waste. To the worker, it is necessary since he needs something, but it adds no value to the material being installed, thus it is waste.  Most contractors and even owners accept this as just the way construction is. It doesn't have to be that way. The answer is to work smarter, not harder. We've all heard that statement more times than we can count, but few people ever tell us how.  "How" in construction is to use the 5S's.


The 5S's are actually "S" words in Japanese, where they originated. I do not feel it is useful to know what they are in Japanese unless one speaks Japanese.  When these words were brought to America they were given English terms.  Depending on who you talk to, the English translation may differ slightly.  For me, they need to be words starting with "S" to be the 5S's. While some organizations use different S words for some of the 5S's, fortunately the activities accomplished for each S word are the same. I like the words introduced by Boeing, they are: 

  • Sorting
  • Simplifying - also called Straighten and Set-in-Order
  • Sweeping - also called Shine
  • Standardizing - also called Schedule
  • Self-Discipline - also called Sustain

Sorting means to go through a designated work area and sort out the necessary from the unnecessary.  Necessary is what we need and ties to how often we use it.  If you don't use an item at least once in a year - it is probably not necessary to your work. Items that are judged necessary are kept, and all the rest are disposed of, recycled or returned.  Sorting is fun; it just feels good to get rid of stuff! We may sort a gang box, a job trailer, a material lay-down area, a shop or office.


5S Sort Opportunity 


Simplifying means to put everything (that we determined as necessary in Sorting) in a designated place and to mark it so it can easily be seen.  This is the critical step in eliminating treasure hunts.  Not only is a place established for every necessary item, but the actual location is based on how often it is used.  The items we use most often are located close to where we work and use it.  Those used less often are located further away.  Color coding and shadow boards are most often used to mark where things go.


 5S After Gang Box

Gang Box after Sorting and Simplifying - Beyond just labeling,

note the picture on the left indicating the box contents and

what it should look like when it is returned 


Sweeping means to physically clean up the work area. That sounds strange for a construction job since the work is messy. Clutter can be avoided on the job site as well as in the shops. Less clutter makes it easier to spot problems and creates a safer work area. But sweeping is more than just cleaning, it means to deliberately pick up (sweep) the work areas for tools and material that are out of place and return each to its assigned place as defined in Simplifying. By returning tools to the place they are to be kept, the next user can find them quicker (less treasure hunting.)  Visually marking the items while simplifying makes it easier to know where they go.


Standardizing means creating standard ways to keep the work areas organized, clean and orderly, and also creating standard ways to do the 5S's.  Having one gang box organized as defined by the 5S's is good, but if each gang box is organized differently, workers lose time learning the new organization. We standardize gang boxes, trailer layouts, common tools we use and even how we lay out the job sites. It also means to repeat the first three steps over and over to continuously improve.


Self-Discipline means following through with the 5S's agreements.  If we don't maintain the changes we made with the 5S's we will not "maintain the gain." One way to do this is to design a 5S's checklist and have different workers score the job or shop monthly, using the list. This helps maintain focus and indirectly educates those doing the assessment. A simple test to see how far the 5S's efforts have come is to use the 30-second test. Can a worker go to a gang box or material rack and, excluding travel time, find what he needs in 30 seconds or less and move on? If not, then more 5S work is needed.


Some companies use the 6S's, the other "S" standing for safety. The 5S's are done in a specific sequence and safety is not limited to any sequence. It relates to everything one does. It is a behavior or value, not a sequence of steps. One should apply safe work habits while doing all 5 "S." So I use the 5S's, not six.


Applying the 5S's


5S's in the Field

Because of the changing nature and locations of construction work, applying the 5S's is a challenge, but there are still many opportunities.  Organizing gang boxes and material storage racks/shelves can reduce treasure hunting. Make everything stored at the jobsite mobile by putting it on wheels, carts, or pallets. One site put names on safety harnesses and set-up a rack for the crews at a job site to hang their harnesses. Less time was spent untangling and resizing the harnesses each morning. With 20 employees working at the job doing air balancing, this approach saved about 15 - 20 minutes each morning for each employee.  It was a three-week job so the time saved was big.


5S's in the Fabrication Shop

One shop was able to return over $5,000 in material that they no longer needed after doing a sorting exercise.  Their tools have been color coded and assigned to pieces of equipment.  Work areas are now cleaner and inventory is better organized.  A shop manager said the biggest value he has seen as a result of using the 5S's was that "We pay our employees to be productive, and the 5S's are an investment to help them do that."


5S's in the Office

The 5S's work well to organize offices, including job site trailers.  Organizing where forms are stored, how forms are submitted, how current drawings are stored, etc., reduces office treasure hunts. One office color-coded their reference binders using 1" colored dots placed on the binder's back.  The dots were marked "1 of 5", "2 of 5" etc.  This way anyone could pass by the shelf and see if any binders were missing or out of order.  Reference binders are no big deal until you need a specific one.


The 5S's will never claim to save millions of dollars, but when applied consistently, it will save time and material.  It will cut out waste. I tell people it should easily save five minutes per employee per hour. That's 8% of the workday in reduced treasure hunting. It can save even more.


                     Lean Gang Box                

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Choosing By Advantages - Lean "Standard Work" for the Decisionmaking Process -
Part 2 of 2 - Complex Decisions

Everyone can become a better decisionmaker by developing an understanding of the structured decisionmaking tool, Choosing By Advantages (CBA). CBA can "Lean out" the entire decisionmaking process when there is more than one option. Part 2 covers decisions where there are multiple options.   


by Larry Rubrich 

As noted in the previous newsletter, CBA is a structured decisionmaking process that starts when a decision must be made, and ends when the decision is implemented and the results evaluated. CBA's basic rule of sound decisionmaking is: decisions must be based on the importance of advantages only. (Pros and cons are not used).


CBA avoids decisions based on:     
  • Gut feel, guesses, personal agendas, and "pet" ideas and suppliers  
  • Emotion, intuition
  • Jumping to solutions, conclusions
  • Pros and cons analysis 

CBA Leans out the decisionmaking process:

  • The diverse Lean team decision is the best decision (a Lean teamwork principle)
  • The structured CBA process provides "Standard Work" for the decisionmaking process so that everyone in the organization will use the same format (such as Lean A3 problem solving, A3 reports, and A3 proposals)
  • People who participate in the decisionmaking process are more committed to its successful implementation (a Lean kaizen principle)

CBA has seven decisionmaking methods based on the complexity of the decision. The list below shows the CBA methods in order of complexity (simple decisions = Instant CBA, complex decisions = Tabular method).  

  1. Instant CBA
  2. Recognition-Response process
  3. Simplified Two-List Method 
  4. Simplified Tabular Method
  5. Two-List Method
  6. Tabular Method
  7. Money Decision Methods

In part 1 we discussed how to use the Simplified Two-List Method. In part 2 we will discuss the Tabular Method. 


Again, each of the CBA methods follows six similar steps, however, as one might imagine, as the method becomes more capable of handling complexity, the individual steps become more complex. The six similar steps in CBA are:

  1. A decision needs to be made - must and want criteria are developed
  2. A decisionmaking team creates a list of alternatives and identifies their attributes
  3. Summarize the attributes (characteristics) of each alternative
  4. Decide the advantages of each alternative
  5. Decide the importance of each alternative
  6. Choose the alternative with the greatest total importance of advantages

Terms used in CBA 


Criterion - is an instruction, guideline, measure or rule for the decisionmaking process. Decisionmaking criteria come in two formats:

  • Must Criterion
  • Want Criterion       
Criteria are developed in CBA step #1, and are used to exclude alternatives in step #2. 


Alternatives - alternatives represent the decision options that remain after we have applied our criterion (both must and want) to the available choices from our original proposal. For example, if the original proposal is to buy a car, the two alternatives might be Car "A" and Car "B". 


Attribute - a characteristic, feature, or distinction (of possibly many) of one of the alternative decisions. In our car example, an attribute would be 2 or 4 doors for each model. Attributes are neither good or bad, except in comparison to other alternative decision attributes. Other car attributes include: miles per gallon (mpg), horsepower (HP), front or rear wheel drive, transmission type, color, etc.


Must Criterion - an attribute that the alternative must have or it is eliminated as a potential alternative. In our car example, a must criterion might be all-wheel drive. All cars without this capability would be excluded in step #2 - creating a list of alternatives.       

Want Criterion - an attribute that the decisionmaking team prefers in an alternative. In our car example, a want criterion might be the highest gas mileage.         


Advantage - a favorable dissimilarity between the attributes of two alternatives. In our car example, let's assume car "A" has an attribute of 35 mpg and car "B" has an attribute of 25 mpg. If we asked, which car has the advantage in mpg, the answer would be car A.   

CBA Decisionmaking Process Example - Tabular Method


The Tabular Method is used for more complex multi-option, monetary or nonmonetary decisions. It is used when a simplified CBA method does not point to a preferred alternative. The Tabular Method introduces the use of "importance of each advantage" and the "total importance" (this is now a calculation, not a mental judgment). 

 Tabular Step #1  
Note that this is the same "must" and "want" criterion from the previous Two-List Simplified Method example.             
Steps #2 and #3


A list of alternatives is developed and their attributes identified. The Tabular Method template is then populated. 

            Tabular Step #2 - #3               


Steps #4 and #5


Start by underlining the "least" preferred attribute in each factor. Determine the advantages of the remaining attributes and circle the most important advantage.


Tabular Method Steps #4 - #5

Step #6
Next we determine the "weighting" of the most important advantages. Considerations in determining this weighting include:
  • Understanding the reason, purpose, and conditions surrounding the decision
  • Knowing  the requirements and "want" preference rank of the customer and/or stakeholders
  • Clearly defined "attribute" magnitudes
  • Clearly defined "advantage" magnitudes

Understand that weighting is a somewhat subjective exercise. It starts with determining the paramount advantage using the challenger-defender strategy.


Challenger-defender strategy for determining importance weighting


Make list of important advantages:

  • 8 more mpg, 1150 lbs towing capacity, 13 more HP, fewer injuries, 4 more airbags

Pick one advantage as the defender and one as the challenger and ask the question: Which of the following advantages is the most important one: 8 more mpg or 1150 lbs. more towing capacity? Answer: 8 more mpg (knowing your customer or stakeholder preferences is important here).


Continue the defender and challenger questions: Which of the following advantages is the most important one: 8 more mpg or 13 more HP? Answer: 8 more mpg - until only one defender advantage, the paramount advantage, is left (in this example): Fewer injuries.


Establish an importance score scale - usually 0-100. The paramount advantage of "fewer injuries" is then assigned a score of 100. The decisionmaking team then, using consensus or the challenger-defender strategy (to determine an order), weighs the remaining advantages.

The scores are then posted and a total importance of each alternative calculated. The alternative with the highest value of total importance is then underlined. 


Tabular Step #6


If all costs were equal, car "D" would be the sound decision. If we add money to the decisionmaking process the Tabular Method chart looks like:


Tabular #6 with Money 


To relieve the discomfort we might then feel about paying the extra $1,000.00 for car D (versus car E), we change the comparison to an "equal money" decision. To accomplish this, we must determine if spending an additional $1,000.00 on car E could change the "most important advantage" of any of the attributes. If spending that additional money produced an additional 26 HP, car E would then be the sound "equal money" decision as shown below.


Tabular #6 with Equal Money   




Suhr, Jim. The Choosing By Advantages Decisionmaking System. Quorum Books, 1999.
This Lean newsletter is the result of the collaboration of three organizations:
Grunau Company
Ted Angelo, Executive Vice President

Quality Support Services, Inc.
Dennis Sowards, President


WCM Associates LLC
Larry Rubrich, President


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