Interview With 5S and Six Sigma Expert Brion Hurley

Brion HurleyCreative Safety Supply was honored to have the opportunity to interview a Lean manufacturing expert. In this interview, Andrew McCall of Creative Safety Supply talks to Brion Hurley of Business Performance Improvement about the concept of 5S and its implementation in businesses. Brian discusses the eight wastes of Lean, emphasizing inventory as a commonly overlooked waste. He explains that while inventory is necessary for operations, it also ties up financial resources that could be used elsewhere in the business. Brian highlights the importance of smart inventory management and eliminating excess inventory that hides underlying process problems.

The conversation then shifts to “soft savings,” which refers to benefits that may not have a clear financial impact. Brian gives examples of soft savings, such as time reduction and increased capacity. Still, he emphasizes the need for a plan to convert these soft savings into hard savings, such as cost reductions or increased productivity.

Next, they discuss the challenges businesses face when implementing 5S. Brian mentions that the early steps of 5S are generally straightforward, but some resistance may arise when trying to standardize processes. However, the most significant struggle comes with the fifth step, which involves managing and maintaining the results of 5S. Brian stresses the importance of continuous improvement and having processes in place to address changing needs and avoid reverting to old habits.

The conversation touches on the role of upper management in sustaining 5S efforts. While it’s ideal for upper management to drive the initiative, Brian notes that supervisors and team leads can also play a crucial role in setting expectations and maintaining standards within their areas of influence.

They discuss the immediate changes that occur after implementing a 5S program. Brian explains that employees often feel more engaged when allowed to contribute to the organization and improve their work areas. The visual transformations resulting from 5S activities create excitement and productivity among employees. They also emphasize the importance of buy-in and engagement at all levels of the organization to ensure the success of 5S initiatives.

Overall, the interview explores the challenges and benefits of implementing 5S, focusing on inventory management, soft savings, sustaining improvements, and the role of leadership in driving and supporting 5S efforts.

About Brion Hurley

Brion Hurley is a seasoned professional in Lean Six Sigma and process improvement. With a passion for helping organizations achieve operational excellence, Brion brings extensive knowledge and expertise to the table. He has a proven track record of implementing effective strategies and methodologies to drive efficiency, eliminate waste, and improve overall business performance.

Brion’s expertise includes Lean manufacturing, 5S, visual management, value stream mapping, and continuous improvement. He deeply understands the principles and tools associated with these methodologies and has successfully applied them in diverse industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, and service sectors.

Throughout his career, Brion has worked with numerous organizations, guiding them through process improvement initiatives and facilitating cultural change. He is skilled at identifying areas of improvement, analyzing data, and implementing practical solutions to enhance productivity, reduce costs, and enhance customer satisfaction.

In addition to his practical experience, Brion is a sought-after speaker, trainer, and author. He has delivered insightful presentations and training sessions on Lean Six Sigma and process improvement, empowering individuals and teams with the knowledge and skills to drive change within their organizations. Brion’s ability to simplify complex concepts and communicate them effectively has made him a trusted advisor for organizations seeking to transform their operations.

Brion Hurley holds a Masters’s degree in Quality Management and is certified as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. He is a firm believer in the power of continuous improvement and is dedicated to helping organizations achieve sustainable success through the implementation of Lean principles. With his wealth of experience and unwavering commitment to excellence, Brion continues to make a significant impact in the field of process improvement.

The Full Interview


So, Brian, thanks so much for coming out and chatting with me about 5S for this video.


You bet. Thanks.


So I was just explaining the eight wastes of Lean. And with some of them, it’s really clear exactly how cutting that waste will save the company money, and others, it’s not so clear. Do you have an instinct for which are the easiest to overlook or that get overlooked the most?


Yeah. I go back to inventory is the first one. I think that’s really difficult for people to wrap your head around as that being a waste. And I think the big concern people have is if I don’t have inventory, I’m going to put my customers and our processes at risk. So that’s a necessary thing we have to have.

But as you mentioned, the other side of inventory is that you’re purchasing things way in advance and that’s taking money out of the bank account and putting it into products and parts items that we think you need you might need, but you don’t need them this second. And that’s money that could be used to pay bills and pay for employees and invest in other things in the business.

And you have the space and all the other issues that come with the inventory; the heating and cooling and the management of it and the tracking. And so that is a big problem and the risk that entails of things expiring or going bad or things changing with your customer and all of a sudden this isn’t needed. So that one really gets hard for people to wrap their head around, but it’s really the money that’s sitting in inventory; that amount of money is not able to be invested in something else. It’s not sitting in the bank earning interest. It’s not being invested into something with quick return or payback or return on investment. So that that one really is a struggle for people.


Okay. Maybe it kind of trips up the whole risk reward thing. There’s all this risk that you don’t realize you’re taking on for the very obvious risk of “am I going to run out of inventory? My customer is going to be without my product.”


I like to explain it more like smart inventory. There is going to be a need for some inventory. You are. It is a tradeoff with risk. And this this financial amount of money tied up in that and the best winning organizations have him. So it’s not that we go and it go to zero, but it’s about do we have the right inventory in the right spot and for what reason? And a lot of times when I assess different businesses, I see a lot of inventory where there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason for why it’s there or it’s hiding problems. And that’s really the most impactful part of improvement is we have to be able to see the problems and inventory covers up a lot of bad processes.

So if you’re looking for outcomes of delivery issues and quality issues, sometimes the inventory side stuff and if we don’t know where the problems are, we can’t improve. So that’s really the financial impact of that. Plus, there’s the hiding of the problems, which slows down our ability to improve our processes.


That that makes a lot of sense. Alright. So I’ve heard you talk before about soft savings. What is what is a soft saving exactly?


Well, I’d say is it’s a benefit to the organization that may not be clear and definitive from a financial standpoint. And so the opposite, the heart savings is usually I described this as when we’ve got an existing amount of money we’re spending on something, and now that amount is lowered. And we can clearly say we used to spend this amount of money, now we’re spending less.

So and one project I did, we did electricity reduction project and we were spending a certain amount of money per month. And then after the improvements, the bill went down. And so you could clearly see that we used to spend money and now we don’t spend as much. That gap is a hard savings because it was already coming out of the account.

A soft savings usually is a lot of the other waste we talked about with a time reduction; so reduction in motion of overprocessing, dealing with defects and rework. Some of that time we spend is soft savings because it’s freeing up someone’s time to be able to do more value at work. But it’s soft because we don’t know and we can’t guarantee that that time is going to be used wisely.

And so from a financial standpoint, you say, yes, there’s potential that we’ve increased capacity or we’ve freed up resources to do more work. But that could also mean that people take more time to do their other work and they don’t actually get more work done. So it’s very important that we take these soft savings of potential benefit or time reductions in our processes and have a plan for where we’re going to get hard savings in the future. You know, not having to rehire more people because we actually have built up enough reserve resources, freed up the time that we don’t have to have that person replaced. We can backfill with our existing resources. And so not having to replace somebody is more of that hard savings because we were spending money on a salary position or an hourly rate, an hourly worker. Now we have this other resources available to fill in when they leave or take another role or get promoted.

So the hard savings is really on that financial side; it’s a cost that we used to have that we don’t anymore. A lot of the other, but most of the improvement work we see is soft savings as it needs to now… we’ve got to leverage that or something positive; putting out more widgets or not having to hire more people.


Awesome. Great. So when it comes to implementing 5S where do you- what step do you see businesses kind of struggle with the most?


You know, I think the first couple of steps are pretty straightforward. I don’t see a lot of confusion or difficulty with that. There are some tips that shared to helps with those first couple of steps to do that more effectively. And it’s really intuitive for people to go through that. Even getting into the fourth step and trying to get standardization we’ll see a little pushback because of the nuances and weaknesses of each process. That said, I don’t we don’t want to do it the same way as this other group or we’re resistant to lock things down, have a complete structure on how we’re doing things yet, or we can’t agree on the right way to do things or we can’t agree on which tools we all want to use and our common versus specialized.

So there’s a little resistance there. But by far the fifth one to me is the one that people really struggle with at its, one is that it takes a lot of work to get through the first four. And so sometimes they don’t ever get to that point because they’re still working it and spending a lot of time the first couple of steps.

So it’s last one. So that makes it more difficult. But then really the discipline of managing and maintaining the results, and it’s not just keeping things in place where they are, but actually improving. There should be a continuous improvement piece to 5S, that says if I keep having to clean my workstation every day, what is the source of the that the dirt and the debris that keeps coming onto my desk? And how do I get to the root cause of that? So I don’t have to do that as often.

And today my workstation is lined up very nicely to reduce motion, but that’s never going to stay the same. It’s always going to be changing as things change in your work. So going be having a process to reevaluate that and go back and say, this no longer works for me, but I don’t just suffer with it. I have a format to do that and that’s through whether it’s an auditing process, part of the daily huddles to talk about that or monthly reviews. But somewhere there’s a feedback loop that says, How are things going? Are we still maintaining what we set up days, weeks, months earlier? If not, how do we make adjustments and changes to that?

And that starts with having communication with the people running those processes operating. So if they’re not expected to maintain it and there isn’t any follow up, then that tells them it’s not working. And so like anything, if we feel like it’s not important, we’re going to shift towards things that we think are important and if 5S isn’t something talked about or discussed as part of the sustainment piece, then it becomes less interested and then we fall back to old habits, you know.

And we see this in your own personal lives.You know, you can do a lot to organize and clean your house, but at some point you have to do it over again because we don’t really have the processes in place to say, Here’s how I put away my clothes, here’s my process for buying new items and what are my triggers and how do I make space for things that come in instead of just pushing more to my closets and into my garage and things like that? Because we haven’t set up a process to handle the changes that come through.


I definitely agree. Setting up something some kind of a framework for reevaluating the standards themselves, that seems to be really tricky. Does that usually is that usually a failure of upper management in organizations, do you think? Or is it just kind of human nature, just kind of a team breakdown?


I think we see a lot of successive areas with the leadership in that area, but it doesn’t have to be upper management. I see it just in supervisors leads that managers over areas that they set the tone, they set expectations that this is what I want, this is what I expect, and they’re very good at following up on that. Said “Hey, that’s out of place.” and it doesn’t have to be a formal audit and just be this is what’s important.

And you see that in the and what the workers value because they know if this is out of place, that this is unorganized, that things are left messy or dirty, that we get the feedback and we hear about that. So they’ve in their area of influence, the people that report to them or that they have influence over that kind of sets the tone.

So it is management, but it doesn’t have to be that upper management, at least for the area that they’re overseeing. I’ve worked at many couple different locations with dozens of work cells, and so you see a variety of impact by the production manager in those areas. And some are very good and drive that. You see very clean organized areas at the end of each shift.

Others aren’t as focused on that. And so you see that it’s less organized, less structure there. And then I’ve seen where the plant manager, upper management person was the one driving it and you see that propagate throughout the whole site. So ideally that’s where you’d like to have It is the higher up, but it doesn’t have to be there. A lot of people can do that in the area of influence that they have over the the teams that they manage or oversee.


Got it. Got it. What are the immediate changes that you see after a company adopts a 5S program?


I think the first thing is that the workers start to feel a little more engagement if they haven’t already. And part of that is if and I think what makes this 5S approach really powerful is that it’s hands on, it’s engaging of people in the work, and it’s allowing them maybe for the first time to have a say in how their work is set up and organized.

Most of the people came in and said, “This is the process, this is how you do it.” And now they’re saying this is when we can reevaluate it and decide, is this the right way to do it? And do you need all these things? And these things have grown over the years or months, and maybe it doesn’t work anymore.

We haven’t gone back to revisit. So this now is the first time in some cases that they’re giving given input to this process. So I think that engagement part is really exciting and the and the visual outcomes we see from those events is so powerful that it builds that excitement to that: If the space looks nicer, it’s less cluttered; we’ve cleaned the floors, we’ve wiped out the walls, we painted the walls, I got new lights, like you get this burst of excitement that I’m ready to go in and attack on my work. And I already feel productive. And they already will start to be productive because of these changes. So. So that’s one of the first things I notice is this there’s that sense of excitement about their work and the ideas are coming as we’re hopefully still doing some of those activities and still going through stuff. It’s not all complete yet, and that’s why we want to keep that momentum going, because if if it falls off now, we don’t do that anymore because the events over, we’ve really lost a great opportunity there to continue discussions.

And I think that’s why people find 5S is a great starting point is it really makes visual transformation in the work area and it gets the ideas flowing. But we got to keep that going and use that as leverage, not let it die off.


Absolutely. I’ve talked a lot about buy-in in this video and so it sounds like buy-in and engagement; that could be one of the first signs that you’re on the right track or that you’re moving through it.


Right. And the buy in from the individuals let’s say, you know, even if their management isn’t going up or if they’re engaged and up, they’re going to take ownership of this and say “I don’t want my space to look like that anymore. I’m not going to let it get cluttered and dirty. I’m going to keep it organized because I like it, it feels good.”

When I come to my work area and it’s cluttered, it just starts me off at a bad vibe and I just get off to a bad start each day and so they can take personal accountability for that and say, regardless of who’s in my management chain, I’m going to keep my desk organized and clean. And my workstation that way. And anyone who works on the station, that’s the expectation I’m going to set here. So that buy-in can happen at many different ways, but it’s really powerful when even the people in the work area take that on and say; I’m going to set this tone. And that can propagate too, especially if there’s someone who is very influential to others in the team.


Absolutely. Do you ever see it go the other way where you have to kind of earn buy-in from leadership or try and pitch 5S, as it were, to the leadership in a company? And did you ever see people struggle with that?


I think sometimes the business case is hard for them to wrap their head around because we’ll ask for support to do this 5S and they’ll say, “Well, that’s a lot of time we’re going to take up. What am I to get for that?” And it’s hard to quantify the results. And we can show past examples and say we remove clutter. We’ve helped a little bit with the flow, just naturally trying to take out things in the process, organize a little bit, maybe freed up space, but we don’t really know till we dig into this. So it is a little bit of a difficult to sell. Like what the pure benefits are going to be. And so that’s where I’ve run into some struggle is the investment into the event.

But if I can explain these other side benefits saying I don’t know what the tangible results are, but here are some typical things we see with the floor space reduction. You know, this is helping with engagement. You know, maybe some past issues where there’s been mistakes and errors due to, you know, you know, things aren’t marked properly, or wrong tools are grabbed and used in the process. Or replacement of tools because they’re lost or can’t be found or they get up and walk away somehow. Those things maybe we could point to for the reasons, but I think that most them understand that an organized workspace is better, but how much to invest in that and why it’s not just done automatically already.

I think those are the things I hear from management. So I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily resistance. It’s just resistance to the amount of effort that I’d like to see to really move things along, and it’s usually multiday sessions to try to get through that. So they’re hesitant on investing in that, not knowing purely what they’re going to get for that investment.


Got it. Great. I’ve got one last question for you. So I started with 5S because I think it’s a great starting point for companies that have simple principles. There’s steps to follow. There’s wide acceptance. But for someone who’s just learning about continuous improvement and lean in the first time there, there are just so many terms. There’s so much lingo, right? We’ve got Lean, 5S, Kanban, TPS… Do you think it’s possible to map all that out? Is there is it possible to create this big graphic that has everything arranged, grouped by, I’m not sure about function or origin? There’s a lot to dive through, and I remember being surprised diving into this that there wasn’t a clear, explicit explanation for where all this came from.


You know, that’s something I keep thinking about in my head is how do I, you know, my background is I started in Six Sigma. And then I learned Lean Through the company I worked at. And then you research some older methodology to go back to TQM. Then you look at the work Henry Ford did, and with, and during World War Two, and the U.S. military.

And, you know, all of those have a place and then throw in training with an industry, and you throw in newer versions of Agile, Kata, and Scrum and design thinking and stuff. And there are similarities throughout a lot of these methods, but there are differences and versions. And my vision is like, how do you show all these of tools together like you’re talking about into like a cohesive thing?

Like you do this, like, here’s the best practice of running an organization: You have huddles, and then within those huddles you have a metric that is flowed down from your top strategies and goals. And within there you’ve got a control chart or something, a run chart that is updated regularly by the workers and that’s discussed and reviewed over the Paredo charts.

And that then leads into basic team problem solving with old quality circles that the teams get together and work on these problems themselves with a little coaching and mentoring from a support staff person or a Lean Six Sigma practitioner. And then when they get stuck, they get advanced up a little bit to their mentor and the mentor comes in and helps them with something a little bit more advanced, like a statistical technique or maybe a standardized work line balancing exercise or something. So and then, you know, just kind of this whole systems of these different tools all kind of fit together in different pieces here. How does someone walk through that? And I don’t- you’re right, I haven’t seen that either.

And I don’t know if I fully understand how it all would connect, but if there is someone who is looking to build that out someday so we can just insert these new methods into this structure, I think that would be really helpful because otherwise you’ve got like these different pathways, a lean pathway and a Six Sigma pathway, and a Toyota Kata way, and Agile. And I think there’s best practices that could be adopted, other methods and also offering up multiple ways of approaching a similar problem.

It could be a Kaizen event or could be something different than that. It could be a sprint instead. So these are just options that you can pursue and look at and it might fit that situation a little differently. But it’s a facilitated activity, and there’s these different ways you could do it from couple of hours at a time to a full five day standard program.

And I think that the terminology is also, especially on the lean side. is a little bit of a deterrant for those who don’t speak Japanese. It makes it feel like you have to learn something else. So I know a lot of consultants that really try to take away some of the terminology and try to stick to like more terms that are more explanatory than trying to teach new words to people.

So I think that’s part of the improvement of the continuous improvement industry, is streamlining our process to make it easier for new people to come in, to not feel like they’re not part of the club yet because they don’t know the language and the passwords and all of the terminology. And I think that’s something that we should all be doing a better job of doing.


Right, Right. And yeah, there are kind of analogous structures within each kind of system and framework. It’d be interesting to see what that would look like for sure.


And even just like problem solving models or demand or 8-Ds. or plan, do check Act, you know, the A3 thinking structure of seven step model. They’re all very similar. And so which one do you use? Which one are you most comfortable with? And are you doing this the core things you need to do in each of those steps that’s most important. But which format you use, sometimes it doesn’t matter too much as long as you’re hitting on the key pieces in each one.

So I think that flexibility of saying there isn’t a specific right way, but there are multiple different ways, but showing that these here are your best practices of these multiple ways to do something very similar.


Right, alright. Just don’t let it be a barrier to entry, right?


Right, right. That’s what we don’t want.


And to your point, like just thinking about what is that starting point? Is it the eight wastes? Is it 5S? Is it, you know, even just the two second Lean approach that Paul Akers has promoted. Everyone’s got ideas and we don’t have to know any tools to come up with good ideas.

We’re all problem solving all day long, and so let’s not overlook the fact that there’s a lot of improvements that we don’t need any training to be able to do. It’s your experience of doing the work. You notice things aren’t working the way you think. You try some things out or suggest something and it works. You don’t need any training to get started, but I think a lot of times we focus on it well, if you don’t have this training, you can’t make improvements. And I think that the fact that we all can make improvements if we’re given time and there’s an expectation that we’re supposed to make improvements. And I think that’s what someone like Paul Akers has done in his organization is save 2 seconds every day. But that’s what I expect. I expect you just make very small incremental improvements every day. And what happens is he gets way more. And there’s very little training he’s giving his team other than a little coaching and mentoring. But he said “here’s the wastes, here’s the things you’re looking for, trying to save time, do things better, safer, go.

And I think if we can get more people doing that, then they’re going to be more interested in other methods as you get more advanced and the problems get more difficult. That’s where a lot of this training comes in to say; here’s how you solve these more challenging issues. But everybody, every day ,participating improvement. That should be the goal for any organization.


Yeah, that’s kind of the brilliance of his scheme as it just kind of sets you down the rabbit hole and it’s a steep rabbit hole into lean and continuous improvement no matter what.


And you don’t see that very often. And that’s where a lot of organizations struggle is. They have improvement practitioners and they’re trying to get people engaged. There’s a lot of improvements happening that no one knows about, and then there’s improvement teams trying to drive improvements. But you’ve also got the majority of your employees that are not involved somehow.


And I think that’s the big opportunity for organizations. And so this learning about waste and that just practicing and participating at 5S activities, that’s a great way to start them on that discussion so that they become engaged and become another set of eyes to make the processes better. And that’s what makes for a good culture, and if the employees are engaged, then what we see is they do better work, the customers get better results, and the customers want to purchase more stuff from the company because they’re getting better results and that grows the organization. So but it kind of starts with an engaged workforce in some of these basic improvement tools can be really powerful to get that started.


Great. That’s a great note to end it on. That’s all I’ve got for you for this video. So thanks so much for coming out and answering these questions. I think this is some really valuable insight.




Thanks so much, Brion.

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