Andon is a Japanese term for the traditional paper lantern or signal light. In lean, we use it as a visual management system to quickly allow anyone to know the status of a line or operation.

The most common type of Andon system is the three-light tower. Three colored lights (red, yellow, and green) are mounted on a pole by a work station with a switch to allow the operator to quickly change the status if anything goes wrong. The typical Andon light color-coding schema is red = stop and green = go (or running). Yellow may stand for not running at rate, ’I need help’, or something similar.

These andon lights can also be mounted to machines or equipment and automatically change color based on a signal from the machine. These are especially handy when the machines are running with no operator.

A smaller take-off on this method is to use a flag. If the flag is raised when someone needs help it can signal things like: low on parts, need the material handler or other types of information. The flags can be color-coded similarly to the tower lights or set for specific jobs or tasks. A common version of the flag system can be seen in doctors’ offices or clinics. Outside the examination room color-coded flags signal the staff information about the patient or what is needed next.

Another more complex version of the Andon light is the Andon board. This is where several indicators are mounted on the same board to centrally locate the visual system. These are common in lean factories that have multiple production lines. This allows anyone to look at a glance how the plant is running and its current status.

A pull cord is another style of andon. If an operator is having difficulties or wants to signal management that there is a problem, they pull the andon cord. This is just like pulling the cord on a city bus to signal to the driver that you want to get off at the next stop or in a hospital room where there is a cord to pull if you need the nurse.

Even audible signals can be thought of as a type of andon. An alarm, bell or buzzer gets your attention when something is wrong or is trying to warn you about a situation. In the old days, at department stores the chimes you heard overhead were actually signals to floor managers to contact the office. The number of chimes, the sequence or sound was designated to different managers. This way a manager could be notified without disturbing the customers with an annoying announcement. In some lean facilities they even use the pace or rhythm of the sound to indicate if there is a problem.

The advantages of using andon systems are many. To be sure, they allow a supervisor or team lead to quickly spot a problem before it escalates. For example, if a supervisor wants to know the status of six different work cells in an area, she would have to walk to each one and look or ask an operator the status. Unfortunately, while the supervisor is in the back area trying to find out what is going on, a work cell in the front has a malfunction and the supervisor doesn’t even know about it. By installing andon lights at each of the work cells, the supervisor can visually see that status and proceed to the work cell that needs assistance. Andon lights are a low cost solution versus people waiting or not knowing the current status if work.

Today on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day we celebrate the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We also commemorate the timeless values he taught us through not only his words but more importantly his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that defined his revolutionary spirit.

Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk, that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible. And so we commemorate on this holiday the man of action, who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day, the man who braved threats and jail and beatings and who ultimately paid the highest price to make democracy a reality for all Americans.  We commemorate the man who went to jail 29 times to achieve freedom for others, and who knew he would pay the ultimate price for his leadership, but kept on marching and protesting and organizing anyway.

Incidentally many of Dr. King’s common themes are similar to those found in our work in Lean – Freedom, Equality, and Service: 

Freedom.  By implementing Lean we are actually creating new-found freedoms for individual employees all the way to whole systems.  When performing a 5S or Kaizen event it is imperative that we help team members understand that we are there to make their jobs better!  By controlling any or all of the Eight Wastes we are freeing up new resources including time, space, and financial opportunities. This leads to increased value for end-use customers which leads to better financial and non-financial performance. 

Equality.  Toyota first formally published its “respect for people” principle in a 2001 internal document.  Respect for People means that we respect others and make every effort to understand one other and value all of their input. We believe that everyone has something to contribute whether it’s the building janitor who keeps the floors clean and safe to the CFO who is responsible for the financial well-being of the company.  We are all equals and all in this together.  Everyone is charged with taking personal responsibility and a commitment to do their best and build mutual trust which will maximize performance. 

Service.  It was King who said, “Everybody can be great because everyone can serve.”  As Lean practitioners we are also servants. Through the visionary thoughts, ideals and knowledge we impart to our colleagues and clients we aid them in leading more efficient, effective work environments which in time can lead to a better world for all of us.

So in the spirit of today’s Holiday let us reflect and give thanks for the work we have the privilege of doing each and every day.

Jennifer Molski, Customer Care – 5S Supply

P.S. As a part of 5S Supply’s commitment to service and training we are offering a FREE webinar “Introduction to Lean” this Wednesday, January 19, 2011. We hope you will join us.

Giving Back

January 10, 2011

At 5S Supply we believe strongly in giving back and investing in our local community.  We were a proud Sponsor of the First Annual Community Christmas Tree Recycling Program held the first two weekends in January in Olympia Fields, Illinois, a suburb south of Chicago located near 5S Supply’s Headquarters in Frankfort.  This event was organized by our very own Customer Care Manager, Jennifer Molski.  Jennifer moved to the community about a year and a half ago and after last Christmas was surprised to see so many Christmas Trees at the curb on their way to landfill and vital nutrients being wasted. 

She knew there had to be a better way and saw this as great opportunity to make a difference!  She approached local government municipalities to see if they could help create a recycling program.  When the municipalities said they couldn’t help because staff time and limited budgets, Jennifer decided to take matters into her own hands.  She gathered together several organizations in the community who were already invested in environmental issues including the Green Team from the local elementary school and Irons Oaks Environmental Learning Center.  Irons Oaks agreed to be the drop off point for the trees and would mulch the trees and use them on their paths and trails.  Jennifer invited local businesses, organizations and individuals to serve as Sponsors and Partners and created an ad-campaign to help spread the word of this recycling opportunity as well as provide education about the benefits of a real Christmas Tree. 

Jennifer shared that “by working for 5S Supply the past couple years I have become a much better steward of our environment and I am grateful to work in such an enriching workplace.  We apply Lean is Green thinking, practice waste reduction and always seek out unique ways to Reduce, Reduce and Recycle.”   

The initial response from the community was very positive.  A simple, free and most importantly a “feel good” opportunity was created for residents of the greater South Chicagoland Area.  We are proud to announce that 300 trees were collected!

Several of 5S Supply’s Team members volunteered at the event including Jean Lareau and Marcia Moderacki from Accounting.  5S’s own Tony Manos was on hand and spent most of his time tending to the fire to keep all volunteers warm and assisting donors with removing trees from their cars.  Tony remarked, “It was such an honor to be a part of this first annual event.  I am very proud of Jennifer and the win-win opportunity she created…her innovative thinking and creativity that serves our 5S Team so well led to the creation of this program and we wish her continued success in the future.”

Remeber – Lean is Green!

This is the third in a series of three blog postings that talks about training your internal Lean Experts or Champions. To see first post Training Lean Champions. To see second post Training Lean Champions 2.

Kaizen Events for Newly Trained Lean Champions

Many companies think that Lean will solve all their problems; chances are it probably won’t. They also want all the fixes now, immediately. The good news is that Kaizen Events will give rapid improvements. Unfortunately, don’t expect to solve all they problems you have had over the last 10, 20, 30 years in one month or even one year.

I have seen many times where management knows that things have to change and they want it on a grand scale (or worse, they don’t think they need to change). The problem with this is that they want to “boil the ocean” – fix all their problems in one fell swoop. To be realistic we have to train our Lean Champions on how to “boil a cup of water” and then a kettle of water and so on. We want to give them projects that they will be successful with in the beginning to help build up their confidence and abilities. Believe me they will be able to handle tougher and tougher assignments with more experience.

The best place to look for candidate projects is your Value Stream Map. You can even use VSM as a training project for your Champions. The Values Stream Map follows the flow of the product (or service) from beginning to end including the information flow1. The reason that the Future State Map and Plan are excellent sources for projects is that it is what’s going to help the value stream, not just one department or area. Also, you know you are spending resources on the right projects.

8-Week Kaizen Cycle

Using the 8-week Kaizen Cycle2 creates the foundation for powerfully successful Kaizen Events. The key is preparation and follow-up. In an 8-week Kaizen Cycle the first three weeks are devoted to preparation, week four is the actual Kaizen Event and weeks five through eight are for follow-up and closeout. While training Champions or scheduling Kaizen projects it is important to make sure you have enough resources to perform the events. Resources include time, people and budgets. The good news for Lean practioners is that we profess “Creativity before Capital” which means – what can we do for low cost, no cost first before going and spending money. So for Lean projects the budget is usually not the limiting factor. So guess what is? The answer is of course people and time; getting the right team together for three to five days, plus preparation and follow-up time (Kaizen Cycles Example).

Kaizen Cycles Example

8-Week Kaizen Cycle

Month 1 Month 2 Month 3
Week 1 Preparation P       P       P      
Week 2 Preparation   P       P       P    
Week 3 Preparation     P       P       P  
Kaizen Event       K       K       K
Follow-up Week 1         F       F      
Follow-up Week 2           F       F    
Follow-up Week 3             F       F  
Project Closeout               C      


Key: P = Preparation           K = Kaizen Event                 C = Closeout

As you can see from this example, Lean Champions may be performing tasks concurrently. For example, in Month 2 they are holding the first preparation meeting for Kaizen Event 2 the same week as the first follow-up from Kaizen Event 1. If this is too difficult to do, spread the Kaizen Events farther apart, but remember that means less events will be performed in a year by a Champion. To me, the number of Kaizen Events held per year is not as important as picking the right events (use you Value Stream Maps for that), the quality of the events or completing the events. For more specific information related to the 8-week Kaizen Cycle or how to perform Kaizen Events please refer to Reference 2 Lean Kaizen.


To train up your subject matter experts or Lean Champions it takes time and patients. Lean is not a light switch; you just can’t flip a switch and declare “We’re Lean!” Be ready to provide the training and opportunities to create your own internal continuous improvement juggernauts. By allowing your Lean Champions time to learn and develop your company will be stronger, more competitive, and have taken a step towards becoming world-class.

Let me know what you think. Thanks – Tony

P.S. If you need help with your Lean trainingor implementation give us a call at 888 4 LEAN 5S or email us at trainer@5Ssupply.com, we would be glad to help.


  1. Value Stream Mapping – An Introduction” Quality Progress June 2006 by Tony Manos
  2. Lean Kaizen – A Simplified Approach to Process Improvements” by George Alukal and Anthony Manos

This is the second in a series of three blog postings that talks about training your internal Lean Experts or Champions. See first post Training Lean Champions.

Expertise Versus Events

Typically it takes years (or even decades) of experience to comprehend the full concepts of Lean. Most people have not dedicated themselves to this level of understanding. So in order to build your internal expertise faster it is common to start training your Champions with specific aspects or tools of Lean. So what does this mean? You should probably start by training some Champions in 5S, Layout, Standard Work or Quick Changeover or other lower level building blocks of Lean. Once they master certain elements they can decide to learn more or stay with what they know (once again, it takes years to become an expert). Once you have developed experts in these areas consider moving to higher level building blocks such as Cellular-flow, Pull systems and Kanban, Total Productive Maintenance and so on.

As you can see from this model, Champions become subject matter experts in specific Lean tools. For instance, you may have several 5S, Visual and Point-of-use-storage Champions, a few Quick Changeover Champions, one or two Value Stream Mapping Champions and so on. If you are a small organization, this may seem daunting. But, in reality, if you are few in numbers, it may be easier to make the changes required and therefore one person can become an expert in several different building blocks of Lean. If you come from a large organization or even multiple facilities, you can draw on experts from these other departments or locations. Remember, your 5S Champion is an expert in 5S. So no matter where the 5S event is going to be (shop floor, office, warehouse, etc.) they will know how to facilitate it. Kaizen Events are just one way to deploy the tools. Training people in how to perform a Kaizen Event actually starts with them knowing about specific building blocks of Lean.

Theory Expertise

The best way to train your Champions is to give them a combination of classroom (theory) and real-world (practical) experience. One way to give them the theory portion is during the event itself by performing your Kaizen Events in a “train-do” or “learn-do” mode. Train-do means that the participants learn a little about the subject and then they go do it, they learn a little more and apply it and so on. Also, to gain knowledge they can read Lean books, articles, watch Lean videos, attend conferences, webinars or seminars and benchmark other companies. We build this into the Champions’ Skills Matrix (see Champions’ Skills Matrix). In the Learning Plan we state the things that a good Champion needs to know and then we assess our current candidates. If they do not have all the skills stated (which they rarely have all the skills) there is a gap; our job is to close that gap. Besides learning specific tools of Lean they must also have other important skills in order to run a successful Kaizen Event such as facilitation, computer, and communication competence. Also, important is that your organization has good Lean training materials such as PowerPoint slides, DVDs, forms, workbooks, spreadsheets and so on to help facilitate the Kaizen Event.

Champions’ Skills Matrix

Practical Experience

To learn Lean you have to roll up your sleeves and do it. When it comes to Lean the best teacher is experience. In order to get Champions practical experience my rule of thumb is that they should:

  1. participate in multiple Kaizen Events (typically three) led by a Lean master with increasing levels of responsibility,
  2. participate in a train-the-trainer class and then,
  3. run a Kaizen Event on their own with support from the experienced Lean Champion or master.

Champion Training Schedule

Event 1

Event 2 Event 3 Train-the-trainer Event 4 Preparation Event 4 Event 5
Participate in the event Watch more about how to facilitate an event Focus on the intricacies of the event like milestones, etc. Ask questions about the event, review what makes a good trainer Master the training materials Perform event with master back-up

Perform event on own

The reasoning behind this is many-fold. First, each session is performed in a train-do mode so their level of understanding of the specific tools of Lean increases with each event. In the first event, they are just being exposed to the specific tools of Lean, many for the first time. In the second event they are beginning to see how to run an event. In the third event they start to focus on the training portion of the Kaizen and what to expect during a Kaizen Event. Equally important is that they get a chance to see all the crazy and unexpected things that can happen during an event and see how the facilitator handles it. This teaches your Champions on how to be flexible during the event. During the train-the-trainer session they learn the ins and outs of what makes a good trainer and a chance to review any materials that need clarification. Also, during that session we go over any class exercises and timing of milestones (see  Timing and Milestones). Major timing or milestones may be things like “we need to complete the review of the video tape by the end of the day”, “brainstorming and project selection needs to be completed by 2:00 pm so we can start the implementation” and so on. Before the fourth event they get a chance to prepare and rehearse their training and facilitation skills. During the fourth event, the new Champion runs the event. The Lean master observes and stays in the background unless something goes wrong. At quiet points during the day, coachinig moments and at the end of each day, the master gives feedback to the Champion about how the day went. I have found it best for the master to write up a little synopsis (like an A3 form) of the entire Kaizen Event for the Champion for them to refer to before facilitating their next event or in the future if they need to. Another variation of this method is to allow teams of Champions to work together. For instance, one Champion acts as the lead and the other is a helper. This helps reduce the stress of running your first event on your own. With more experience, the Champion can facilitate events by themselves or even run multiple teams based on the participants’ level of experience with Lean.

Timing and Milestones

Typical Agenda for a Five Day Quick Changeover Kaizen Event


Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5


Team Introductions and training Continue review, brainstorm ideas for improvement and select top projects Implement ideas Implement ideas, create new standard work

Perform new changeover and video tape, review video tape

Afternoon Video tape Changeover, Start review Implement ideas Implement ideas Implement ideas  and practice new changeover

Collect improvements and report out

In my experience, I have found that it takes about three events before a Champion feels comfortable enough to be ready to perform a Kaizen Event on their own. The events are in different target areas with different participants or teams. Typically, I like to have about 7-10 participants and up to about five additional Champions to train. Having a Kaizen team of about 7-10 people gives us enough ‘horse power’ to get things done. Having more then ten people can make it more like ‘herding cats’. Having less than seven people reduces the hands and brains to make improvements. The reason that having additional people participate as Champion candidates is that they are usually motivated and can lend a hand to the facilitator during the events. If your Champions have some previous knowledge of that specific tool of Lean then you can cut down the number of train-do events for them. As mentioned before they can gain knowledge by other means such as videos, reading books and articles and so on. Also, based on the type of Kaizen Event I may adjust the number of projects for them to participate in before they are on their own (see Champion Training Project Matrix).

Champion Training Project Matrix

Value Stream Mapping Champion (2) 3-day “Train-do” sessions led by Lean Master

(1) 4-hour Train-the-Trainer session led by Lean Master

(1) 3-day “Train-do” session led by Champion(s)

5S, Visual and Point-of-Use Champion (3) 3-day “Train-do” sessions led by Lean Master

(1) 4-hour Train-the-Trainer led by Lean Master

(1) 3-day “Train-do” session led by Champion(s)

Quick Changeover Champion (3) 4-5 day “Train-do” sessions led by Lean Master

(1) 4-hour Train-the-Trainer led by Lean Master

(1) 4-5 day “Train-do” session led by Champion(s)

Layout Champion (2) 4-5 day “Train-do” sessions led by Lean Master

(1) 2-hour Train-the-Trainer led by Lean Master

(1) 4-5 day “Train-do” sessions led by Champion(s)

Autonomation, Self-Inspection, Poka-yoke Champion (2) 2-4 day “Train-do” sessions led by Lean Master

(1) 4-hour Train-the-Trainer led by Lean Master

(1) 2-4 day “Train-do” sessions led by Champion(s)

Cellular/Flow Champion (3) 5 day “Train-do” sessions led by Lean Master

(1) 4-hour Train-the-Trainer led by Lean Master

(1) 5 day “Train-do” session led by Champion(s)

Pull System & Kanban (3) 5 day “Train-do” sessions led by Lean Master

(1) 4-hour Train-the-Trainer led by Lean Master

(1) 5 day “Train-do” session led by Champion(s)

Total Productive Maintenance Champion (3) 4-5 day “Train-do” sessions led by Lean Master

(1) 4-hour Train-the-Trainer led by Lean Master

(1) 4-5 day “Train-do” session led by Champion(s)

Office Kaizen Champion (3) 4-5 day “Train-do” sessions led by Lean Master

(1) 4-hour Train-the-Trainer led by Lean Master

(1) 4-5 day “Train-do” session led by Champion(s)

At this point most companies’ freak-out at how much time this is going to take; it’s a lot like sticker shock on a new car. All I have to say is, yes this is basically what’s its going to take. Do you really think that by attending a one day seminar or even a five day Lean certification course that you are automatically an expert in Lean? Get real. It takes time and experience to gain the skills, knowledge, skills, expertise and flexibility to become a Lean Master.

The next blog post in this series will covers aspects of the Kaizen Event itself.

Let me know what you think. Thanks – Tony

P.S. If you need help with your Lean training give us a call at 888 4 LEAN 5S or email us at trainer@5Ssupply.com, we would be glad to help.

Don;t forget to visit www.5Ssupply.com

I decided to write this three part series on selecting and training your internal Lean experts (a.k.a. Lean Champions) to help people understand how to build your internal expertise in Lean.

Where to Start

Many times people have asked me “Can you train us to do our own Kaizen Events or make our events better?” The answer is ‘yes’ of course, but I think there is a misconception of what this means. The reason I say this is because unless your Champions already have a deep understanding of the specific Lean subjects (such as 5S, Standardized Work, Layout, Quick Changeover, Total Productive Maintenance, Cellular-Flow, Pull Systems and Kanban, etc.) they will have start there first. The Kaizen Event (a.k.a. Kaizen Blitz, Quick Kaizen, Rapid Improvement Event, etc.) methodology is the same for different types of events, but the tools will be different and that’s where I think people are confused. For example, if you are doing a 5S event, you need to have the Lean Champion who is an expert in 5S; if you are doing a quick changeover event, you need a Lean Champion that is an expert in that subject and so on. Your Champions have to become experts in Lean thinking and applying the correct tools at the right time for the right event. If they are not intimately familiar with specific tools, then how can they run a successful Kaizen Event? This series will explain what it takes to train up your own Lean Champions to perform winning Kaizen Events.

NOTE: There are several ways to create Lean Champions this is just one method. If you have another system and you are successful with it, continue to use it and maybe you can pick up a few ideas here to improve your current methodology (after all isn’t that what Kaizen is about – improvement). If you do not have a program in place to create Lean Champions then consider this approach.

Lean Champions

In order for your Lean journey to be successful you have to have your own internal Lean Champions. A Lean Champion is a subject matter expert (SME) in specific tools of Lean (see Building Blocks of Lean). I cannot over-emphasize that Lean is not about the tools! Lean is about using your ‘head and heart’, its how you think about your job, how to simplify things, how to remove waste, how to make things easier. The tools are just a vehicle which helps us realize our Lean goals; its Lean thinking1 that is important. As with any house, you start building from the foundation and work your way up. It is important that you get a solid foundation on which to build upon. Some Building Block of Lean, Lean Toolsorganizations start with upper level building blocks first (like TPM, cells, or Kanban) and they wonder why they are not getting the results that they has hoped for. A main culprit is that the basic building blocks lay the foundation and discipline to be able to perform the higher level Lean concepts. For instance, your cells may be effective, but if you don’t have good teamwork, 5S and standard work they probably are not as effective as you’d hoped they’d be.

The reason that the Lean Champions have to be internal to your company is because they know your culture the best. Using outside expert Lean consultants will definitely give you improvements, but unless you have people at your organization that understand the changes, many things can happen such as: people will put things back the way they used to be after the consultant leaves, it is hard to maintain and improve if you do not understand the Lean concepts, or you have to keep paying the consultant to come back over and over again to make improvements. In order to sustain and improve your Lean efforts you have to have your own Lean experts on staff (see Table 1, Building Internal Lean Champions). There are three ways to accomplish this:

Table 1, Building Internal Lean Champions



Con Rating
1. Hire outside Lean experts into your company
  • They know Lean
  •  They don’t know your culture


2. Have current employees become experts in Lean
  • They know your culture
  •  It will take a long time for them to learn Lean


3. Have outside consultants train your internal resources
  • They know Lean, you know your culture
  • You will have people to continue your Lean efforts
  • More cost effective
  • It will fail if management doesn’t support your Lean efforts


Of these three methods I would recommend a combination of 1 and 2 or 2 and 3. An advantage of using consultants is that they usually have a lot of experience implementing Lean in many different types of companies. They bring with them tried and true methodologies and usually present best practices. If you hire Lean practitioners from the outside just be aware that they may have only learned one way to apply Lean principles (based on wherever they worked previously) or they may be used to using the tools but not implementing or deploying them for the first time throughout an organization.

The next post in this series will talk about selecting Lean Champions and how to marry “Theory to practice.” Stay tuned for more and let me know your thoughts. Thanks – Tony

Let’s make 2011 the best Lean year ever!

P.S. If you need help with your Lean implementation or training, feel free to contact me for more information.

Reference: 1. Lean Thinking – Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation” by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones