Standing Up for Lean Principles

Eric Bigelow
Tags: lean manufacturing, 5-S

I recently came across a blog about an executive who switched from his traditional "sit-down desk" to a "stand-up desk." He remarked that he loved the new desk and would never switch back. This concept fascinated me, and I investigated it further. I read many articles, and as it turns out, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill and many others worked on their feet up to 10 hours a day.

I was inspired by this dynamic concept. I thought if implemented creatively, it could benefit supervisors on the production floor. But I knew this was an unusual concept that wouldn't be accepted right away. I had to try it for a period of time and demonstrate the possibilities. After all, if the stand-up desk is good enough for a man as intelligent as Thomas Jefferson, it's worth a shot, right?

I wanted to approach this experiment as I would if I was manipulating an assembly line or fabrication operation. So, before building the stand-up desk, I asked myself some very basic questions, many of which were based on 5-S concepts.

What do I have at my sit-down desk that I can do without? (Seiri: Go through all materials and keep only essential items.)

What can I do to ensure that everything has its place? (Seiton: There should be a place for everything, and everything should be in its place.)

What do I need to keep the desk area neat and orderly? (Seisō: Keep the workplace clean and neat.)

What is my standard work? (Seiketsu: Work practices should be standardized.)

How much space do I really need?

What do I need to maintain comfort while at the desk?

As I built this desk, I did many trials and errors before bringing it to the floor. It took about a month of contemplation and modification before it was ready. Once I had exactly what I felt could be trialed safely and comfortably, I made the leap and trashed my traditional desk.

During this experiment, I'll confess I was laughed at and labeled as "wacky" by some of my colleagues. That's OK; a lot of new ideas receive ridicule before respect. I have now had my new desk for four months, and in my opinion, the stand-up desk has many positive benefits when looking at it from a lean perspective.

It is structured much like an assembly operation should be structured. I only have what I need when I need it. All of my materials (phone, keyboard, monitor, files, trash can, etc.) are within arm's reach. I only have the amount of flat surface my standard work requires. On the occasion that I need more surface for writing or reading (periodical work), I have a flat surface that rolls out from under the desk and can be returned easily. As you can see from the picture, there was a lot of space saved as well — 50 square feet.

Everything on my desk has its place. Due to the fact that there is only enough space for what I need, it is very easy to keep neat and organized. I no longer have stacks of random papers, Post-its or folders. On the right side of my desk, I have a broom holder and a dustpan to sweep my area at the end of each day. This task is much easier with the new desk because the floor is visible and accessible on all sides.

As far as ergonomics, it is very comfortable. In my research, I found that when standing, it helps to elevate a foot to relieve strain from your back, so I added a bar across the bottom 6 inches from the floor. I also have a padded mat in front of the desk to reduce any fatigue. The monitor is at eye level, and the keyboard is at a height that would suit most individuals.

I have found that this desk has made me more active and I feel more energetic. Instead of "zoning out" in front of the computer (which occasionally happens to everyone), I do what I have to do and move on to more activity. This has led me to have faith that this would be a good cultural tool in the manufacturing community when linked with other lean measurements.

I have to assume that organizations (including mine) will not make this a standard, but if they do, great. If you decide to try it, remember that it is hard for the first week or so. Just maintain and focus. It gets better.

I highly suggest that continuous improvement-driven individuals give this a try. I have read very little negative comments from the people who have tried it. I believe this can help standardize a supervisor's work, promote dynamic 5-S practices and result in elevated activity on the manufacturing floor. It's an idea that has been beneficial personally and has the potential to be beneficial to others.


About the Author

Eric Bigelow is an industrial engineer and continuous improvement professional. He is currently a lean coordinator located in Spirit Lake, Iowa. He has trained numerous individuals in lean manufacturing, continuous improvement, employee development and empowerment. He is an expert on moti...