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Why I Hate Shadowboards

Somehow shadowboards have become the badge of Lean. A shadowboard symbolizes 5S to many. It is hard to find a class on Lean that does not show a shadowboard on a slide describing workplace organization.

But I hate them. OK, hate is a little strong, and I don’t even dislike them everywhere. They are fine in tool rooms and maintenance shops. But in production areas, they represent waste, not efficiency. On the surface, they look good, but when you watch the flow around them, they are full of muda.

  • It is hard to believe that all the tools in a process are needed at exactly the same point. Shadowboards add either walking or reaching to a process. Or they are not used during production, and simply create an extra step to put tools away at the end of the day.
  • Shadowboards are almost invariably organized by size of the tool. Most processes aren’t designed to use tools in size order. Shadowboards, therefore, require decisions, which adds an unnecessary burden to an operator.
  • Shadowboards are a pain to adjust. When a process changes, shadowboards don’t. The need to swap tool locations gets batched until there are several changes in the queue. Then they are all done at once.
  • Shadowboards make tools hard to grab. They are not stored in a way that makes them easy to use immediately, so there is the grab-flip move that adds time and occasionally causes a tool to drop.
  • Shadowboards are hard to put tools into. Not ‘brain surgery hard’, but ‘add a half second hard’. And that adds up over time. Think of all the times tools are grabbed in the course of a year and multiply that out by half a second each.

[sniplet 5SPremium]

So, try adhering to these tool rules and see if a shadowboard still seems like a good idea.

  1. Never have a tool more than a step from where it is needed.
  2. Make sure a tool is easy to grasp and is oriented for immediate use in a single movement.
  3. Make sure tools are always organized in the sequence in which they are used. Take decision making out of the process.
  4. Make sure operators can efficiently return tools to their storage location when not in use. Operators should be able to put the tool away 5 times in a row with their eyes closed. (If they can do that, think how easy it will be to do with their eyes opened.)
  5. Use multiple tools to adhere to rule 1. Walking 5 seconds to get a tool and 5 seconds to return it 20 times a day is over 17 minutes of walking a week and almost 14 hours a year. Does it make sense to avoid buying a second (or third, or fourth) hand tool to save $5 and add all that labor cost?

Try this easy alternative to a shadowboard. Use a block of wood with a cone-shaped hole to hold a screwdriver. Make a tapered slot for a wench or side-cutters or pliers. Zip tie the block near where the tool is needed. Once you find the perfect spot and work out the bugs in the sequencing, improve the block and the mount. Repeat.

So what do you think? Do you like shadowboards, or do you agree with me that they are the muda wolf in sheep’s clothing?


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Share Your Thoughts    |6 comments|


  • Steve says:

    Good shadowboards are good, bad shadowboards are bad.


  • Tim Z says:

    Couldn’t agree more. You articulated what I explain on a regular basis with our operators. A couple comments I would add.

    Tool shadows at the right point of use can be very helpful.

    IMHO Magnets and Modular pipe/joint structures give some of the best flexibility in tool placement options.

    • Jeff Hajek says:


      I like shadows, just not the single location boards, nor the pegboard hooks. Too hard to get tools out.

      Love the comment about magnets or the pipes. I am assuming you are talking about PVC type pipe. Easy to work with both, and really cheap.

      I’ve also used ID card retractors as cheap tool balancers for small stuff–test circuits, pens, small screwdrivers, etc.

      Velcro is also a great friend of locating tools at the point of use.

      You’ve got me thinking–might be a good idea for a future article…

      Thansk for the comment.

      • Tim Z says:

        Not PVC (although it could probably work for a number of things). Creform, NIS, Fastube & alternatives. It is easy to position and connect to stations already built out of it. Particularly with the joint that allows you to clamp to tube on one end and adjust the angle of a short open tube on the other. We’ve also built simple little desktop stands that essentially holster tools on the desktop instead of the normal; stuff it in a drawer and scatter it on your desk routine.

        Our 5S cart is also armed with Velcro. Love the lightweight toolbalance idea. And would agree you could have a meaty and welcomed article on Tool 5S techniques/ideas.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Karen Wilhelm, Jeff Hajek. Jeff Hajek said: Saw a question on a forum asking about good examples of shadowboards. Made me write this article about why i hate them. http://bit.ly/fgEDYf […]

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