12.20.2007

5S & The Visual Factory - Prerequisites for Standard Work

5S is the standardization and organization of the workplace. The Visual Factory (VF) is a metaphor for the way the workplace helps the worker do the job easier, more effectively and more efficiently. Many people see the VF as an alternative method for managing the workplace, from the viewpoint of the manager. A common litmus test is that the workplace standardization and organization should be so simplified and obvious that someone off the street could make sense of the workplace. This is certainly an ideal state of 5S and VF, but is impractical and can get in the way of real progress.

In reality, the 5S activities should be initiated by the people doing the work and should be done in order to support standardized work routines. 5S has little to do with colors, lines and labels and more to do with whether or not the workplace is ready to perform under the desired standard conditions. This is why 5S & the VF encompass so much more than cleanliness a common target for managers beginning the lean journey.

Of course, one needs to know what the standard work and conditions should be in order to prepare the workplace to support standard work. This requires subscribing to the notion of takt time, work sequence and standard WIP levels. This then, requires an acceptance of JIT principles. Only then can we begin the task of understanding the standard work.

Standard work is not meant to be another point of management to command and control. It must be written by the people doing the job. Again, many managers will say that the job must be so simplified that even they could do the job. This misses the point of standard work. Managers don’t need to understand the standard work, but they do need to know how to coach and question the working experts of the job so that the standard can be established and then further improved. By doing so, better coaching of 5S and VF improvements can be made. This is the basic concept of a questioning attitude used in kaizen teian systems.

The elementary skills of instruction and standard work are found in TWI’s Job Instruction courses. It is here that lies a true importance of 5S and standard work in JI’s four “GET READY FOR INSTRUCTION” points; we are taught to “have the workplace properly arranged – just as the worker is expected to maintain it.” Sounds like 5S to me. “Have everything ready – the right equipment, materials and supplies.” Sounds like more 5S and Standard WIP now. Job Instruction is chock full of meaningful hidden “lean” concepts that cannot be seen on the Toyota factory floor; yet this training is taught and used to this day in the same way it was taught to Japanese management by U.S. consultants six decades ago.

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