5S in Wall Street Journal

5S has made it into the mainstream media. An article by Julie Jargon gives a brief overview of 5S at Kyocera's North American headquarters, particularly in the office environment.

I don't know if I should be impressed that 5S is in the most prominent business newspaper in the world, or appalled at the superficial nature of the article. I know the mainstream press is in the business of providing something digestible to its readers, but I just can't take this:

"Companies..., are patrolling to make sure that workers don't, for example, put knickknacks on file cabinets."

"Sweaters can't hang on the backs of chairs, personal items can't be stowed beneath desks and the only decorations on cabinets are official company plaques or certificates."

Here we get an example exchange from the mainstream 5S audit:

"when he got to the accounting department, he discovered a hook on a door and told cash management assitant Deanna Svehla that doors are supposed to be free of such accoutermants. 'But that's where I hang the Christmas decorations,' she said"

"C'mon like there aren't plenty of places to put decorations, " he said, nodding at the orange and black Halloween tinsel strung along the outside of her cubicle. That's OK, it turns out, because it isn't permanent."

The 5S Nazi also noticed a "whale figurine in Ms. Svehla's cubicle and decided to let it go." How considerate of him!

Of course, our current management theory of setting expectations and doling out accountability is enforced through compliance. The main Kyocera office has a compliance score of 88.9%. My guess is that this number doesn't reflect the level of management support and direction given to the program, but rather the number of findings in the workers' areas. By focusing on items as targets for cleaning, that is all these folks can expect to get in return.

Kyocera's management supports this 5S "culture change" through the belief that, "if managers clearly explain why they're doing something, I think most people will understand the rationale."

I for one would like to hear the rationale behind not allowing people to cheer up their personal workplace during holidays, or where we can put our personal items, like knickknacks our kids make for us, or personal photos of family and friends. In policing these targets, what are the workplace problems we are solving here? What sort skill development are you aiming for?

This approach, in my humble experience and opinion, is a sure-fire way to create a superficial flavor of the month that people will label as a housekeeping & cleaning campaign. The guise is productivity, but it smells, looks, tastes and feels like nitpicky mothers telling us to clean up our rooms. In fact, most managers will eventually fell like this, trust me. A FEW people will "get it", but MOST people will resent having someone come into their office and nit-pick them on where their #1 Dad trophy or Bonzai tree should be taped out on their desk.

This article has one, small glimmer of hope where it actually highlights an example of 5S thinking via the co-location for nurses, doctors and assistants into an office pod; thereby realizing some benefits of 5S through the elimination of such wastes such as searching, waiting, motion, etc.

This of course is the point behind 5S, elimination of the eight wastes through waste free workplace organization. Bottom line: don't do 5S unless you are helping people solve problems that make their job easier and safer while creating waste free standardization. More 5S material is available on my website.

In the meantime, you can read the WSJ 5S article for yourself by following this link:

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At October 27, 2008 at 11:18 PM , Blogger Mark Graban said...

Amen. I also covered this on my blog today. What a bunch of crap in that article. It's embarrassing for the Lean community.



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