5S Thinking

A reader at Jon Miller’s Gemba Panta Rei asks:

“I'm having a difficult time coming up with a tracking method for our 5S program. We are running a program with a scoring value but no real tracking method. Any suggestions?”

Jon presents three main questions to consider when thinking about this reader’s inquiry. Jon then asks the GPR readership, “What's your view on tracking 5S performance?” Rather than dominate his comment section in response, here are my thoughts regarding his three questions:

What is the purpose of the 5S program? 
I was like almost everybody else I know when I started “doing” 5S about ten years ago. Basically, I saw it as a shop floor cleaning and tidiness, which is a short way of saying: 5S is a clean-up tool where the result for managers was that we were always “tour-ready” and for genba people - the workplace was clean and safe. This was the main justification for doing 5S for many, many organizations at the time and I’m of the opinion that this rationale still prevails as the justification for doing 5S today.

What I have come to realize over those ten years is that a clean and safe workplace is a benefit, not the desired result, of practicing 5S. Benefit vs. Result. This may sound like the same thing, but it is not.

In my simple mind, the result of 5S is that leaders are consistently coaching people through the basic mental gymnastics of analysis, planning, implementation and reflection on problems and solutions in the realm of workplace organization. This is not a benefit but is a result, or more specifically, the actions taken in the areas of direct influence that people have over their domain in the workplace. So the result of 5S is that people take action.

If the result of 5S is that an individual can take action, then it follows that the purpose of 5S is scalable and universal for groups of individuals. A leader can coach a machinist and take that person through the mental process that 5S requires to organize and streamline the operations in and around the machine they operate. Or, coaching could occur at increasing difficulty levels, e.g., with a supervisor of the entire machine shop, where more complex “sorting”, “setting” and “sanitizing” of standards must be considered.

In short, 5S is a way for leaders to engage people at any level in any process so that they are required to think in a structured way about the process which they control. Notice that I didn’t say the way. 5S follows the PDCA process, like many other Lean ways, so it is actually quite adaptable to many situations if we can get beyond the misconception that 5S is about cleanliness and tidiness. When we take action, the result is an improvement in the process that meets the needs of both the individuals intrinsic needs and the company's goals. A clean and safe workplace is a benefit resulting from taking action; and is not the purpose or the result of practicing 5S.

The proof of this claim is that we do not sort, set, sanitize, standardize or sustain accidents, dirt or contamination. In other words, we do not standardize waste if we are thinking logically in a 5S manner. In addition to this, we do not sustain by continuing our cleaning routines, we sustain by coming up with continuous improvement solutions to eliminate the contamination or accidents. In fact, it is safe to say that 5S attacks our misconceptions and behaviors rather than objects. Workplace objects are just the means to practice attacking our thinking and behaviors.

We do things like analyze motions, movements, heights, weights and infinite genba phenomena so that we make the work easier, of better quality, easier to retrieve, easier to put away, easier to train, communicate, easier to detect problems, etc. This is hard work that we would otherwise not do if it weren't for strong, driven and compassionate leadership. In other words, to realize a deeper meaning of 5S beyond housekeeping, we can look at 5S as analogous to PDCA. Then we can make the leap to the requirement for daily coaching of people to use 5S thinking. Now, how would one go about scoring this?

How do we measure success of the 5S program? 

The first question to ask is: what does a 5S score mean? If you are measuring findings in a traditional 5S audit, then it is likely people perceive that you are effectively penalizing a person/team/area with the score.

Why do people perceive this? We are told that 5S never ends, that as soon as we step into that realm of lean, the journey has no destination, only continuous improvement. When we are halfway through a journey, we do not declare victory. The same can be said of a traditional 5S audit sheet. In the first week the area looks the best it has ever been. We are tempted to not find any problems. The result is a 100% score. But the auditor has been conditioned to use stretch goals, so he cannot give a 100% score. So he nitpicks the area and gives the score of 95%. This leaves the impression that if the nitpick problems are solved, one can achieve 100%. In a lean culture, you cannot be 100% this week, and 70% the following week. The reason is because the definition of continuous improvement is that we never reach 100%. This is proof that our current scoring systems often used with 5S programs are faulty and hides what we are really communicating behind the veil of housekeeping. When we note an audit finding and assign a score then our current thinking about scores contradicts the concept of an never ending journey. We think of scores as outcomes of events that allow us to pass judgment on that event. The final score of the basketball game is 45-38, therefore we can make a judgment on who won the match. But is this what we want with 5S, to say that we won? How do we know if we have won by looking at our 5S score? And can you predict if and when you will win? No, it is impossible. These are just some reasons why the current scoring mentality that we use with 5S is faulty.

Based on this, what are we trying to track?

Jon asks some great follow up  questions here:

“what will ‘good’ look like?”
“Are we aiming for a specific 5S score across the facility?”
“Is it the brightness of the shine from the floor?”
“Is it the level of engagement?”
“Are we looking for evidence of sustained improvement?”

And he offers the best answer: “The best way to track just about anything is to go see the actual status.”
In summary, my experience with 5S is that the purpose is for leaders to take the easiest approach possible to engage people in continuous improvement:
  • One-on-one coaching interaction
  • Focus on how they directly influence and can change the workplace organization in an incremental, continuous manner.
  • And don’t score it. The score is not the goal, improvement and engagement is the goal. Each improvement is a small victory that moves us in a positive direction.

With that said, if you insist on measuring anything. Here are my suggestions: 5S scoring is a back room measure – the measurements should focus on how your leaders are engaging their people, not on how the areas look, kept, maintained or perform. Some better 5S indicators are frequency of visits to genba, number of improvements made by his team/dept/value stream, and anecdotal/factual evidence of improvements. The evidence can be presented by the individuals who make the improvements, or in company meetings, improvement competitions/celebrations, etc. In short, it takes leadership that is brave enough to abandon old ways of doing things and capable of bringing people along with him for the ride!

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Management Improvement Carnival - April 2010

Regular readers of TWI Blog will notice that I've been on a bit of a leave of absence in 2010, the consequence of taking on a new job...so, it is with great pleasure that I accept John Hunter's invitation to host a Management Improvement Blog Carnival this month! Hosting a M.I.B.C. gives me an easy excuse to break away and dig into my favorite blogs!

Bryan Zeigler at Lean is Good dredges up an old Deming experiment to illustrate a common management malpractice: Chasing Rabbits and Process Unimprovements. I like this post because the experiment helps people realize the chaos that can result in their reactive behavior as managers. I have successfully used the famous Table Top Experiments created by Lilian and Frank Gilbreth and this "new" exercise from Deming will go into my bag of tricks for improvement leadership!

Mark Rosenthal at The Lean Thinker makes a distinction between The Expert vs. The Master in his post Knowing vs. Knowing How to Learn. The big deal here is that Mark argues some experts will try to fit their circumstances to a specific tool, but masters distinguish themselves by learning how to go beyond the tool and apply the concept in circumstances with which they are unfamiliar.

My new job as Director of Quality causes me to seek out new information almost on a daily basis. Quality Inspection Blog offers advice on the difficulties of practical Quality Inspection in China...just thought I'd throw this one out there , Buying in China is Risky,  :) Just a friendly reminder for my fellow Leansters out there that we need to double and triple our efforts of educating others about continuous improvement - we have a LONG way to go! China risky? Who woulda' thunk it?!

Finally, Kathleen Fasenella talks about "How to Sew Faster" at Fashion Incubator. Kathleen really has a knack for taking basic improvement concepts and explaining them in plain English. I am not a fashion guy, but find it fascinating to see how people in so many diverse industries are adopting and adapting improvement principles and techniques to their field of expertise - and getting real results.

Leansters will appreciate the industrial engineer that resides in Kathleen's work - Part 4 of her "How to Sew Faster" series talks about the 4Ms: Man, Machine, Material and Machines. Kathleen's posts often remind me of Taichii Ohno's writings when she writes things like this: 

"relying on machine as the singular strategy to cutting faster amounts to a trade off; sacrificing results to get greater speed. It’s not necessary to make this trade off. Change your method -the machine is secondary- and you can have greater speed and better results."

I really have zero interest in fashion, but I do enjoy finding these little nuggets of dichotomy that reveal revolutionary improvement principles for the world to learn from. And all of this from a debate over scissors vs. rotary cutters!



Feed the Kaizen!

Here are a few quotes I have heard over the years from frustrated people practicing their improvement skills:

"An operator should be able to come in off the street and be able to look at the standard work pictures and instantly do the job."

"We set this up for single piece flow. They shouldn't be batching!"

"When this kaizen is complete, it shouldn't need any babysitting. It should be self-sustaining."

"The worksheet said that the changeover should only take fifteen minutes, not two hours!"

"This process should be on autopilot. I wouldn't put a lot of time in this if I were you."

I think of what my father would say in the face of these grand statements: "Could've, Should've, Would've. What are you going to do about it?"

The only things in life that I know of capable of running on autopilot with zero intervention are natural laws. Organizational laws, where kaizen resides, are man-made; so it is people, then, that must nurture their personal creations. It is easy to imagine then, or remember from the cold experience of failure, that one of the troubles with organizational laws is that they are extremely fragile and will break at a moments notice. Before you dive into your next kaizen and expect miracles to happen, just remember you need a plan for when that magic week is over. The kaizen will die a swift and painful death if you do not feed it. 

With spring is the new birth: how will you feed your kaizen?