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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At August 22, 2010 at 7:55 PM , Anonymous 5s said...

This is really informative. My Dad asked me to search on 5s, though i am not really sure if this is what he's referring to anyhow I am sharing the page sine this is really informative.

At August 22, 2016 at 1:45 AM , Blogger navya said...

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