5S and Lean

5S and Lean by Walter McIntyre

The 5S tools are associated with Lean thinking. The objective of Lean thinking is to provide a business with long-term profitability by developing a more effective workplace, which is accomplished by eliminating waste in the work environment. The result is a safer workplace, improved product quality, and lower costs for both the business and its customers.

Lean thinking may result in a reduction in work force, but that is not its purpose. In fact, the application of lean thinking for the purpose of reducing the work force is not lean thinking at all. Since some companies have done this, lean thinking has been given a bad reputation and has made waste reduction efforts more difficult.

The Fundamentals of 5S

I coached high school basketball for 4 years.  A significant learning from this experience was the importance of the basics, or the fundamentals.  We won a lot of games because we rebounded better, passed better and had fewer turnovers than the other teams we played.  Every day in practice we worked on the fundamentals of blocking out to improve our rebounding, the fundamentals of passing to get scoring opportunities, the fundamentals of  how to avoid dribbling so that we could overcome trapping defenses.  Because we did the little things right, the bigger things fell into place.

Rolling Out Lean Principles in a Business or Organization

A brief outline of the steps to rolling out Lean in the work place. Bear in mind that I believe success depends upon leadership and mentoring instead of supervision.
First, listen and teach. Set up brief training sessions using classroom time, Gemba walks, 5S, and identifying waste. Teach the group to use Lean tools to recognize opportunities while walking their work space. Frame what you teach in terms of the listeners’ value proposition. This is to gain trust. As a leader, you should be selling instead of telling. Teach basic tools they can use right now. Have the group document a list of opportunities.
Second, lead the group into a baby step project.  If they haven’t done so already, have the team create a list of opportunities and chose which they want to tackle as a project. At this point they become a team instead of a group of individuals. Teach them tools for use in their chosen project and go out and get it done. As others see the team’s activities, you may see the number of individuals interested in participating increase. Allow this to happen. You may have to create more than one team depending business circumstances.
Third, after a successful project, have the team re-evaluate the list they created earlier. It will change based upon what they have learned. Tackle another project from the list. Get some momentum from successful projects. This increases trust. Encourage the team to take on smaller projects in their own work space. Act as a facilitator and a supplier of resources. Lead instead of supervising. Again, as others see the team’s activities, you may see the number of individuals interested in participating increase. Allow this to happen. You may have to create more than one team depending business circumstances.
Forth, you are now in the midst of a Lean rollout. You may want to christen the rollout with a name that is unique to the team or teams. Be careful about asking the team to follow you in the Lean implementation on a larger scale. You don’t want the team(s) to see the process as a “program” they are doing for someone else. They need to see it as something they are doing for themselves (remember the value proposition they started with). The team(s) need to “own” the initiative. There will come a time for them to see it on a larger scale.
Fifth, you don’t have to use special names for tools and projects. This can create pushback. Listen to the people you are working with and they will indicate when, if ever, it is appropriate to start adding special names. The main thing is to keep in alignment with the overall value proposition of the business and in alignment with the team’s value proposition.
Sixth, “keep the main thing the main thing” by not allowing the effort to become personally yours. The effort belongs to the group and the business as a whole. As much as possible, stay in a leadership mode instead of a supervisory mode.

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

One of the challenges that we have as leaders is to keep our eye on the ball. Since we are responsible for driving our organizations to the finish line using the least amount of resources possible, and at the same time achieving the greatest value possible, we cannot afford to get distracted by non-core issues.

When the boat is sinking, the color of the bailing bucket is not all that important. Yet, all of us have seen leaders get caught up in issues that do not move the organization forward. Examples of issues that get in the way of progress are office politics, finger pointing, whose job it is, etc.

Waste Reduction and 5-S

Waste can take many forms. There is waste of time, material, human resources, etc., all of which result in a waste of money for the business and its customers. Time and material is easy to understand, even if not always easy to see. The waste of human resources is more insidious.

Everything is interconnected and waste is usually found to be both the result of other waste and the cause of other waste. The ability to see both the big picture and the little picture at the same time is important. Fixing waste in one area that creates waste somewhere else is called sub-optimization and is counterproductive. Solid leadership and a shared vision will save the day in any waste reduction initiative.

Standardizing Processes

When working to improve a process, it is not enough to implement a solution and stop. Without a plan to maintain the gains, at the first sign of trouble, systems will revert to what has been comfortable in the past. That usually means a return to some past operating procedure. To prevent this, there must be a linkage of the improvement to the management system. This involves monitoring important metrics, documenting methods and procedures, and providing a strategy for dealing with problems in the future.

5S and the Engineering of Waste Reduction

5-S

The 5-S philosophy is associated with lean thinking. The objective of lean thinking is to provide a business with long-term profitability by developing a more effective workplace, which is accomplished by eliminating waste in the work environment. The result is a safer workplace, improved product quality, and lower costs for both the business and its customers.

 Lean thinking may result in a reduction in work force, but that is not its purpose. In fact, the application of lean thinking for the purpose of reducing the work force is not lean thinking at all. Since some companies have done this, lean thinking has been given a bad reputation and has made waste reduction efforts more difficult.