One area that people keep debating is why 5S does not sustain. There are various responses out there ranging from management not caring to too much culture change. I think the answer is simple. We are still treating it as a philosophy and not as a tool to see and solve problems. After all, problems are what keep us from satisfying the customer, from doing our job without interference.
It also takes the entire organization working as a team. It is not about management supporting 5S, supervisors meeting targets of 5S, and it is not about line workers doing the tasks of 5S. It takes everyone to understand it is about continual improvement and the elimination of waste. It takes everyone to see waste and to problem solve to remove it. Everyone has the responsibility. Few actually practice it. Why? Is it because of company or department politics, the hierarchical structure, or pressure to produce and not concentrate on quality? No. It is because they do not understand the purpose of 5S.
Like the other TPS tools developed to solve Toyota’s problems, which can cross over to solving our problems, the premise is visualizing and systematically eliminating waste. The 5S tool serves just that purpose. Yes it is nice to have things sorted, straightened, shined, standardized,and sustained. However for what purpose? I do not believe anyone knows how to answer that. Using a hand tool as an example:
- If it is sorted you will have the most often used tools closer to you, eliminating the waste of motion.
- If it is set in straightened out the tools are easy to find and to put away, which eliminates the waste of delay.
- If it is shined the tool is more likely to be functional and any abnormality can be seen, which eliminates delay, motion,and perhaps rework.
- If it is standardized the above is repeated by everyone, eliminating the waste of perhaps defects,over-processing, and all the others.
- If it is sustained, everyone is on board.
So what? We do it, but why? Where is my reward?
We make a big deal about management and cultural conditions that support 5S. We allocate time, teach, advertise, audit for awareness. We recognize achievers. With all this we still cannot sustain a simple thing as 5S. We know where to punch in on the clock and we do it on time. We know where the cafeteria is when it is lunch time and we use the cafeteria. We know how to perform our work task which we are being paid for and we do it. So why is 5S so difficult?
There are cause and effects to everything we do. Some positive and some negative. When it is positive we repeat it next time. When it is negative we learn, we problem solve, we implement solutions so that it will not happen again. We make it positive again. This is within our nature, our inherent need to improve. To fit 5S into our daily routine without being a culture shock, we need to understand how it applies to the process, to quality, to ease our work load from working around problems . . . waste.
I look at and teach 5S differently. Sure, I still use the typical training and implementation that most everyone seems to follow. However I start with the reason of Why Do We Do It?
- If it is sorted you are most likely to use the correct tool for the job, reducing if not eliminating the chance of creating a defect or defective product.
- If it is set in order, and you see it out of order as you go through your tasks. You can ask Why did I do that, or Why did the tool get placed over there. This indicates there is a problem in the process, and you need to fix the problem so it is not repeated.
- If it is shined you will know when it is broken and need of repair. Things typically do not break all of a sudden. There are leading indicators that should send signals to someone that it is in need of repair before loss of use. Cracks, leaks,excess noise, excess abrasion, all can be leading indicators and can be found if we keep it shined.
- If it is standardized, you can train personnel, and be able to rotate to a different job when needed.
- If it is sustained, you know you can begin work after the last shift as soon as the bell rings, and less likely to make a mistake because of it.
I worked for a company that did not audit 5S, management was not closely involved, yet 5S sustained. What was in it for the employees? The reason I saw was the employees understood how it made their life easier. They recognized that if they practiced 5S now, along with other quality initiatives, they get the work done and get to go home on time, while satisfying their customer. They are also more willing to come to work the next day knowing the other shifts do the same, hence they are looking forward to another good day. There is self satisfaction.
Is this the sole answer? No. There are many possibilities. However, if we stay on the track that management needs to get behind it, it is difficult for culture to change, that you need to assign responsibility and audit, yet there is still no change in your 5S, perhaps you have got it wrong. This is one definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome. Do you wash and wax your car just for fun? Do you get dressed up and to go out to meet people just for fun (well maybe so)? What is the motivation? What is the purpose? What are we to get out of it? If you satisfy that need, the work of 5S becomes much easier.
To put it another way, the current methods of implementing 5S seems to speak to the person at the end of the line saying, “we have no clue how it affects your paycheck, but trust us anyway and just do it”. People at the end of the line keep hearing that in different fashions from management, and basically are fed up with it. Treat them the way they want to be treated, as stakeholders.
Lastly, if we cannot explain 5S as a means to eliminate waste, would 5S then not be a waste in itself?