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5S Again and Again and Again

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Dear Gemba Coach,

I've just inherited responsibility for our 5S efforts in our company. And I face a huge challenge getting the program back on track.

Last summer, a consultant launched a big 5S program with an internal lean champion. We had great results for the first few months. But the consultant is gone and the champion is stepping down. I recently reviewed 5S scores from the past two months as scored by the last team. Scores were in the 80's for all departments. They were giving themselves high scores and everyone was happy. I just did my own audit and I came up with scores in the 40's- 50's! The production floor is a mess. Tool boards are missing tools, there’s trash on the floors, and all sorts of equipment and supplies are hidden behind machines. Much of what was done over the summer is gone. It's going to be very difficult to get everyone excited about this program again. And it doesn't help that every time management is scheduled to visit, team leaders tell people to "go 5S your area before they get here." That's not 5S. That's tossing the dirty clothes under the bed before your in-laws arrive. This whole cycle has happened at least other 2 times before. Consultant comes, 5S, consultant leaves, 5S dies. Any suggestions or pearls of wisdom on how to do this right? It seems we do 3S over and over but never get to the last 2 Ss.

The 5S question has dogged the lean movement since the 1980s when some of the early Japanese sensei insisted that you should do “5S” for two years before moving on to anything else. At the time this Karate Kid “paint the fence” approach (i.e. do nothing but a simple preparatory drill) had the unexpected results of splitting people interested in lean in two camps. The first were those who gave up because, come on, “5S for TWO YEARS? Where’s the payback?” The other camp comprised the true fanatics who did it, but then had trouble graduating away from 5S into other systemic tools. They established the “lean is for dorks” myth in the process.

5S is a fundamental tool of the lean toolbox and absolutely necessary at many stages of the transformation. Let’s take a step back and try to clarify the problem from a PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) point of view. In other words, what is the problem you’re trying to solve with 5S?
At the beginning of the transformation, it makes sense to ask a champion to push through a  5S (or 3S) program to get the car out of the mud and on the track. One has to be clear, however, that such a program can’t be sustained.
Remember that most lean tools are typical responses to typical production problems. Additionally, most lean tools are essentially methods to help people visualize production—drawing the right conclusion is up to the lean practitioner. 5S is primarily a tool for “cleaning the window,” a method that helps someone see the shop floor or the workstation by getting one’s hands dirty, sorting, eliminating, ordering, cleaning, and so on. Practicing 5S is essentially a way to learn how to see. Getting someone else to do 5S defeats the purpose. The person who most needs to do the 5S is the person who will have to solve the problems.

But what is the Check? What results are expected of a 5S initiative? 5S is mainly useful in two ways in the lean journey. First, as a wake-up call. Okay, this use may come more from a one-time hit of 3S. If the shop floor is a complete mess, there’s very little chance of implementing any lean processes. So the first step is to teach supervisors to keep the workplace in good working conditions. The Check here is whether individual supervisors can maintain a good enough standard of 3S in their areas, and the Act is how to help them if they can’t. It makes sense to launch this with a big campaign, because it forces supervisors to engage all employees and deal with resistance, especially with those who have not been exposed to this new discipline.

Stuck in the Mud
The second use of 5S is more involved. Lean at the workplace rests on the twin notions of standardized work and kaizen. Effectiveness comes from the ability of operators to make good parts within a takt time by following a standard sequence of actions. Whenever they can’t – they stumble for whatever reason – this is an opportunity for kaizen. As lean focuses on the workplace, it quickly becomes apparent that the mess there is a large cause of variability – as well as the lack of forethought in the ordering of placements. 5S (5 here, not just 3) is a key tool to, again, clean the window at workstation level and teach team leaders and operators how to organize their cells better – and have a say of how their work environment is organized. The check here is not an audit on the 5S level, but the stability of hourly productivity in terms of parts per person per hour. This second use of 5S can no longer be done through an across-the-board 5S program, but by teaching each individual supervisor how to train their cell team leaders (and we’re assuming cells and stable teams here, by no means a given) to work with their teams at maintaining the full 5S – creating the cleaning routines and maintaining the discipline through regular checks and adjustments.

The key transformation lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way from my senseis is that lean transformation is about using the lean tools to develop the kaizen mindset in every employee, as opposed to applying the lean tools to every process to get a quick boost. Clearly, at the beginning of the transformation, it makes sense to ask a champion to push through a transverse 5S (or 3S) program to get the car out of the mud and on the track. One has to be clear, however, that such a program can’t be sustained (many lean champions have been burned by attempts at keeping transverse “5S” programs alive over time), by its very nature. There is no clear check (beyond audits – yuck!) and there is no half-assed engagement of people. You must see the transformation in terms of how well the individual supervisors are creating standard conditions in their areas.

The issue then becomes a “train the trainer” program: how to train supervisors at 5S so that they train their teams at practicing it every day. Sustainability then becomes a straightforward management issue of making sure people do what they’re trained to every day, and if quality, productivity or delivery lags, knowing to first check the 5S conditions as a cell, not as a way to solve the problem, but as a way to keep production visible so that the problems will be revealed.

10 Comments | Post a Comment
Juan Alfredo Hermann, Caracas, Venezuela August 20, 2009
I think this is an excelent article. 5S is the basis for any lean, productivity, quality and other programs, most particularly when the organization is a small, family type, business, with a production shop that runs with poor organization.
NO doubt you have to standarize work (that would be putting emphazis on the Process) BUT it´s the People that are the key to change. If the People in the Gemba are not taught intelligently to change their habits (3S and then 5S), all the standarized manuals and procedures will be useless.
Thank you for this article
Subrahmanian August 21, 2009
This coach had faced similar lean periods of 5S. On contemplating, it was found that the 4th and 5th S was not adequately carried through, to keep the organisation focussed on the practice of 5S. Once that was established, ( well it took over an year) 5S stays put in the organsation
Anonymous August 21, 2009
Sadly enough, this is more than likely a result of management dictating to the workforce the need to change instead of instilling in the employees the need for change.

For real sustaining change to take place the employees must first understand the reason for the change and how they will benefit from it. Then allow the employees to implement the change, which in this case is 5S. Long term change, such as sustaining 5S is only possible if the employees have taken ownership of 5S.

I've seen 5S implemented where only a small percentage of the employees were involved, usually hand picked. They learn the principles and then implement them without the other employees understanding what it is all about, so they don't have ownership and leave it up to the implementation team to sustain it.
Claudia Morales August 21, 2009
We introduced 5S program about 2 years ago and we are still learning from the 3 Ss and getting into the 4th and 5th one slowly. The system has ups and downs, but everyone wants to get there and that is what the key part is on all this deal and we keep it fun!
tjansen August 21, 2009
5S is one of the great challenges within a manufacturing environment. I agree that all team members need to be trained on the importance of 5S, but the principles of 5S are quite simple when you think about it. The difficult part of 5S and many of the lean principles is the sustainment or buy-in. Change is difficult to digest for many. Any facility embarking on a 5S journey needs to be committed at all levels of leadership and be willing to have the difficult conversations it may take to drive the culture. Once the leadership team owns the orginazation and standardising of the plant you will have a culture of sustainment because it will become the expectation. You can't rely on the Continuous Improvement Department to drive the improvement. It will die on the vine. 5S will drive results in your business, but the journey doesn't bear immediate results. The results come from the committment and discipline of 5S and in time will deliver outstanding results to the bottom line.
Gerzahin August 24, 2009
I think this article is very usefull for companies that want to introduce a 5S program.In my experience one thing that helped me to implement 5S and TPM in my GEMBA was to create "GEMBA owners", I mean, make that people is responsible for what happen any moment in their GEMBA (issues that affect safety , quality, production, stock outs,etc.)but they can be supportive for any manager in the organization.
Lando September 3, 2009
In my experience, a way that can also work in order to sustain 5S is including it in the cascade follow-up practices by managers of all hierarchical levels: for example: daily by supervisor; weekly by plant manager; monthly by general director; quarterly by another top manager... (the structure depends on the company's organization) using a very useful and visual tool: kamishibai board, or a kind of audit boards with the PDCA reflection practices during/after each follow-up. Of course, 5S is just one of the topics to be checked during this follow-ups activities...
Mike T. September 8, 2009
Remember that 5S is far more than housekeeping and drawing a connection from 5S to the "bottom line" of a business isn't necessarily the way to motivate employees.

So many employers/managers seem to think that operators will certainly "latch on" to something if we show them how it affects the bottom line. Inherent threats of lost business, facility closures, etc, while sometimes true, are all too often used as negative motivators. Operators become de-sensitized to the threats over time. The key is to draw the operators in by showing them what can be gained through 5S.

Rather than stop there with the 5000-foot philosophy that you so often get in forums, lets look a little deeper, at the GEMBA:

What does 5S really do? It identifies when tools are missing (shadow boards, foam cut-outs, etc). It organizes tools by need (those needed most often are within reach, with need dictating what is on a shadow board, what is in the top drawer or bottom drawer of a toolbox, and what is in a cabinet away from the immediate work area). It reduces tool theft (over time, when things are visible, they are far more difficult to walk away with and not return). It creates a visual work area with accountability and responsibility (and even a little humility if you are caught being the one who didn’t put something back).

How does 5S affect the worker? It reduces unnecessary movement; including bending and twisting that can cause ergonomic problems. It reduces the amount of time wasted looking for tools, even if those tools are in an established drawer (try finding a 7/16 socket in a drawer with 30 random sockets, as opposed to cut-outs). If done with the operator rather than to the operator, it helps them see the improvement, helps them organize where they want, and helps them become involved in the Lean transformation. In all, the operator begins to see how much time he was losing while trying to find things, making it impossible for him to achieve Takt or Cycle (depending on where you are in your Lean transformation). By working with him and showing him the reduced time needed, yet the easier the work is, he begins to see what “waste elimination” really is…not “reduce the number of heads”.

All of this is done to achieve a greater understanding of Lean. 5S is merely a tool. The goal is to learn how to use the tool, then learn what the underlying concept(s) is behind the tool, then start to *see* the theory behind the concept. If you are only seeing the tool, you have a long way to go to gain the true value of 5S.
Tina Seirup Nielsen September 29, 2009
I absolutely agree that the main purpose of 5S is productivity - having what you need when you need it - as well as standardization to able to spot problems. The Gemba coach asking this question is faced with the problem of, that the 5S program in his company needs to be re-implemented, or in other words; people's perception of 5S needs to be 're-programmed', since they clearly don't see the benefit of it.

In my experience, for employees to see and believe in the importance and purpose of doing any activity that they are not doing today, management first of all need to lead the way - so they need to believe and show that 5S is more than 'cleanliness' and when doing this, their job is to teach and challenge their middle management.

Next step is of course the middle management, for example supervisors, and since this is the second time around and since people already have a certain perception of 5S, it is really difficult to change this around - to 're-program' this in peoples mind because their perception comes from their own experience where they could not see the actual purpose of doing 5S. One approach could be re-training, another approach could be to make a 'show-case'; a good example of 5S standards, behaviour and benefits of this, by for example choosing one area where the supervisor is positive, or at least easier to convince, and really make this work by teaching and coaching the supervisors and operators, and then let other areas see this - seeing is believing and if working, stronger than re-training alone.
Mike Bee June 21, 2017

Well, I am working for a company with 230 people producing valves in germany.


How can I get the people interested in 5S ?

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