5S Just Isn’t Going to Work Here

By on September 20, 2016
5S Just Isn’t Going to Work Here i ♥ happy!!

Our bi-weekly 5S team meeting was just getting underway when Tom, an active and very productive member of the team, said, “I just don’t think 5S is going to work here.” Another team member asked Tom why he thought this.

This is what Tom said: “Just after the horn sounded, signaling the end of break time, I noticed that Bill wadded up a newspaper he was reading and just threw it on floor, even though there was a waste can ten feet from where he was standing. I give up.

Jenny, the Assistant Plant Manager and a 5S team member, responded to Tom’s comment, saying “Let me tell you something about Bill. I’ve known him for a long time. When he was three years old he threw his clothes on the floor of his bedroom and his mother picked them up. This continued until he got married and left home. Now his wife picks up his clothes off the floor. The concept of neatness, of putting things away, isn’t even part of the way Bill’s brain works. 5S will work here but we have to change the way a number of employees think.

What I’ve just described happened over twelve years ago and had a major impact on my understanding of what it takes to drive a sustainable Lean transformation. Before hearing what Jenny said, 5S was the first Lean change intervention I’d recommend to clients. If we could make all areas of a plant lean, orderly, and clean and make the orderliness unbreakable through the robust use of visual controls, the foundation of Lean would be in place and other tools of Lean like Value Stream Mapping, Quick Changeover, Kaizen Events, Pull Production, Andon, Kanban, and others could be put in place. So my thinking went.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Bill had been through 5S training. He knew what the 5Ss were. In our 5S team meetings we had talked about the Sort, Store, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain phases of 5S. He had seen his fellow employees applying Sort, Store, and Shine to their work areas. Despite all of this, his brain made absolutely no connection between what he had heard and seen and throwing a newspaper on the floor rather than walking ten feet and dropping it in a trash can.

What Bill had heard in 5S team meetings had not changed the way his brain worked.

Before really thinking about Bill’s behavior and Jenny’s interpretation of it, I would have thought that Bill was engaging in an “in your face” rejection of 5S and all it stood for.

He wasn’t. What he did simply reflected the way his brain worked.

Several years later, I came across a comment Einstein made on the change process. He said:

“We can’t solve problems using the same type of thinking we used when we created them.”

In the absence of changes in thinking it would be naïve, I came to realize, to expect changes in the way employees thought about their work environments and work processes. Doing 5S and doing Value Stream Mapping would be, for them, a form of play acting. It would be form without substance.

Given this fact, the challenge we faced was that of designing a Lean transformation process that first addressed employee thinking processes before it started to apply the tools of Lean like 5S, Value Stream Mapping and others.

And here’s what our redesigned Lean transformation process looks like:

Lean transformation process

The Kaizen Thinking series of eleven, one-hour sessions on the elimination of waste begins the process of changing the way employees think about waste. Had Bill gone through this series of experiences targeted at the elimination of waste, his thinking processes would have started to shift. With many employees there is an “Ah-Ha” moment when the core logic of Lean comes through loud and clear. Folks like Bill come to understand that throwing a newspaper on the plant floor rather than in a waste can just doesn’t make sense. It’s simply not rational behavior.

The Idea Board is an elegantly simple yet powerful visual control that captures the waste-spottings that employees make during the Kaizen Thinking series. This is what an Idea Board looks like.

Lean Idea Board in Action

As employees spot waste they write what they’ve spotted on a Post-it® note, sign their name, date it and put it on the Idea Board’s “Ideas” column. And as steps are taken to eliminate the waste they’ve spotted, the Post-it® note moves from column to column. Employees can see the results of their application of Kaizen thinking. Watch this video containing interviews with employees at three of our clients on the impact of the Idea Board.

After triggering changes in the way employees think about waste, we recommend the implementation of the 5S System. Our clients form 5S Core Teams who receive training in the five stages of 5S as well as methods of coaching employees in the application of these stages of 5S. As 5S is gradually applied, work area by work area, employees come to see and then directly experience the logic of lean, orderly, and clean. The transformation of their thinking processes continues.

Toyota KATA by Mike RotherWhile the process I’ve just described triggers changes in the way employees think about waste, these changes need to be continually reinforced. In response to this challenge, we have developed a six-session series of 2-hour discussions centered on a best seller written by Mike Rother, a faculty member at the University of Michigan and the Technical University of Dortmund, Germany, entitled “Toyota KATA.” Many leading experts on Lean manufacturing have said that the KATA process, which Rother carefully documents in this book, is the “missing link” when it comes to the successful implementation of Lean work processes. It helps transform work environments in which work process improvements are episodic into work environments in which work process improvements are continuous and sustainable. KATA does this by making employees think like scientists, using the scientific method to approach problem solving, guided in every approach by five KATA questions. It’s a powerful tool. It changes the way employee think. As one of our clients commented on this series:

“The Toyota KATA training program has provided our management team with the knowledge and tools to successfully engage our employees in helping us continually evaluate and improve our processes so we can provide best in class service to our customers…Kudos to St. Louis Community College for sharing Toyota KATA in such an interesting and creative way.”
Kathy Abbett; President, NOVA Marketing Services

It’s very clear that unless our “Bills” change the way they think, our attempts to change the way they act will be futile. I believe that our Lean transformation process will do just that. After going through this set of experiences, when Bill finishes reading his newspaper, he’ll throw it in the trash can.

I’d very much appreciate having the opportunity to discuss our Lean transformation process with you. I think you’d find it time very well spent. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk.

Messy storage room with boxes” by i ♥ happy!! is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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