So…What’s Your Problem with 5S?

Photo by Jake Nebov on Unsplash

I was just responding to a post on LinkedIn that included a poll one was to respond to after reading the following question:

Picture that an exhaustive, scientific study was conducted at your company. It conclusively showed that 5S/Workplace Organization efforts require significantly more time, money, and effort than just letting people wing it. Furthermore, the study demonstrated that the cost differences are so vast that closing this efficiency gap is impossible.

If the study’s validity was beyond question, what would your decision be and why?

I responded that, while I understood that the question was based on a “thought experiment”, such study findings are impossible to imagine.

One of the post author’s goals was to get readers to reflect on the advisability of engaging in 5S without a clear understanding of its benefits.  I get that sentiment.

But the idea that 5S could “require significantly more time, money, and effort than just letting people wing it” is impossible to get my head around.  Workplace organization and visual management is probably the least expensive, highest ROI initiative an organization can carry out.  Let’s face it, all that’s required is getting rid of all the crap you don’t need, cleaning what’s left, and establishing a marked and labeled home address for everything.  That’s it.

The benefits are improved safety, improved operator satisfaction, improved throughput, reduced indirect time, and improved quality.

None of this is to say that implementing 5S is easy.  If that were the case, every manufacturing operation in the country would be clean and well organized.  (Believe me, that’s not remotely the case!)  Implementing 5S has its challenges and sustaining it certainly requires a good deal of patience, discipline, and commitment.    But that’s very different from claiming that it doesn’t have much value or that it might “cost too much”.


Process Mapping and Culture Change

First, it’s amazing how quickly time can fly between blog posts.  I would have bet my last one was no more than three weeks ago.

I just finished a gig that involved a facilitating three process mapping teams.

Here’s how that got carried out:

  1. Leadership picked three core strategic processes.
  2. Three process mapping teams (PMT’s) were launched.
  3. The PMT’s developed a project charter, a current state map of the process they were to target, an analysis of the variances of the current state map, and recommendations for improving the process.
  4. The PMT’s reviewed the recommendations with leadership.
  5. Leadership approved the recommendations.
  6. Three Process Improvement Teams (PIT’s) were formed to turn the recommendations into action plans.

There are stories to be told about each of those steps but I want to talk about #3.  That’s where all the action takes place that holds the potential for culture change.

How does culture change happen?

And what, exactly, is it that “happens there” that serves as the source for this culture change?  In a word…conversation.    In two words…facilitated conversation.  In…several words…facilitated conversation among members of a team with a mutual goal.

The conversation:

  • Generates ideas and discussion of those ideas.
  • Highlights disagreements and prompts discussion of those disagreements.
  • Exchanges information and transfers knowledge.
  • Provides opportunities to practice team-based decision-making and problem solving.

Why don’t these things happen in everyday meetings?

Don’t these things happen in the every day meetings that employees take part in?  In my own experience, the answer is no.  Why this is so is probably worth another blog post…if not an entire book.  In general, the guardrails are just too tight in those routine meetings.  The topics are narrow, the roles of team members are set in stone, everyone knows what he or she is allowed and expected to say and not to say.  The meetings take place well within the parameters of the existing culture.

Boxes and arrows = Culture change

The same simply isn’t true of process mapping meetings.  One reason is that too many organizations simply haven’t engaged in mapping their core strategic processes.  It’s a novel activity that leads to new ways of talking to each other and fresh insights as to why things are the way they are in the organization.  Repeated enough times (e.g., lots of process mapping teams and process improvement teams), these new ways of talking and  the continual development of fresh insights become commonplace.  The organization becomes more agile, more responsive, more able to gather and analyze data and information.  That, in turn, leads to better decision making, planning, problem solving, management of agreement, and collaboration.

So, yeah…boxes and arrows can lead to real culture change in your company.

Here’s an Interesting Discussion on LinkedIn

I’ve all but given up on LinkedIn.  A platform that was meant to be a place for managers to network and share ideas has become a warren of congratulatory notes and advertisements.  Every so often I run into an interesting discussion like this one about Value Stream Mapping.

Here’s the question that kicks all the back-and-forth off:  “Have the TPS Senseis ever done a VSM during a kaizen workshop?”  (Talk about your string of lean jargon!

As you read the responses to the original post, you’ll see that bashing VSM’s appears to be a favorite pastime of some lean practitioners:  “VSMs are imbecilic.”

A number of others are more charitable.

Like most lean tools, VSM’s are useful…and they can be overdone.  Some of the commenters pointed to the many symbols and the rote manner in which VSM’s are developed.  Others mention the number of dusty VSM’s adorning the walls of organizations they’ve known.  (I’ve seen that myself.  I pointed to one such example on the wall of a meeting room at a prospective client.  When I said, “I see you’ve done a Value Stream Map,” to the general manager, he replied, “Is that what that is?  A consultant we had a couple of years ago put that together.  We kind of forgot it was there.”)  But those aren’t deficits of the tool itself, they are deficits of the manner in which they’re developed and used (or not used).

First, I’ve never done a kaizen workshop.  So I’ve never done a VSM (Value!”  Stream Map) as part of one.  But I have worked on any number of VSM’s with client teams.  I like them.  I find that most clients don’t actually know how material and information flow through their organizations, so the development of a map often turns on a lot of “eureka!” and idea bulbs.  This is especially true of non-manufacturing processes.

I find that drawing a process map with simple boxes and arrows as a team is describing the flow of work, information, and materials serves as a good “note taking” method.  Additionally, a process map is a picture, a map of information and material flow.  People like using pictures and maps to understand  complex things.

Best of all, getting people together to develop and discuss and Value Stream Map actually changes the culture of an organization.  It’s a collaborative process.  It’s a sharing process.  It’s a creative process.  It’s a process that creates empathy and understanding of others in the organization.

So, if you’re one of those folks who don’t seem to like VSM’s much…maybe you’re not developing or using them correctly.




Six Sigma Had a Demise?

I happened across an article, just a couple of weeks ago, about the alleged demise of Six Sigma.   (Read the article here.) Now, I’ve never been either a huge fan or a detractor of Six Sigma.  I myself am not a Six Sigma any-kind-of-belt but I took a fair amount of statistics in college and grad school, some of it pretty advanced.  All to say, I’m aware of both the utility and the limits of statistical tools of the sort Six Sigma practitioners use.  I’m also aware that Six Sigma isn’t just a bundle of statistical tools, rather it’s an overall approach to analyzing and addressing variation of both processes themselves and the outputs they deliver.  Finally, I’m aware that, the only thing the media like better than boosting a particular management “fad”  (and I use that term cautiously, mainly because I don’t like it.  It’s most often used by lazy journalists writing the sorts of articles I’m about to refer to)…is tearing management “fads” apart.  The article in question isn’t quite the latter but it is a good example of an article that gets a lot of stuff wrong as it makes the case that Six Sigma is, perhaps, passe`.  Mind you, it’s not a bad article…in fact, it’s well worth reading.  But…well, let’s take a look at the article in a bit of detail and I’ll go over some of my quibbles.

Continue reading “Six Sigma Had a Demise?”

“But What If We Don’t Need Workplace Organization?”

I was talking recently with a very smart distribution manager at one of my clients.  We’ve been very involved with Workplace Organization and Visual Management all over the organization and especially in manufacturing.  That fits my usual modus operandi.

The manager was telling me that his folks are getting a bit bored with these phases and are starting to wonder what the purpose of all this “lean stuff” is given that a strong focus on Workplace Organization doesn’t do much for them in the warehouse.

Continue reading ““But What If We Don’t Need Workplace Organization?””

How to Implement Lean Manufacturing: Simplify and Solve – Setup and Changeover Time Reduction: Part 3

In Part 1, we talked about the “why” of quick change.  In Part 2, we started the discussion of “how” to get to quick change.  In particular, we talked about gathering some information about the current state of setups and changeovers, e.g., how long they take and how they’re carried out.  In Part 3, we’re going to talk about what to do with that information.

Continue reading “How to Implement Lean Manufacturing: Simplify and Solve – Setup and Changeover Time Reduction: Part 3”

How to Implement Lean Manufacturing: Simplify and Solve – Setup and Changeover Time Reduction: Part 1

Before you read this post, take a look at this video.  It’s related to our topic and…it’s just really cool.  (You can start at the 30 second point.  Then, watch closely because it happens quickly.)

Continue reading “How to Implement Lean Manufacturing: Simplify and Solve – Setup and Changeover Time Reduction: Part 1”