5S – Why bother?
The 5S methodology is nothing new in industry these days, but it’s surprising how often such a simple, yet potentially extremely effective methodology fails to deliver its expected results. Considering how long 5S has been with us you’d think that generally speaking we should have managed to get it right by now. I’d like to share some of my own experiences of 5S implementation with you – Why it fails to deliver, and what are the major factors that we must avoid so that we don’t fall into this trap.
5S methodology follows five stages of implementation – SORT (eliminate un-needed items), SET (a place for everything, everything in its place), SHINE (check for abnormality), STANDARDISE (simplify and define best practice), and SUSTAIN (ensure that disciplines are maintained). For organisations embarking on implementing Lean, 5S is often seen as the best starting place and remarkable visual impact and tangible benefits can be yielded within a very short timeframe of implementing just the first three stages of 5S. However, it’s during these early stages of implementation where an organisation is most vulnerable to making the oh-so-common errors that are the hallmarks of failure. So what are the most significant pitfalls to avoid failure?
Not getting real management buy-in
Managers are busy people, surely if the 5S principles are so basic why do management need to get involved? – WRONG! Everyone has a part to play in making 5S work, offering token support just doesn’t work – involvement has to be seen to be done at all levels. Delegating 5S administration down the management chain might get you by in the short term if you’re lucky, and then it inevitably falls apart. People in the process don’t value 5S if they perceive management don’t value it – they need to see their managers engaging in regular reviews with the workforce as well as becoming involved in the initial 5S kaizen teamwork.
“Do unto others as you would expect others to do unto you” sounds like a good idea. Upholding best practice instilled by 5S is only as good as the consistency and rigour put into it. A great deal of energy is expended getting the initial benefits of 5S and this can all go to ruin if compliance to agreed standards and objectives are patchy. Everything will tend to degenerate to the lowest level of compliance – if 5S standards in the manager’s office aren’t seen to be followed then there’s an almost certain likelihood that 5S will not be sustained throughout the rest of the organisation.
Poor demarcation of the organisation
Unclear or undefined areas of ownership and responsibility can have a big contribution to failure. Area ownership boundaries are often defined to the edges of the areas’ functional limits leaving ‘islands of no responsibility’. The most obvious example of this is leaving ownership of adjacent walkways undefined. Anywhere there’s a lack of ownership unofficial ‘dumping grounds’ are created, if these happen to be walkways, serious health & safety risks can develop.
Once you start a 5S implementation you have to plan to finish it within a reasonable timeframe. If timeframes are too long, or delays are imposed on implementation, perceptions will be ‘well, this can’t be all that important can it?’ – another killer blow in the long run. As implementation timeframes for larger organisations can often extend beyond 12 months it is vital to be sure that an effective audit mechanism is put in place as soon as possible as this goes a long way towards stopping inconsistencies developing over time.
Uncontrolled disposal of un-needed items
During the SORT phase of 5S implementation there should be clear rules for the disposal of non-essentials. Getting rid of non-essentials isn’t just a ‘license to scrap’, often there are opportunities to reallocate. Where un-needed items are inventories it’s important to create rules that will assure that these excesses cannot recur, and that clear mechanisms exist for absorbing inventories back into the system. I encountered an example of this with a client where their service replacement parts were being brought back to their workshops by field service engineers and handed over to internal engineers on a ‘just in case you can make use of it’ basis. Because there wasn’t a clearly defined system to bring these back to central stores this inventory was invisible. This organisation quickly realised well over £¼M in cash flow gains by introducing simple procedures to get returned parts back to where they belonged. Another problem with disposal of non-essentials is not having clear rules for defining equipment asset value – disposing of equipment with residual asset value in an uncontrolled manner will guarantee a bad reputation for any 5S implementation. I’ve heard of plenty of experiences where apparently redundant equipment, jigs and fixtures have been disposed of only to find out in no time at all that they are needed for another job.
Assuming shining is just cleaning
It’s not as easy as you would imagine to ‘sell’ 5S when a major stumbling block at the SHINE phase is people misunderstanding this requirement to be just janitorial duties. This is especially galling for office staff to take. One of my clients had previously tried promoting their 5S implementation by awarding ‘the golden broom’ at the end of the week to the supervisor in charge of the best kept department – no guesses how soon that implementation fell over! If this is not addressed right from the start with thorough explanation of what the shine phase is really about, there will be no real buy-in from staff. It is absolutely vital that SHINE is explained in its proper context of ‘routinely checking for abnormality’ – its primary function – to ensure valuable equipment can be maintained to always perform in a safe way at maximum effectiveness.
Not clearly associating 5S to the 7 wastes of Lean
Taking the previous statement to its logical conclusion, if 5S discipline cannot be effectively communicated to be completely in support of eliminating ALL the Lean wastes, then it’s clearly not going to be the expected ‘foundation’ stone required to support Lean. So it’s essential that initial and continuing communication of the linkage to Lean is completely understood by all.
Not having a clear linkage to improvement activity
Introducing 5S without creating a mechanism for using it to identify on-going process issues and inefficiencies will ultimately become a definite ‘why bother’ scenario. Good 5S implementation WILL focus people’s minds to be able to distinguish what’s not right and allow them to communicate these up to people that have responsibility to do something about them. This is an essential lesson for any organisation wanting to demonstrate a ‘Continuous Improvement’ attitude. If there are no mechanisms to communicate opportunities to improve, or if they exist but are not effective, then staff will simply not give management the essential information they need to keep efficiencies moving in the right direction.
Lack of auditing consistency
It’s surprising how many times I’ve seen 5S implementations floundering because no formal auditing has been implemented. Auditing forms the transition between STANDARDISE and SUSTAIN phases, but in practice, the sooner auditing is introduced the better – ideally immediately after initial 5S kaizens are implemented. The next potential problem to overcome is lack of consistency between audits. Some people advocate cross-departmental audits to avoid measurement bias, and natural tendencies to over score, but this doesn’t singlehandedly account for inconsistency. The best ways to avoid inconsistency is to ensure audit questionnaires are as unambiguous as possible, and also to train more than one person to audit in any one area – rotating this responsibility around regularly so auditors skills stay fresh.
Not having a recognised review process
I find the most effective way of really addressing inconsistency is to augment departmental auditing with periodic senior management led audits involving local managers and staff members. Held at short notice, these can be highly effective in ensuring the auditing process is not inward-looking and provides a great vehicle for senior management to be seen to continue to directly promote the importance of their investment in 5S discipline.
Despite these potential pitfalls, 5S is still without doubt the best way to become involved in your Lean journey – it provides great value for money when done right first time and lays down solid ground on which to reap much bigger rewards. So we shouldn’t be afraid of giving it a go – even if the challenge is to rescue and revitalise existing implementations.
At Paloma Consulting, we have many years of experience in helping our clients ensure they avoid these pitfalls and can reap the fuller benefits of Lean. If you’d like to share your own 5S experiences with us or if you’d like to discuss 5S implementations further, we’d love to hear from you.