A culture of self-discipline

Organising the workplace (or Workplace Organisation – 5S) and maintaining it the way it should be, is a good work culture. Why then do we see variations? A good culture strives to improvise; a bad one creates inconsistency causing variations. So is 5S merely a housekeeping program? I don’t think so. A good housekeeping program will fall short of solving problems and can defeat problem solving by sweeping the evidence needed for analysing the root cause and implementing a permanent corrective action. It is also a problem identification and problem solving program. How? When 5S shows us something is out of place, we ask the question ‘why is it out of place?’ And we continue to ask ‘why’ atleast five times or more if required until we get down to the root cause and then take appropriate action to obliterate the problem.

It's not that Ted was a bad guy, he was just all out of 5's.

It’s not that Ted was a bad uy, he was just all out of “5’s.”

The five whys must be built into the 5S program for effective results. In companies where 5S is attempted and experience the problem repeating one of the reasons would be not asking the question ‘why’ enough number of times. The goal of any 5S implementation should be to prevent problems from occurring or to identify and fix problems and not merely good housekeeping. Take care of the small things and the big things will take care of themselves.

Imagine these examples; a tool or a measuring instrument could be found out of place even if kept safely by the operator; finding hardware on the shop floor is fairly common; trolleys and pallet cars can be found encroaching the aisle, or placed where they should not be; WIP can be seen in plenty and placed randomly; at many places we see that scrap and process waste are not segregated; charts and instruction boards are dirty and unkempt; drawings and paper lying around; electrical panel doors found open and not locked; leakage of hydraulic and coolant oils; powder from powder coating flying around; untreated effluent; unkempt raw material yard; dust; cobwebs; leaking taps; smelly toilets … and I can go on, but I think you get the idea.

So when we find any part, item or person in a place it should not be in, the tendency is mostly to put it back where it belongs. And that is easy because one does not have to exercise the brain. If we do this the problem is not identified and solved but brushed under. So it will keep reoccurring and reappear with a different face each time. Instead when we start asking the question ‘why’ numerous times, until we exhaust all possible causes and act to eradicate every identified cause. This way we can solve the problem at its grass root level.

Many organisations start their lean program with 5S because it is a necessary fundamental discipline, and builds and demonstrates a culture of self-discipline. Why is self-discipline necessary here? Because of two reasons; it is required to follow the standards, and it forms the basis for further process improvement – Jidoka, Standard Work, Kaizen, Kanban, et al. So where compliance with 5S is not complete, the total lean program may remain a dream. Many organisations create a head for 5S calling him the Champion. So the job is subcontracted to him, and there is no ownership by the others. I think this is a six sigma concept and not a lean concept. You don’t find a 5S champion in Toyota or other true lean companies. And that is because 5S is everyone’s fundamental responsibility. The top management must train itself first and then train those below, and the pattern follows till every worker is trained. Remember the adage ‘as is the King, so are the followers.’ 5S is more than a process or a system, it has to be adopted by all as a culture or mindset.

But is that good enough? No, not at all. One must learn to wear the Muda spectacles. What are these? It is developing the ability to see the deviations, non-conformance, changes, wastes and variations etc, to the standards. One must develop the ability to quickly point out such variations to the standard, and that is being alert. The spirit of 5S is to build that self-discipline. The 5S program displays the organisations culture and mindset and allows for problems to be prevented from occurring. The old adage rightly says, ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place.’ When everything has a place and is in its place, and we are not asking ‘why’ anymore or when there are no more why’s to be asked, with all that self-discipline built in we now are ready to begin the lean journey.

One of the most discussed topics is why lean journeys fail. The tools are a no brainer, but the discipline to follow a standard, consistency, continuous learning and improvement, and forming the required daily habits are a different ball game. And following a rigorous 5S regime helps develop many good attributes necessary to succeed with lean implementation. Remember 5S helps you to see the problems when they are small, and one doesn’t have to wait till they become big and catastrophes! The Rule of Ten states that as problems progress through the development process, they will require ten times more time, money, and resources to correct. A good 5S implementation will help avoid that and save money.

Author: Sanjeev Baitmangalkar