5S and Workflow

This company launched their focus on continuous improvement with a 5S campaign. Teams were set up, had the basic 5S training, and met with their management sponsors weekly.

One team was having problems getting past the initial “sort” phase of clearing out unused stuff. They struggled with setting up any kind of visual controls, for example.

A couple of months ago, we focused on their workflow for introducing the PDCA improvement cycle (“kata”) to the area supervisor.

We were using a combination of observation of the actual work, running tabletop simulations to develop things to try out, and live experiments in the work area as we ran rapid PDCA cycles throughout the days. We were after concentrated reps so they could practice.

They still struggled until we finally got the tabletop simulation to flow. The supervisor “got it.” She said “Oh…. I can see the big picture now.” She had been bogged down in the details, and hadn’t been seeing that they could improve their productivity dramatically by slowing down to the planned cycle time.

Once they had a target work cycle, they then tackled obstacles that were in the way of making real life work like what they had simulated, working them one by one.

Along the way, they saw a need to make “what to do” visual, and build it into the work area itself vs. just “telling then” or (probably worse) writing some kind of procedure.

Suddenly 5S had purpose. It was to help communicate what to do next, and to help see if “what is happening” is different from “what should be happening.”

The key learning is that this is really difficult if you haven’t thought through “what should be happening” first.

This team is now has the highest 5S score in the company… because 5S has a purpose.

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