4S, 5S, 6S

Staight left an interesting post on The Whiteboard a couple of days ago:

You’ve discussed 5S but Novaces, for example, has a 6S system. I think it would be great if you talked about different consultant companies and their processes.

Novaces, it turns out, is a consultancy apparently based out of New Orleans. In the nature of full disclosure, I have to say that I know nothing about them other than what is on their web site plus they (apparently) teach 6S rather than 5S. I render no opinion either way about their competency or capability.

There are a lot of good consultancies out there. There are a lot of mediocre ones. There are some that are charlatans. I suppose one of the great ironies of the business is that, if you are capable of reliably vetting them on their competency, you probably don’t need them in the first place.

For the sake of the discussion, though, I want to limit myself to the population of really good ones. These are the ones who are primarly there to teach the clients how to engage in the kind of sharp critical thinking that charactarizes high-performance organizations.

The good consultancies will have an approach that applies the same principles. And here is the key point:

As long as the basic principles of the thinking structure get embedded, it really does not matter that much how they do it. If a consultancy wants to differentiate itself by using 6S, or 4S, instead of 5S, there is little difference in the result if they are any good.

Let’s take the different numbers of ‘S’ and really take a look at why this is true.

Though they may have adapted 5S today, originally (a long time ago) Toyota taught 4S. The idea of “self discipline” or “sustaining” didn’t come into it because that was embedded thoroughly in the culture. It was taught elsewhere.  Likewise for safety. It isn’t that they leave it out because they didn’t have it called out as an ‘S’, they just include it somewhere else.

What is the 6th S? I don’t know what Novaces uses, but I have most commonly seen it as Safety. It isn’t a bad thing to include it, but in reality, as long as relentless daily problem solving is applied to safety issues somewhere, somehow, there isn’t a right or wrong way to teach it or do it.

Some consultants claim to “fill in the gaps” of “lean manufacturing.” They add hyphens or create three letter abbreviations to differentiate their product. Because the term “lean manufacturing” originally referred to the observed results of the Toyota Production System, and not the system itself, there is a lot of room to make claims that it leaves things out because the method was never really defined in a holistic way.

“Lean manufacturing” not withstanding, IF you stipulate that “lean manufacturing” is the “Toyota Production System” and then understand that, to Toyota, this is their entire management system – it encompasses everything they do – then to claim “lean manufacturing” has gaps is to claim that Toyota somehow leaves something out. I don’t think so. Sure, they slip up like everyone else, but their management system is pretty thorough.

For example, I have heard things like “we are lean, now we need quality.” Hello? If you aren’t obsessive about quality, if you aren’t applying immediate detection, stop, correction and countermeasure investigation to every quality problem, how can you possibly claim you are “lean?” If you aren’t doing these things, you are just making defective goods very efficiently.

But I also understand that there ARE companies that think they have implemented lean, and have totally left out the quality component. So if it makes sense to them, (the customer) to find a consultant to help them “fill in the gap” then great. They still get there.

And that is the point. Getting there.

One last point. To get there you have to pick a course and stick with it. What trips up a lot of companies is they get to the point where they are “stuck” without examining (in the mirror) the factors that are causing it. Instead, they switch course, and say “AH! It must be Theory of Seven Sigma” that will get us there. But in reality, because all of these approaches require a change in the way everyone thinks, without that fundamental shift, they end up in the same place a little later…

Cause remember, no matter where you go… there you are.

4 Replies to “4S, 5S, 6S”

  1. We go back and forth all the time. Our HQ in Japan uses 4S, but in the US we just started using 6S… Matter of fact, I am creating a 6S genba board right now, but am throwing in a sheet on the core basics of 4S. Yes, sustainability and safety are (built in, taught elsewhere), but may not always be apparent? Our children’s children will probably start the revolution against 15S, arguing that we need to get back to the basics (4S).

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