5S Erosion – Continued

In the post on 5S erosion, I posed a couple of questions.

What, exactly, is the function of a 5S audit?

What, exactly, is the problem [the audit is supposed to solve]?

How do you know [that is the problem]? What have you observed?

The responses have been interesting, wide ranging, but so far have not directly addressed the questions.

If you were preparing a simple A3, “auditing” would be one of the checks or countermeasures.

But what problem would you be addressing?

What have you observed that indicates there is a problem?

Note that I am not questioning the value of having a standard for workplace organization.

I am not even directly challenging audits, measurements, etc. However these things must have a clear purpose, or we are just blindly implementing tools and repeating mantras. And if we cannot articulate the core purpose of these things to each other, how can we ever ask others to do these things with any more authority than “because I said so” or “because it is in this book?”

17 Replies to “5S Erosion – Continued”

  1. OK, I’ll give you the simple answer. I can tell you what the purpose of the audits have been here where I work. Not in any particular order of importance:

    1. Audits provided a score that was posted in the cell area. It was supposed to create some healthy competition between cells. And thereby, hopefully, some motivation to maintain the 5S condition.

    2. Audits were a means to a free lunch. The audit score was used to give awards (a free pizza lunch) for the cell with the highest score.

    3. Audits provided at’ta boys. They provided feedback to the workers telling them that management, or other cell leaders, thought they were doing a good job.

    4. Audits provided feedback to the workers to tell them which area of 5S needed more work. And which area was “good enough”.

    Most people went to school and are used to getting grades. If they get a B+, they can be proud. If they get a D, they know they need to try harder.

    The problem that the audit was supposed to solve was a lack of adherence to 5S principles.

    We observed the problem by noticing that the work areas were falling back into a pre 5S condition.

  2. I’m assuming you’re not questioning the validity of 5S, which would be a completely different topic. So let’s step back and change the subject but leave the question.

    Companies track productivity and profitability. If they’ve maximized productivity and profitability, should they continue to measure these results? Why? What problem does it solve?

    People don’t always do what they should and/or things often change. Without a measure, how do we know when they change and results no longer meet expectations?

    You can’t easily tie productivity or profitabiltiy to a cluttered or clean desk, so hence the 5S audit, to assure that the “problem” that “5S” was implemented to solve (assuming there’s been a seperave validation of a problem/countermeasure there), stays in place and functioning.

    The “Audit” is only a countermeasure to human nature and no other problem.

  3. Mark Rosenthal wrote:
    What did you observe to conclude that the “areas were falling back into a pre 5S condition?”

    Tools were missing, tools were being lost, other workers were borrowing them. Consequently, everyone was stuffing tools in their work bench drawers. Time spent setting up for the next job and also looking for tools during the day was time consuming.

    So during 5S we set up shadow boards on top of the work benches for tools. It worked OK for a short while.

    After a while the tools were no longer on the shadow boards, they were back in the drawers. Conditions had fallen back to pre 5S.

  4. At the end of the work shift all tools were supposed to be put back on the shadow board. That told you if a tool was missing. And it was supposed to keep tools from “walking away”. We have a problem here with missing tools. So you would go look for the missing tool at the end of your shift. That was supposed to keep workers from borrowing and keeping a tool or from stealing a tool.

    It appears that after a while the team leader decided not to use the shadow board system. And her supervisor did not say anything. By the way, the supervisor was not involved in the 5S shadow board exercise. We had a team leader with four workers on this team. And note, that during the last 6 to 8 months, three workers had been replaced with three new workers.

    Who noticed when the first tool was missing? I’m guessing that the two workers that use the tools noticed. And they knew that someone outside their cell had taken the tool. Just now I asked the team leader what happened. She said that when they had the shadow boards people would walk by and steal (borrow) the tools. Then the tools could not be found. She said they got rid of the shadow boards and she showed me the new shelves with pull out drawers that they now have. All of the drawers are marked with what goes into them. Actually a pretty nice set up. However, now they have to pull open drawers and find their tools.

    But it discourages other people from borrowing their tools.

  5. Jim Fernandez wrote:

    “She said they got rid of the shadow boards and she showed me the new shelves with pull out drawers that they now have. All of the drawers are marked with what goes into them.”

    I think that is a very good solution Jim. I had a similar issue at my workplace. We have a similar problem at our place of people ‘borrowing’ tools. When I first started the ‘Straighten’ phase of 5S, I also insisted on shadow boards to make tools more visible and enable everyone to be able to see if anything was missing. But as soon as the shadow board was up, the issue of people ‘borrowing’ tools only increased.

    When I gave it some thought, I realised that where I had erred was in assuming that ‘we the management’ needed to see whether and when a tool was missing from the shadow board. We did not. The objective was to ensure that the tools were where they were meant to be, and were there when required for use by the people whose use they were meant for. If drawers served this purpose, then so be it. The key was then to organise and position the drawers in such a way as to minimise the time spent in looking for the right tools and fetching them. This was accomplished by nailing little plastic shelves with pull out drawers to the respective machines, and labeling them with what is inside. Now everyone is happy – the operator feels secure in the knowledge that his tools will not go missing and we are happy that ‘everything is in its place and there is a place for everything’.

    I have found that with a lot of Lean tools, a customised approach tends to stick much better than a text book implementation. And this brings me to Mark’s initial question about the purpose of a 5S audit. To answer that, I think we need to be clear on what the purpose is of the 5S implementation. It would be a fallacy to set as our objectives of 5S the exact same objectives that Toyota sets for itself. Instead, the objective must be to get the workplace in a state that is most conducive to the operator who is working there. The operative phrase here is ‘operator who is working there’. I strongly believe that when a Lean leader is facilitating a 5S implementation, he must consult with the operator/(s) working that cell and design the ‘straighten’ and ‘standardise’ aspects according the comfort of the specific operator/(s). And if and when those operators move on and are replaced by new operators, then that work centre or machine needs to be revisited and 5S redefined to suit the comfort of the new operators. If proper thought is given to this aspect then the 5th S – Sustain – will take care of itself.

    And the audits will become redundant.

    1. >>It would be a fallacy to set as our objectives of 5S the exact same objectives that Toyota sets for itself. Instead, the objective must be to get the workplace in a state that is most conducive to the operator who is working there. <<

      If Toyota is interested in something different than optimizing the workspace for the worker, what do you think it is?

  6. Prasanna Iyengar:

    Thank you very much for your response. Yes, we have the same tool issues. I like your thought on designing a system that will sustain itself. Making audits unnecessary.


    I think Prasanna was saying that Toyota optimized the workspace for “their” workers. And we must do the same.

    Shadow boards worked at Toyota probably because each cell is somewhat isolated from the next. (At least they were at the Toyota plant that I visited) At the Toyota plant no one would ever think about borrowing a tool.

    Borrowing a tool !!! Wow, it just hit me. That is a huge waste that needs to be addressed.

    1. Shadowboards are not a “Toyota thing.” In fact I can’t recall ever seeing one in a Toyota plant, or in a photo of a Toyota plant.

      “5S” is not about having a place to store the tools after the work is done.

      5S should support the work process itself.
      Where should the tool be located to make it most accessible for the normal pattern of the work?
      How can you tell, at a glance, if it is there, or if the normal pattern of work has been broken?

      What should happen, immediately, if that normal pattern of work is broken?

  7. Mark:

    Toyota was only a point of reference – what I meant was ‘our objectives need not be the same as those of another company’. Jim Fernandez has put it very aptly with “optimized the workspace for “their” workers. And we must do the same.”

    And having shadowboards or not is not the point here. The point is that the normal pattern of work must not be broken. What I am trying to say is that individual operators must have a greater say in deciding how to determine whether the normal pattern of work has been broken – and what measures must be taken to prevent its occurrence. If they are more comfortable telling whether tools are missing by groping the walls of their machines than by glancing – or indeed any other way that suits them – then I have no objection as long as it does not detract from the primary goal of the operator and the machine working optimally.

    The primary purpose of 5S audits to me is to prevent the measures from rolling back to the state they were in. The reason that people roll back to a past state is because they were more comfortable in the past state. What we need to look for when designing future states is that comfort factor – make the system so natural and intuitive that the operator does not feel that he is doing something different or unnatural. If this is achieved then roll backs will not happen and audits will not be necessary.

    1. If the primary purpose of 5S audits is to prevent the process from deteriorating (paraphrasing here) –
      how does an occasional audit accomplish that?

      The normal pattern of work is broken all of the time.
      The question is “Does anyone notice?”
      And if someone notices, “Does anyone respond to the problem?”
      … or is deterioration just accepted… until there is an audit and we put it all back?

  8. An occasional audit halts deterioration by acting as a reminder of how things ought to be. An occasional but scheduled audit will only serve the purpose of creating a buzz of activity just before the audit. A random audit will be better suited to slowly bringing about a change in habits – especially when accompanied by either an incentive or a penalty.

    I view an occasional audit as nothing more than gentle coercion. It is only required because there is resistance to the changes that have been implemented. And the resistance stems from the fact that the end user was not consulted when the changes were designed. Which brings me back to my point about a customised approach as opposed to a pedantic approach.

  9. As I suggested in your first post about this, I favor using leader standard work for performing 5S checks. In my experience, audits performed by someone outside the process are not effective and definitely not welcomed by those performing the process. Let those performing the process decide what is critical to “check” along with their direct leader. And if leader standard work is done properly, the leader’s leader would check on a less frequent basis that the right things are being checked and maintained. The key to me is to ensure the “right” things are being checked, i.e., the things that support achieving the target conditions.

  10. The function of the 5S audit is to allow the auditor to practice and improve his/her mentoring/teaching skills while challenging the student to create an environment that indicates an out of standard condition at any time. The problem it is trying to solve is whether or not out of standard conditions are being immediately identified and corrected. You have to observer the standard and standardized work at any given process.

  11. To Mark Rosenthal:

    You stated’ “The normal pattern of work is broken all of the time.
    The question is “Does anyone notice?”
    And if someone notices, “Does anyone respond to the problem?”
    … or is deterioration just accepted… until there is an audit and we put it all back?”

    What would happen if a workplace had a true continuous improvement culture? Such that the workers were continuously looking at and reevaluating their workplace, and improving their workplace. Lets say they spent 15 minutes a week going through a deep mental evaluation of their work and their workplace, looking for waste. Would that result in them detecting and eliminating all deteriorating conditions? And would it create continuous improvements?

    If we want to use the tool example; the tools would always be in the best location for eliminating waste. OK, call it an audit. I’m suggesting that the workers could do their own waste audit each week.

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