5S Audits – Part III

I would like to thank everybody for a really engaging dialog in the previous two posts about 5S audits.

Now I would like to dig in and look at what an “audit” is actually finding, and how we are responding to those issues.

Our hypothetical production area is getting an audit. The checklist says things like “There are no unnecessary items in the work area” and “There is a location indicated for all items.”

If there are unnecessary things in the work area, or things are not in their designated locations, what happens?

Of course, the checklist is filled out and a score is assigned.

But what has been learned about the process?

In one of the comments, I asked something like “When was the problem first noticed?”

The core purpose of 5S is to establish a testable condition that asks the question: “Does the team member have everything he needs, and nothing he doesn’t, where he needs it, when he needs it, to carry out his process as we understand it?”

One of the primary purposes of marking out the locations is to indicate the standard so that someone can notice right away that the standard has been broken. What should happen right then and there?

Since we define a “problem” as “any departure from the standard or specification,” and we have taken the first step of removing ambiguity from the situation (by deciding what should be here, and marking it out), we want an immediate response to the problem.

Ideally this means that the team member would indicate trouble (andon call, or other means) as soon as he discovered that his air gun was missing, or didn’t work.

The back-up to this is the team leader’s standard work. His eyes should be scanning for situations where there is a problem that the team member hasn’t called out. This is why the standards are marked out, posted, etc. To make this job easy for him. His immediate response would be to (1) Seek to understand the situation – what pulled the team member off his standard work, where did the problem originate, (2) Correct the situation. Sometimes that’s it. Other times, there is another problem to dig into.

It could be that something about the work process or conditions has changed and the team member is improvising a bit. That would bring extra stuff into the area, for example. I recall a great example where we pulled all of the thread cutting tools out of assembly so we could better detect when assembly was getting defective fabricated parts. It worked by forcing the process to stop and an andon call since assembly could not proceed if the threads were not cut.

At the same time, if a thread cutter found its way back into the assembly area, we would know we had two problems. First, we had defective parts. But more important, the process of telling us about that problem had been bypassed.

The back-up to the team leader’s standard work is the supervisor’s standard work. She is looking two levels down, but her response is going to be different. Unless safety or quality is jeopardized, the supervisor is going to find the team leader and (1) Seek to understand what pulled the team leader off of his standard work, and (2) correct the situation.

If the next level up is spending any time at all out on the shop floor, it is the same thing – maybe once a day – seeking out verifiable evidence that things are working as they should be. In the lack of positive evidence of control, we must assume there are hidden problems.

Now, if the audit finds something like this (click on the image for a bigger one):

Then it isn’t about the tape being out of place, nor is it a question about where the screwdriver is. What we have discovered is that none of the checks have been made, or if they have, no one has done anything about them.

Someone said “If we don’t do audits then 5S deteriorates.” OK – but why does 5S deteriorate?

Simply put, it is going to deteriorate, just as your process does, a little bit every day. Disorder is always being injected into everything. Your process will never, ever be stable on its own. No matter how good you are, the next level of granularity will show up as deterioration.

This is the “chatter” that Steven Spear talks about.

The question comes down to your core intention for the audit.

If you are assessing how well the area manager is coaching and teaching his people to see and respond to problems so that you can establish a target condition for his learning, and then develop his capabilities accordingly… there are better ways (in my opinion) to do that.

If you are assigning a numeric score in the hope that, by measuring something you can influence behavior, it might work, but people can come up with ingeniously destructive ways to achieve the numeric goals. As a thought experiment – how might an area manager get a high score on his 5S audit in ways that run completely counter to the goals of 5S, people development or “lean?”

The bottom line is that “Audit 5S” is not something that you should accept as a given. Rather, it is a proposed countermeasure to some problem. But if you start with a clear problem statement like “Team members are bringing thread taps into the assembly line,” and start asking “Why” five times, get to a root cause to that problem, you are unlikely to arrive at a monthly or periodic 5S audit as a countermeasure – nor are you ever going to need one.

The problem?

I think we feel the need to do audits because we have no process to immediately detect, correct and solve the little problems that happen every day. These little issues are the ones that cause the 5S erosion. Because we don’t have a process to deal with them one-by-one, we have to have an elaborate process that disrupts our normal work flow and takes them on in big batches.

Does that sound like a “lean” process to you?

How might we relentlessly drive the “audit” process closer to the ideal of one-by-one confirmation?

That would be “lean thinking.”



8 Replies to “5S Audits – Part III”

  1. Mark:

    When we began talking about shadow boards, the discussion changed to why are the boards good or bad. Lets just assume the shadow board is a good idea. Like maybe these are large tools and they are used by many people and we need those tools to be there each day.

    I’m just thinking out loud here. Tell me if this is the correct thinking process.

    OK, now if I audit the shadow board and find that the tools are not there I give it a low score. Mark, you are correct, a low score won’t solve any problem. ( I’ve never seen a low 5S audit score shame anyone into long lasting better behavior. )

    So, the root cause of the problem is:
    (Why) The team leader did not notice the missing tools. (Why) The team leader did not make the daily Gemba walk. (Why) There is no reminder for the team leader to make the walk. (Why) We don’t have team leader standard work. We need a visual message that shows the Gemba walk was made. We need visual standard work for the team leader.

    So let’s say we create a Gemba walk check-off sheet. Now we have a sort of automated audit system. We can do a 5S audit of this check off sheet. Or!!!! we can just look at the sheet, our audit score is right there! So what we have here is an automated audit system. And, now we have a score that means something. We can use the check-off sheet to teach the team leader. We can discuss the low score (the check-off sheet). And now this score reflects on one person and on one behavior that we want to maintain.

    We can audit the check-off sheet and give it a score if we like. But the bottom line is, we are now auditing and scoring the root behavior that we want to maintain.

    Is my thinking headed in the right direction here?

  2. Let me offer a possibly different wrinkle on this one. One of the things I look for when I find something out of place (as shown in your picture of the shadow board) is if the operators might be telling us that we actually had the original location wrong. I’ve occasionally found needed tools or supplies in a better location than the designated one. Now, this still says we have a breakdown in our 5S process, but there’s always a learning opportunity in these things.

    1. Good point – “Why is the (whatever it is) out of place?” is a neutral question. It does not presume that the originally marked “place” is the correct one for the process. It was only there for the process as we understood it.

      We might understand the process better now.

  3. Great comments Mark. I appreciate your sticking to your guns.

    I think the problem with the 5S audit, is that traditionally it’s been used to regularly “correct” improper behavior by a worker. Maybe somethings amiss a single time and hapepns to get caught. Or perhaps the issue exists frequestly and is accepted, only to be corrected in a token action when an audit detects the issue. Fix the problem, auditor leaves, and the problem resurfaces.

    I think that perhaps an “Audit” shouldn’t be just about detecting issues, rather patterns of issues. And the big elephant in the room based on your comments appears to be a management issue.

    When there’s a production problem, production stops and the issue is corrected. Is this the case with 5S? I’ve rarely seen it. As soon as the problem (non-5S compliance) is detected, it should be noticed and corrected. At least it would in a company where 5S is “culture”.

    With that, I think I should ammend some of my comments as the Audit, doesn’t seem to nearly effectively measure 5S compliance as it does people’s willingness and desire to continualy do what’s right. If they only comply @ Audit time and not when the issue occurs, they really aren’t on board.

    I good example would be employees walking in to work. Do they pickup the piece of trash that the wind has blown into the parking lot? Or do they pass it by and only pick it up suring a spring cleaning event or earth day cleanup? Anything other than imediate corrective action seems to indicate only a partial and/or token commitment.

  4. Mark:
    Driving the “audit” process sounds more like a push than pull. 5s is being treated like an independent activity rather than simply being incorporated into standardized work as part of the target condition. If the tool position is part of the standardized work the TL should observe variances in their normal process of supporting the line. The existence of 5S means we are starting with the assumption that the workplace will be out of order. What if our expectation was to design processes in such a way that 5S is not needed? We could replace the time spent on auditing with training on how to better design processes.

  5. Mark Donovan:

    Good point.

    I don’t mean to over simplify your point, but I was thinking that the shadow board for tools is actually a continuous audit device. And all we need to do is check the audit (shadow board) and respond to it.

  6. Mark you said “Because we don’t have a process to deal with them one-by-one, we have to have an elaborate process that disrupts our normal work flow and takes them on in big batches.”

    Does the word “process” include resources. What if part of the answer to the Threading Tool doing its countermeasures is that the support team was putting out a fire elsewhere. I hate those audits when fires are elsewhere. And I hate that Threading Tool, but accept it for the time being. We look for resources by investing more, wise shopping, or by freeing up resources through problem solving. But I agree with you that the audits are a batch process too late in the process. Often audits are done by those that are not involved in continuous-value-adding activities so their “snap shot” is so out of context.

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