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The Lean Journey: Engaging your team with 5S

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

We all know that colleague engagement is hard work for the management team. No matter where you are on the engagement scale, the continued love and attention we have to give our folks is a significant commitment in time and energy. We believe a well supported 5S standard is a great place to start.

One of the biggest engagement opportunities is also one of our biggest misses we have on the shop floor. I have been in hundreds of factories in my career and I can immediately tell who has real colleague engagement and who doesn’t just by looking at the place both inside and out.

Unfortunately, the way, in which we have traditionally rolled out our 5S approach has been one of the great lean mistakes for the ages. 5S is not really about the operator, it is all about the management team and what they are willing to do to support a clean and visual workplace environment. Our colleagues spend most of their adult waking hours at work. Of course, they want a clean and organized workplace. Just take a good look at your maintenance tech’s garage at home.……….

Sometimes the management leadership has no clue what they are looking for or how to get there. If the plant manager doesn’t have a vision for moving operator 5S into the Autonomous Maintenance arena, then he needs some coaching. If the plant staff members don’t have a vision for great 5S in their support areas, like the tool shop or the shipping dock, then they also need some coaching in the 5S journey. These support areas can be a huge cultural asset in the Lean and 5S way of life.

As good lean practitioners, we need to have a solid 5S to accurately identify what are normal and abnormal conditions by identifying The 8 Wastes. This begins with over production and defective product on our shop floor.

Many of us have the 5S for Operators reference book on our shelves. Published by The Productivity Press Development Team, this was one of our first 5S books that was looked to for all the answers in 1996. It had to be the best direction available, because it was from Hirouki Hirano and he was the expert.

The truth is that 5S verbiage doesn’t really translate very well in our culture. In fact, there is so much inherent difficulty in translation, we often find ourselves putting the 5S pillars all over the walls in our meeting rooms and SQDCM boards in an attempt to condition, and program our teams with this propaganda.

Without a structured and practical interpretation in place, we have wasted one of the best opportunities we have in engaging our fearless workforce.

5S- Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain should be identified as a management initiative, not an operator competency. Our operators will do whatever we ask of them as long as we put some support teeth into it.

When we have unavailable work time like downtime or changeover scenarios, our traditional direction to our folks has been “go pick up a broom and sweep up”.

Well what does that mean exactly?

Without a strategy in place, our management teams struggle with frustrating shift to shift relationships, and a heavy clean up burden for customer appreciation day.

We need to understand and apply the practical side of 5S implementation. Turn it into a management team focus, not operator focus.

Critical Management Steps for Successful 5S Implementation

Communicate the 5S way of life on all 3 shifts, and ensure everyone gets some 5S training. Focus on these 5 outlined management steps to start with.

1. Set up a good effective calendar process in the work cells and support areas, showing your colleagues specifically what is expected from them daily, weekly, and monthly. Get some genuine input from your folks and get it put in place. Don’t be afraid to tell them what to do.

2. Get specific with responsibilities and begin some good cleaning work instructions. Focus on top down fixture cleaning, specific tools on specific areas, appropriate tools, and maybe some tricky areas. Again, don’t be afraid to tell them what to do.

3. Make sure we have a real list of cleaning tools to support the work instructions and the calendar process. If you have some bargain shoppers along the journey, you should be flattered. Understand how bad your folks really want this way of life. Replace and repeat.

4. Setup a formal audit process at least once a week. Initially, make it important to be a stand-alone audit. Do not combine it with weekly layered process audits or the safety audit. As we pave the road – we want just to drive this one car…………….

5. Genuine Recognition as you see fit. Remember to include both individuals and teams. You can highlight specific improvements, audit scores, and launch support. It doesn’t always have to be dinner for two at the Roostertail and a pocket calculator. Our colleagues love t-shirts and ball caps. Travel mugs are in style too. Tie your recognition back to your regular SQDCM performance metrics to keep some level of consistency.

Do you have all of this critical success factors in place? If not, what is missing?

The use of downtime: You don’t need as much time to do the work as you think you do. Focus on 3 shift participation. The use of downtime to do the 5S chores is a perfect opportunity to get the daily tasks done. Take a good look at your “clean up time” as it exists in your factory right now.

Is there a designated time at the end of the shift in place today?

How is that time really interpreted?

Is it cell clean up time or personal wash up time?

You may have an existing opportunity in place by just tuning up your direction, to your team.

By the way, how is that annual “off the shelf” colleague cultural survey doing for you?

Year after year, does that instrument really make your folks happier or is it making someone else happy?

Are you frustrated with your operators understanding about 5S?

How about your management staff?

Let us know​​​​​​​ how you are doing with your 5S journey.

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