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Why 5S Fails to Produce Desired Results
Over the past 20 years, I have visited numerous manufacturing facilities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, Spain, and China to assess performance and work organization issues. I had the opportunity to look closely at their operations and see the positive and negative aspects of these operations.
While each plant had its strengths and weaknesses, one fact was clear: many of the plants had made some form of workplace organization, some had implemented 5S. No one got the results they wanted when they put in the effort. Some only practiced it when Upper Management was scheduled to visit, others only made half-hearted attempts to implement 5S and few had a serious and lasting follow-up.
In effect, they were merely going through the motions, as writing in their mission statements, management loudly proclaimed their virtues, but paid little attention to the mechanics of the day, and claimed to have created a visual workspace when in reality all I was doing was little. more than creating signs. Clutter and unnecessary items were for the most part still evident and the employee had little apparent understanding of the need to keep rid of unnecessary items.
The fact of the matter is that we know what needs to be done. 5S is a lean manufacturing approach to manufacturing based on the Toyota Production System. The job of management in lean manufacturing is to identify and eliminate all forms of waste, including:
- Over production – production over customer needs
- Inventory – hold or buy excess materials
- Transport – unnecessary handling
- Wait – time delay or idle time
- Movement – actions of people that do not add value
- Over-processing – unnecessary processing steps
- Correction – produce scrap or parts that require rework
- Not using human resources – not implementing employee ideas/suggestions.
- There are several impediments to the implementation of lean manufacturing and especially to the proper use of 5S principles and practices:
- Incorrect plant performance measures
- Wrong focus – too much attention on results, not enough on improving processes
- Lack of confidence in the ability of workers to recognize and solve problems;
- The lack of willingness to invest time and resources in the proper implementation of 5S
- The failure to recognize their obligation of survival to all stakeholders and that change is the key to survival.
Incorrect plant performance measures
Performance is affected by many factors, especially when the focus is on the short term. Most of these factors are beyond the immediate control of management. Cash flow (the lifeblood of any company) is influenced by interest rates and can have a dramatic impact on the profitability of your plant. Government policies and excessive regulation affect profits in many ways. In addition, the sales volume or price of the product impacts the level of profit of a plant. When these factors have a positive impact on profit, the operation is seen as successful, and generously rewarded even if the management practices are ineffective and wasteful. When they have a negative impact on profits, even the best managers are often seen as abysmal failures and removed from their position.
Worst of all, profit measurements are easily manipulated through “cooking the books.” In most of the facilities I visited, it was very common and obvious that management was manipulating inventory levels in one form or another. A plant manager told me that while he wanted to reduce inventories, in order to keep his efficiency ratings high, he was having excess production during slack times. This led to higher inventory levels which, if reduced to appropriate levels, would have a negative impact on their measure of profitability. Too much focus on Profitability as a performance measurement usually results in short-term thinking. What incentive is there for a company that driven by profitability measures to invest in a 5S project that could have a higher cost in the short term, has the potential for significant savings in the long term?
People tend to do what they are rewarded for doing. If their focus is on equipment utilization rather than on customer demand, equipment will be run at full capacity, despite current demand. The result is overproduction, which is the basis of almost all manufacturing waste. Focusing on the responsibility for the use of the machine has the unwanted effect of increasing waste.
To effectively and continuously improve performance and eliminate waste, all processes must be analyzed understood and then controlled. Measuring process effectiveness will shift focus to long-term improvements such as 5S and allow companies to reward managers for real performance. Measuring results, on the other hand, only promotes manipulation and short-term thinking.
Lack of confidence in job abilities
When management is not willing to develop their employees and allow them the freedom to manage their processes, they will miss the opportunity to capture the full potential of the organization. I am a firm believer that the solution to every problem that a company or plant faces, is currently located within the four walls of that facility.
The lack of willingness to invest time and resources in the proper implementation of 5S
Management is driven by two things:
Anything that interferes with one or the other is seen as an enemy of management, as a result, many managers only give half-hearted support to new ideas and projects that they are not familiar with. This is compounded by the fact that most people who propose a lean initiative like s 5S do not take the time to code the language of business. They talk about generalities and the successes of other organizations. They cannot make a legitimate business case for change. Managers have legitimate questions such as:
- How will this impact the budget? Is it a legitimate investment opportunity or just another flavor of the month?
- How can we minimize the impact on the schedule and still provide the people to plan and implement 5S? Where do the extra people come from? Etc.
Many managers simply do not believe in the effectiveness of lean manufacturing and 5S in particular. Many of the managers I spoke with defended the poor manufacturing practices they routinely employed to keep their productivity numbers high and their bonuses on track.
Failure to recognize their obligation of survival to all parties
Many managers feel that change is not necessary. The company made money before the recession, and the good times will return when it’s over. The focus is often on job security rather than job security, the problem is that there is a sea change in the world economy and companies are facing global competition like never before at first. Many managers have not seen the change that has occurred and the threat it poses to their survival. They prefer to bury their heads in the sand rather than address the need for their own survival – after all, the government will save them! The fact is that jobs (including those of managers) change and managers better change their focus to secure their jobs and let the work change as needed.
One of the key elements of the manager’s job was control, which was modified to include empowerment. To survive and stay employed, managers must relinquish some of their control to employees, letting them control more of their work area and work flow. 5S is a prime example of how to effectively empower employees while maintaining the necessary control over the budget and schedule.
Producing the desired results
If the plant operates efficiently (and you have correctly linked the operational measure to the financial goals), profitability will follow. The key to making 5S produce the desired results is to link it with the company’s strategic goals and objectives. The primary objective for most businesses is to make money by producing a product or service that meets the needs of their customers. This fact often gets lost in the vision statements and lofty goal statements of management. The vision should be what your company is going to do to meet that money-making goal. The mission statement is how you meet it. Typical purpose statements uttered by different levels of management that do not reflect the vision and mission statement only confuse and divert the attention of the people who have to carry out the mission. The solution to this problem is the use of strategic thinking to define the needs of the business according to the stated vision and mission.
The next element to ensure success, is to refocus the workforce on a new set of measurements and processes that are focused on increasing throughput, decreasing inventory and reducing operating costs . This means totally abandoning many of the traditional measures like efficiency and looking more at effectiveness instead. This will require analyzing your processes for the value they add to your products or services. In the short term, this can lead to an increase in non-productive time. Smart managers will take advantage of this slack time to develop better uses of this non-productive time such as training, Total Productive Maintenance, team building and continuous improvement activities. Proper training and management allow workers to spend their downtime improving the processes they work on and their workplace. By eliminating wasteful, non-value-added activities such as overproduction and empowering and training your workforce, your company can improve its competitiveness and ensure its survival.
Your employees and their support staff need all the tools and techniques of lean manufacturing and 5S practices to support, self-audit and continuously improve the workplace and their work. They need a well thought out and planned program that is supported by management at all levels. Keep in mind that the most commonly missing element is often management commitment. If you invest everyone’s time and commitment in 5S, and a few individuals fail to maintain the standard, the program will collapse. Management must support the program with policies and procedures that are enforced.
Regular supervision is also required to ensure that processes are working as intended or changed in a controlled manner when necessary. Management must not only commit resources, they must commit their time to participate. They must lead from the front and have high visibility in the workplace.
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