Tools vs. Culture


Tool board

Image by Royston Rascals via Flickr


This week during work I have heard the name of a tool used at least 150 times.  We are very concerned about our safety and as everyone knows housekeeping is a big part of having a safe environment.  Being new to the plant, I am shadowing supervisors across several shifts to get to know my peers and their teams and also to gauge the culture among all three shifts.  In each stand-up that I have attended, the last subject talked about is 5S.  “Make sure you 5S your area today.”  “Don’t forget to 5S your work center today.”  “Take a couple minutes at end of shift to 5S your area tonight.”  I started getting really excited because if they are talking about it so much they must really understand and apply the 5S system.

At the end of one of the stand ups when it was time for any questions, one of the team members raised their hand and asked a great question.  “What is 5S?”  Now to be fair, this was a fairly new employee.  In fact they had only been on the crew for a few days but to me it went deeper than that.  If 5S was really ingrained in the culture, it would have been discussed on their first day of training as part of their daily routine.  They wouldn’t have been an expert at it but they would at least know what it was.  I went out to the floor to observe what visuals were out there to “gauge” the 5S culture.  The first thing I noticed was that there were some very complex shadow boards made for the hand tools in some of the work centers.  Someone really took some time to make some top of the line boards.  Imagine my disappointment when I looked and half the tools were missing.

The other thing that was missing was any form of check and balance (i.e. checklist, score boards, etc.)  I paid close attention to the “5S activity” that took place through the next couple shifts.  There was definite activities taking place.  Taping the floor, wiping down the machines, getting rid of the “junk” that had accumulated, etc.  When I talked to the team members I often heard “well this tape is only going to last about eight hours but we need to do it”.  I then pulled a particular bright team member to the side and started asking about the 5S initiative.  It proved what I had originally thought.  I simply asked “what training have you had in regards to 5S.”  Their answer was no surprise to me.  “Well, not a lot.  We know you should tape out things that are normally there and we should clean like this everyday but it normally builds up over time until someone says something.”

I have found myself in a perfect example of teaching a tool while not teaching the philosophy behind it.  Obviously, the team members understand the concept behind the tool but they haven’t figured out what’s in it for them.  The other thing missing is the expectation and accountability of us as leadership to maintain a successful 5S system.  The challenge now is how do you implement a tool that has been incorrectly implemented or not sustained in a very busy environment?  Well here is my plan and hopefully in a few weeks I will be able to update our progress.

  1. Pick an area that is used on all three shifts to be our benchmark work center.  This will allow us to have the same expectations for that work center across all three shifts.  There is nothing more frustrating for a team learning 5S to come in each day and spend the first 15 minutes getting everything back in place because the previous shift don’t understand the importance or expectation of the activity.
  2. Train the philosophy before training the tool.  There are a lot of different “tools” out there to train the philosophy that are simple and quick.  My personal favorite is one that can be done on the floor in minutes before each step.  It is a sheet of sporadic numbers all over a piece of paper where you have the team members put in numerical order and time them.  Then you use the 5S’s to “clean up” and organize the numbers.  After each stage you run the simulation and time them so that they can see the impact of each S.  I guarantee you that they will have significant improvement each step of the way.
  3. After each step of the “simulation” we will have them apply it to their work center.  We obviously will have to start with one shift but this will allow the following shifts to “fine tune” and give input as to how the work center should be.  Anyone who has done a 5S knows that it typically can not be implemented in a couple of hours so there will be plenty of opportunity for everyone to get involved.
  4. We have support people or what some might call “team leads” for different areas.  We will spend extra time with these individuals to build them into experts of our expectations so that as we branch out through the plant, they will be able to help train other employees.  This will also help increase ownership for them in the process.
  5. Finally and most importantly, we will set up an auditing schedule to make sure that the expectation is upheld.  Once the 5S implementation is completed the expectations will have to be clear and there must be formalized accountability for not adhering to the expectations.

How will we know if we are successful?  To me that is the easy one.  Anyone who has done 5S knows that many metrics should improve: Safety Incidents, Productivity, Quality, etc.  More importantly, my hope is that the team and those around them will see the improvement and want to do it for their own work centers.  To me that will show us what we are really going after… team engagement.

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