Wednesday, September 7, 2011

5S and Eight Wastes - Part VIII - Conclusion

By Bryan Lund 

Hundreds of readers have been very patient with this article series on 5S and the eight wastes. My intent was to illustrate that 5S is really a thinking mechanism vs. a cleaning campaign. By adopting a concept and adapting it to an unfamiliar set of circumstances, we learn many things. In this case, by looking at the eight wastes through the 5S lens, we begin to see a deeper meaning to the concept. The basic idea behind this article series is that many professionals tout 5S as being the cornerstone to lean manufacturing initiatives. If this is the case, why is CLEANING the sustaining, cornerstone activity we ask employees to engage in? If we think through our actions, we see that perhaps there is more to 5S that we are missing. So, in this concluding article, we look through the 5S lens at the final two wastes on our list: over-processing and underutilized people.

What is over-processing? To put it simply, it is unnecessarily doing something more than required. Do we close the car door twice when we enter the driver's seat? No, only if something is wrong with the latch. Or perhaps your seat belt is trapped in the jam. Or perhaps you do not normally wear a long garment and it is caught. If you live where I do, sometimes the latch mechanism is frozen! These are all abnormalities from the norm: open door, enter car, close door. The things we do and NEVER think about are the very things we must question in order to develop a problem consciousness. In this way, we often find over-processing, along with the other wastes. When we learn to consistently question and subsequently see, we can then discover why we do things more than necessary.

We over-process for many reasons, often closely related to the other wastes: rework due to defects, or excess motion due to poor layouts. Perhaps your role is not defined, so you do work that has already been done. Perhaps you have been with the company for 20 years and have learned to not trust the process. So, you double check the work of others, unnecessarily so, in order to be confident the job was done right. Often we can classify waste in both categories. Hand delivery of an item, only to find the recipient not ready, can cause a delay and repeating the job. Or perhaps you don't trust the training methods used. In all cases, waste exists and is literally costed as part of the job as inefficiency. We accept it and deal with it by working harder. The result is a vicious never ending cycle of waste producing activities. And this is only using 1/8th of the potential wastes as an illustration!
A result of allowing other wastes to exist is that over-processing effectively hides them by keeping people busy. When we see people working, we quickly conclude without thinking that this unnecessary work is actually a necessary part of the process. We don't know any better because we don't question it and worse, we don't know how to question it constructively without encountering resistance. A plant once purchased a lot of parts which were plagued with a manufacturing defects, so much so that temporary containment of the problem prompted 100% inspection on the sub-assembly prior to use in the plant. Over time, the quality problem went away, but the inspection did not. Over-processing was now threatening to become a parasitic part of the permanent process, if it were not for the observation of an astute person working on the line. But many people felt that the inspection was part of the job and shouldn't be removed from the process. Many resentful feelings can occur in these scenarios if we do not question the process properly. Thankfully, we could question our way back to the original need for inspection without much resistance, but not every parasitic waste is so young that it can die an early death so easily. Many wastes are as old as the company, so we must start with the facts. Coming to this rational realization in a practical way is actually thinking in terms of the first S: sorting out what is necessary and what is unnecessary. By doing so, we begin to see different ways to arrange and standardize work so that the unnecessary work is reduced or eliminated. This is the second S: set in order. We are arranging the process in such a way that only the necessary is in order. Much improvement is often needed here in order to eliminate many of the wastes that are found at this stage. On a side note, this point is unfortunately where we end lean efforts at the second S. We rarely go beyond the first two S', inspecting the process for variation from the first and second S standards. Therefore, the third S, sanitize, is an essential part of keeping the process running at standard so that we meet customer needs.

By standardizing the first three S': sort, set, sanitize we set up the basic ground rules for maintaining good standards. As previously illustrated in other articles, the first four S' apply to all wastes including over-processing. Sustaining the effort means that we run back through the four S cycle, sorting out more waste, setting the process in order, and checking the process frequently for the improvements made will require the involvement and cooperation between managers and employees working in the process. In institutionalizing the standardize and sustain behaviors within management practices, we can slowly but surely overcome the legacy waste that has plagued the system for years. It is no coincidence that sort (plan), set (do), sanitize (check) standardize and sustain (act) closely resemble the timeless PDCA cycle which is loosely based on the scientific method.

This brings us to the final waste: underutilized people. This is a vague waste and has somehow found its way onto the previously popular seven wastes list. Now rounding out the eight waste list, "underutilized people" is a bit of a misleading phrase. To understand what this really means, we must reflect on the previous seven wastes and resulting activities that follow if we allow them to go unchecked. If any waste exists, then other wastes tend to cover up the evidence, as previously stated using our over-processing of inspection example. Therefore, people are generally working harder to inadvertently hide waste. This is not the fault of the people charged with working, but rather the system presented to them as trainees, learners and eventually experts. In other words, management has created a system and points out ways to make the system better, people who supervise the daily activities within the system are charged with getting results through the line organization itself. So, if there is no policy to remove the waste, which hides other waste, we will never fully realize efficient system performance. Instead, we will always work at covering up waste without ever realizing it. The waste of underutilized people can be seen in two ways: people are not working to their full potential productivity. This is the physical part of the waste of underutilized people. But how will they realize their full potential? By uncovering waste and eliminating it. How will they uncover it? By learning to see the eight wastes through 5S thinking. Once they see it, how will they eliminate it? By thinking of and implementing ideas for improvement! This is the second half of the waste of underutilized people: the waste of creative ideas. In order to see and eliminate waste we do not have to physically work hard at it. But we do need to stop checking our brain at the door and cooperate with management. Conversely, management must recognize that they alone cannot fix the production problems created by the eight wastes. Management must adopt the new attitude that each and every person in the company must cooperate with each other in order to realize their own potential. The key point here is that it is ONLY management that will take up the torch in developing their peoples' skills so that they may reach that potential.

This all sounds quite philosophical, eh? The reality is, this practical approach has been around for 100 years, created and developed by pioneers in industrial engineering and early manufacturing companies. Somewhere along the way, we lost touch with the basics of respecting others for their ideas and the concept of developing innovative methods through cooperation and common sense. The basic principles of 5S and the Eight Wastes have been repackaged and sold in dozens, perhaps hundreds of different ways over the last century. The only thing that has not changed is the pitiful rate of adoption and atrocious, distorted adaptations that are aimed to manipulate vs. cooperate. The full potential of American workers will never be realized until the minds of people are engaged and developed, led by a new management movement that recognizes the priceless value of a person's creative idea.

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