Today I had the chance to visit St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland – don’t worry, I’m not about to preach religion, just drawing an analogy. It is a beautiful place and the Mass was great. In his sermon the priest gave what, on the surface sounded like a typical call for repentance-type talk. I, however, have a severely limited attention span and found my mind wandering from his talk to lean and Kevin’s post the other day about sustaining 5S improvements.
The priest talked about our need to stop – then change our path – after realizing we have sinned. He commented on how frequently people do wrong, soon realize they have done wrong and are genuinely remorseful for doing wrong, but then continue to live their life along the same path and inevitably commit the same sin all over again. The priest talked about not just feeling remorseful, but doing a self-examination about the path we are on and change the path in order to avoid committing the sin again.
I thought, there you have it – he is right at the heart of the sustaining problem. What preachers call ‘self-examination’, lean folks call ‘root cause analysis’ – ask why five times and so forth. When the preachers call to get on another path, lean folks do that by changing the process. It strikes me that most people address the sustaining problem with character assassination rather than root cause analysis and process change. The explanation begins and ends with “5S didn’t sustain because (Pick one: Operators, supervisors, managers, executives) don’t (Pick one: understand lean, buy into lean, care, have a good attitude)”.
The wisdom of the priest I heard is that he avoided the easy explanation of character assassination, as well. A lot of preachers would tell the guy who comes home drunk and beats his wife, you are a no-good, rotten sinner and the solution is to become a good man. This guy basically said, I’m sure you’re really sorry and not a bad guy, but it’s not enough to just want to do better – you gotta stop coming home drunk, in fact you gotta change whatever it is that is causing you to be out drinking instead of at home with your family in the first place.
So why does 5S not sustain? Only you know that – it is different at every company. Typical causes I have seen include …
Cultures that measure and put enormous pressure on the shop floor for labor efficiency and production volume – with no allowance or credit given for keeping things in order.
5S efforts that don’t have any underlying purpose. 5S and all of the lean tools are improvement and problem solving devices. What problem were you trying to solve by pursuing 5S? People want and will readily use and sustain things that help them solve real problems. More often than not the 5S effort didn’t really help anyone solve any problem they really have. More often than not, 5S is little more than monkey see-monkey do lean …. no real reason for doing it – just doing it because the lean book says 5S is good and someone said Toyota does it … so we did it.
How about an inherently unsustainable approach to 5S? 5S may well not have sustained because it just addressed the easy stuff – sweeping and sorting and yadda yadda yadda – but didn’t cover all of the tough work that actually takes place in the work area … maintaining the machine, changing it over, etc… or didn’t really consider the quantities of material that flow in and out of the cell.
The root cause of failure to sustain is usually a tough problem – acknowledging that the factory is driven by labor efficiency or raw volume; that out of control maintenance or changeover practices haven’t been fixed, that the lean wizard guiding the company is advising easy solutions instead of harsh realities.
Like that Kiwi preacher said this morning, you have to change the path you’re on if you want to change the outcome. Path changing is rarely easy work to do.