A few weeks back, the British media was having a field day with reports of and complaints about what sounds like a horribly misguided “office lean” effort at a British government office.
The picture below is from one newspaper article (with my added labels). It shows a desk where every item’s location is marked with black tape.
The article explains:
The exercise, which involves markers for items including computer keyboards, telephones and stationery, is designed to improve efficiency by making desks neater.
However, one worker last night described the system, being implemented by logistics company Unipart, as “demeaning”.
This is a classic example of bad 5S and bad lean efforts. Stuff like this is all too common and it really gives lean a bad name. As we’ve talked about in other posts, 5S is about reducing waste and making abnormal situations apparent.
What waste is prevented by marking where the phone goes? None, probably. Is there anything to be gained by seeing that the phone is two inches too far forward? No, not really. Seems like this 5S effort isn’t doing much, but antagonizing folks.
This article calls it “madness” in the headline and adds:
According to the Daily Telegraph , the programme has been so far reaching that one member of staff was asked whether a banana was ‘active’ or ‘inactive’, in other words whether it was going to be eaten immediately, which was acceptable, or whether it was for later, which would mean the fruit would have to be cleared from the desk.
An HMRC spokeswoman said the programme, which was devised by consultants Unipart to improve performance, would help ensure that office space was efficiently used and would also support working relationships.
The consultants had good intentions. 5S *can* be a powerful method in a lean company. But, marking the location of items is just one aspect of 5S and 5S/lean have to be done the right way. The article also said:
“… employees were allowed to move items into zones that suited them best.”
If the consultants asked each accountant where they wanted their items, that might have been one positive sign — showing the slightest bit of respect for people in that sense, perhaps. So why did employees find it degrading? Probably because the consultants didn’t explain “why”, as Toyota would tend to do.
What if two employees who shared a desk (as happens in these British offices) disagreed with where items went? They wouldn’t pick up and move the tape constantly would they?
Oh, they do… and it gets worse. More articles and links below:
I could go on and on about how that effort gives “Lean” a bad name. If you’re just antagonizing people with putting tape around stuff, please stop. Trying using Lean methods to solve real business problems (such as slow cycle time, defects, cost, or employee safety).
Lean, done right, won’t feel “demeaning” to people.
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