Guest Post: What Do You Do When…


Mark's note: I've known Bruce Baker for a few years as a thoughtful commenter here on the Lean Blog. I was thrilled when he started his own blog, Lean Is Good, as it's quickly become one of my favorites in the lean blogsosphere. Now, the first guest post from Bruce:

Last month I wrote a post on my blog about 5S shadow boards and reflection.   The post focused what should be done when a tool is ‘found out of place,' the fallacy of the centralized shadow board, and wrapped up with a confessional from me about how I failed to help people get the most out of their 5S efforts in the past.

I've thought about this post and a few of the comments that it provoked and I'll share a few thoughts with and invite your comments below.

The Scenario:

Imagine you are doing a gemba walk and find a tool out of place.   What do you do?   Pick the tool up and put it in its assigned place on the shadow board?   Deduct one point on the 5S audit form?   Stand in an imaginary 30″ circle and see what happens to the tool? Ask the operator why the tool is out of place?   Blame the operator and hold them accountable?   I ran this as a poll and the number one response (at 66%) was to ask the operator.

When I wrote the post I was thinking that asking the operator why the tool was out of place was probably an appropriate course of action in most cases.   However, as Mark Graban pointed out in a comment, “My first thought was “ask about the tool being out of place” but in some settings “asking” means “PUT THAT BACK!” even inadvertently.” Asking an operator ‘why' in this case can probably sound like an accusation.   Reader Scott Maruna suggested a slightly different approach to asking the question, “I would ask the operator why the tool is where it is.”   Maybe by asking “why the tool is where it is” may imply a little less blame than asking “why is the tool out of place.” The difference may be subtle but if it lowers the ‘blame rating' of the question then it is relevant.   The key is finding out why the tool isn't where the standard indicates and why.   Understanding that why will be how you improve the system and we want to get that done without implying blame.

The number two answer was to stand in Ohno's 30″ circle and watch.   This might take a little time, but if it helps you learn the weakness in the system, then you will have learned what you need to learn.   If you don't already do this though don't beware that you may be perceived as spying on people.

Picking the tool up and putting it back was the number three response (at 5%).   I would have a problem with this in that cleaning up after somebody sends the completely wrong message.   Mark Graban commented:

I'd argue that picking up the tool and putting it back for somebody is probably worse than just yelling…. you're actively interfering with somebody doing their job, at worst, or at best you're cleaning up for them instead of instilling a sense of why they should “clean up” themselves.

What I Know Now…

Whenever I walk in to a gemba for the first time and see large, extravagant centralized shadow board I cringe because for a long time I taught people the importance of building large, complex, and good looking shadow boards.   I didn't know enough to know any better at the time.   I tried to be what people needed me to be but couldn't be for lack of understanding.   The understanding that I wished I had then is that 5S should serve people and the process by making stuff easier and reducing waste.   5S should not be implemented for the purpose of making an aesthetically pleasing visual display for the enjoyment of a visiting executive.   (I still see this in organizations somewhat frequently in the form of shadow boards, long and elaborate PowerPoint presentations to be webcasted to distant leadership, and in elaborate standardized work forms that follow rigid standards to form and content for the benefit of the executives at the expense of the people who use them in the gemba).     Jamie Flinchbaugh commented:

This comes to the primary purpose of 5S – it is to help us spot problems and spot waste. The tool not being put back indicates that something in the system is wrong. Instead of having to walk from 3 different locations to go get the tool, the tool would be much better at the point of activity. It would probably be better to have 3 tools. If the tool is used that frequently, it's even better if you put it on a magnet next to where it's used so it's one easy motion. Or if it's really used frequently, assuming it's something like a t-handle hex, permanently attach the tool to the bolt. Now I have a bolt with a handle, which is probably the most efficient of all. 5S requires standardization but that's not the goal. Improving the system is the goal.

As Jamie points out 5S serves the dual purpose of eliminating waste and making abnormality obvious at a glance.   Well implemented 5S begins very visual then becomes invisible (like the ‘bolt with a handle' – no tool) much like good visual controls ultimately become invisible as poka yokes built into the process.

So what do you do when you see abnormality in your workplace organization system?   How do you resolve it?

Bruce Baker

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  1. Thanks Bruce.

    I’d like to expand upon my point in this way, since I talked about the purpose of 5S.

    We must internal the purpose of a lean method before deploying it.

    If we don’t know a method’s purpose, we will fail to (a) implement it in a proper way, (b) make proper adjustments, and (c) sustain it under difficult conditions. For example with 5S, if the purpose is to make problems visible, what should be done when an area is under duress, or in a state of chaos. Most people would suspend the 5S audits because we don’t have time for that ‘nicety’ during the crisis. But why would you add the chaos by adding more with the deterioration of one of your only methods to spot problems? An organization that is clear on its purpose would strengthen its resolve of a 5S audit, not suspend it.

    We spend too much on the what and how of methods. We need to spend more time on the why.
    .-= Jamie Flinchbaugh ´s last blog ..Leading Change an Inch Wide and a Mile Deep =-.

  2. Bruce’s scenario said “…find a tool out of place.” If the assessment of “out of place” can truly be made (not maybe out of place), then the tool should be returned to its place and victory declared. The system works. Compare that to what we’d do upon seeing a light on in an empty room. Of course occasionally we need to ask who’s leaving lights on, but sometimes it’s enough to turn it off.

  3. Good point Jamie and thanks for your comments. Of the what, the how, and the why (purpose), the purpose must predominate. I learned this the hard way – by screwing it up. Worse yet, teaching other people to screw it up. I was in an organization that asked me to teach people about 5S. I didn’t understand the purpose. I had only a superficial understanding of 5S. I ended up teaching people the wrong stuff. Every time I go to a gemba and see a shadow board I a bad feeling – part guilt, part remorse for having mislead people who invested trust in me. I try to get people to understand the purpose and let them figure out the what’s and how’s now.
    .-= Bruce Baker ´s last blog ..Hoshin Kanri and Metrics: Make it Personal =-.

  4. Just putting the “out of place” tool back to where it belongs is like just cleaning up a puddle of oil on the factory floor; it doesn’t attack the root cause of the problem and therefore doesn’t help prevent recurrence. If I see any abnormality from a standard, I immediately conduct a root cause analysis with the team whose work area contains the abnormality. Then I help them develop a countermeasure and go through the PDSA cycle (pardon my preference for the PDSA terminology over PDCA) until we get back to the target condition of no further recurrence of the problem.

    Actually, I thought this was/is pretty much the standard lean approach.

  5. This discussion is very interesting. Before I took over as Continuous Improvement Administrator, a manager tried to implement 5S on the production floor. Obviously, he did not fully understand the purpose of 5S either because he put up shadow boards throughout the plant but failed to educate the associates in what the goal was. As a result, the associates were frustrated because now they had to walk to get a tool instead of having it where it was used. I have now instructed team leaders on the plant floor to have a designated location at the work station for the tools used at that station, not on a shadow board. The only items on a shadow board are items such as brooms and dust pans or other items used by multiple work stations.

    As was stated, the 5S system should be a tool that assists associates in their daily activity, not just to be a showplace for tours.

  6. I am very surprised that there is not more advocation of actually watching how the tool is used first, and then asking the operator about the actual usage of it before asking why it is located.

    I have found that a huge value can be gained if before you start asking ‘why’, you start with understanding the ‘how’.

    The simple fact is, if you don’t understand how the tool is used, you can never achieve an optimal 5S.
    – Ryan

  7. Ryan,
    I agree with that watching first then asking any questions second is a good method to learn about the work that is happening. I am fortunate to go to the same gembas and work with the same people everyday. I can just stand and watch and it is less likely that people will feel as if they are being ‘spied on’ (I hope) because it is a pattern of my behavior. With some people I could just ask why the tool is where it is because I have a relationship that includes trust in some cases.
    I think the diffrence between asking and watching is context dependent.
    Thanks for your comments.
    .-= Bruce Baker ´s last blog ..Hoshin Kanri and Metrics: Make it Personal =-.

  8. Dale,
    Regretfully I did 5S like the person who came before you did. I did it that way for awhile before I understood the purpose. I am thankful that there are people who get the purpose teaching it. I hope the people that I mislead have had the opportunity to better understand and apply 5S.
    .-= Bruce Baker ´s last blog ..Hoshin Kanri and Metrics: Make it Personal =-.


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