How to HIGH(QUALITY) 5S Your Operations, Part 2

Editor's Note:  In early 2007, APL Logistics launched "ACI," a formal continuous improvement program that has yielded more than $43 million in annual savings.  In the second half of this exclusive article, the company's Charlie Jacobs shares more advice about replicating a highly successful initiative in that program's seven-year history:  A nationwide 5S implementation. 

In the first half of this two-part series, we defined the five "S's" of lean improvement and outlined some strategies for success. Here are a few additional tips from our experience at APL.
Acknowledge that some facilities are going to be "sort" of reluctant.
When Shakespeare penned the words, "Parting is such sweet sorrow," he might have been describing the reluctance many professionals feel when they're told to get rid of their operations' excess equipment, supplies and other ephemera during the sorting phase.   

Your organization may not be able to cure all of this separation anxiety.  However it can substantially reduce it by establishing a formal support-the-sort effort. 

In the case of our company, this effort included designating an in-house professional to help facilities distribute or dispose of the items they no longer needed – and establishing an easy way for them to scan and upload information about those items.  But in the case of your company, it might just as easily consist of setting up a password-protected portal where various operations can "advertise" the availability of excess supplies and equipment –  or providing the contact information for several charities that will happily pick up unwanted items upon request.

Don't just put things back.  Put things better. 
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, which is why it's erroneous to assume that the correct way to set things in order is simply to put everything back in its usual spot (even if that spot is a drawer, closet or storage area).  This is especially true if the areas being 5S'd seem perpetually cluttered.

Before teams automatically use the same organizational schemes that have always been in place, encourage them to consider rearranging or reconfiguring items as appropriate.  One good way to do this is to use a spaghetti chart to capture the motion in an area.  It's a huge help in terms of figuring out how things should really be arranged to assist the flow. 
Be willing to let some things slide, at least for now.
Although sorting is often the hardest step for employees, shining is frequently the most problematic, because in addition to cleaning, this step often involves making cosmetic improvements –and some operations simply don't have or don't want to spend that kind of money. 

We encountered this hurdle more than once during our 5S implementation and ultimately had to realize that just as Rome wasn't built in a day, some operations would simply need a longer runway than others in order to fully shine.   As a result, we opted to allow certain facilities to hold off on things like repainting, remarking or replacing various items (such as flooring) until it was more affordable or workable for them.  Just as important, we provided concrete suggestions for other ways (like steam-cleaning carpets or buffing and waxing floors) they could improve their operations' appearance in the interim.   

Be prepared to allow a few standard deviations.
It's definitely a good idea for your organization to make many standardization decisions up front.  However it's also important to recognize that unless all of your operations are identical, what works perfectly well for some won't always be possible or practical for others.  Or to put it another way, one size of standardization doesn't always fit all.

Instead of losing sleep over this, accept the fact that achieving a complete level of standardization right out of the gate probably isn't going to be possible — and identify which rules you are and aren't willing to bend.  For example, we were willing to cut our facilities some slack in terms of the standard color scheme for areas like pedestrian walkways if they already had paint on their floors.  But we weren't willing to let them opt out of implementing standards that had to do with safety, such as putting a power strip under every conference table in order to eliminate trip hazards. 

Don't stop thinking about sustaining.
Whether it's cabinets, attics, basements or closets, we've all had the counterproductive experience of working hard to clean and organize a cluttered, messy area only to see it quickly fall back into a similar state of disarray.

The same thing can easily happen to an operation that's been 5S'd if companies don't consider the fifth s in the equation to be as important as the others – or if they neglect it altogether. 

To help prevent this from happening to your locations, ask your personnel to consider how they'd sustain things as they're sorting, setting in order, shining and standardizing.  Then put their suggestions together along with some of the following additional ideas to formulate a workable sustainability plan:
  • Audit your operation's master cleaning schedule to ensure that the tasks on it are actually getting done as scheduled
  • Schedule regular 5S audits (complete with punch lists of things that need to be corrected)
  • Make formal plans to review and update your operation's 5S communications board to make sure it conveys the latest 5S news, opportunities,audit  results and ideas
Finally — and I know this sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many companies ignore it —  urge your personnel to follow that plan.  If they do, they'll be rewarded with facilities that look as neat, clean and well-organized as the day they passed their audits. If they don't, they could wind up being anything but "S'd" for success.

Charlie Jacobs is director, service quality & process management for APL Logistics.
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