A colleague who works in logistics is responsible for two warehouses in the same city. Both sites have been implementing 5S. One of them has been successful, while the other is not. He asks me how it is possible to have different results. Although both locations received the same training and support, their implementation approach was different. Only one of those teams was practicing 5S every day.
Change behaviors to do 5S every day
Have you ever tried to lose weight? How well did it go? I tried many times with no sustainable results until I learn what I was doing wrong. Each time I failed; I was following a diet. I treated my weight loss as individual events with a common goal. However, healthy eating is for every day, not for special occasions. It wasn’t until I change my eating habits that were able to lose weight for good.
Like with weight loss, 5S will not be successful until people build new behaviors. Get used to putting things back in their place immediately after use takes time. After all, it’s easier to leave things where you last used them. The problem is to remember where that was. For sustainable results, you have to change that behavior by creating new habits.
5S is an activity to practice every day, throughout the day. Before launching the program, leadership needs to agree on how to achieve the fifth S, sustain. The effort requires the participation of all site leaders. Everybody needs to walk the workplace every day to verify cleanliness and organization conditions. If shadow boards have empty spots, it means that tools are out of place. If the material is missing from their allocated staging floor areas, it means that material is missing. For instance, those examples represent future problems, either searching time or delays.
How to create the habits
While setting up the materials and equipment, work on how to create new habits. Ask the team how they could trigger the desired response. Once they finish work, what will trigger putting the tools or equipment back on their location.
For example, empty printer cartridges go inside a labeled box in the office supply room. However, some people throw them in the trash or leave them in their office or cubicle. To build the habit, add how to dispose of the cartridge as part of the instructions to change it. Also, include what the trigger would be for this action. For instance, a good time would be the completion of the printer testing. After confirmation that the printer is working, take the old cartridge to its designated location. The problem is that most people would decide to move it to a location later. And then, they don’t remember.
Sometimes, people convince themselves that it is better to put things back in their place at the end of the shift. Ask questions to understand why they think that way. Where they leave them throughout the day? Are there any safety hazards? Are they wasting time searching for them? Maybe the designated area is not the best. By working with the team to understand their reasons and creating a plan together, sustainability will have a better chance.
At times, like in the printer cartridge example, it makes sense to compromise. For example, have a mailbox by the door or entrance. They see it while walking out, take it, and move it to its place.
After launching the program, sustain it with 5S every day
That is the difference between the warehouse teams. One group completed all the kick-off event preparation in detail. After that, they completed the first three steps, leaving the areas with temporary marks. They planned to test locations and quantities before making them permanent. The problem is the responsible parties never follow-up. At that time, those temporary marks became permanent. And then, when things didn’t go as planned, people were discouraged to continue.
At the same time, the other team follows similar planning and initial execution steps. The only difference was that as part of their plan, they agreed on triggers for 5S activities. The senior supervisor and his team had on their leader standard work a daily 5S walk. They also had a board where they mark their visits and top three observations. This information was part of the daily huddle meetings. Also, the leadership group makes a point to acknowledge at least one positive comment every day. That simple action helps to enforce the desired behavior. For instance, supervisors celebrate each program milestone and recognize groups or individuals that achieve their 5S goals.
Forklift operators and clerks have their triggers for 5S activities as well. For example, lunch break is one of the triggers for the operators. With this one, they know it is time to park and charge their truck in one of the designated spaces.
By identifying what will signal the start of each 5S task, the group initiates to build the habit of doing 5S every day, all day. This way, their program for housekeeping and organization became a daily activity. They created new behaviors to ensure sustainability. For the other warehouse, it happens only when the warehouse was a mess or visitors were coming.