5s and improvement – divergent views?

US Interstate 5 South (I5S). My 5s image, obscure maybe, but I like it.
US Interstate 5 South (I5S). My 5s image, obscure maybe, but I like it.

I recently posted about the use of 5S and visual management in hospitals as a method for organising work and improving processes. 5s has evolved from Japanese manufacturing techniques and being widely applied to all sorts of activities, including public services. It’s an interesting area and I’m learning a lot about how it’s being used and possibly misused.

What’s intriguing how 5S and Kaizen seem to polarise views, a bit like Marmite, people love it or hate it, or here comes  salvation or damnation. I wanted to share some of my learning which helps inform what I’m thinking. There are likely to be a few posts on this, so the Interstate 5 South, (I5S)* sign might reappear.

The types of things I’m hoping to cover are:

  1. The links with complexity thinking, using the Cynefin Framework. This is a good
    explanation of complexity thinking which is highly relevant to this topic;
  2. Adoption versus adaptation of practice between situations. It’s not just about picking up simple best practice from one place and blindly implementing it elsewhere.
  3. How the continuous improvement approach can help (or hinder) employee engagement
  4. And probably a few other things like Kaizen.

As a starter, here are two You Tube clips that illustrate very different perspectives:

  1. Toyota 5s is a series of images showing how the 5s approach has been successful applied to their manufacturing process. Even the Cleaners Trolley gets the full 5S treatment. Not much you can argue with here, a hugely successful company and loads of clever people have written books and produced videos about how good their approach is. That’s all good, but how well does the approach travel? Is it relevant to other industries and practices?
  2. Office 5s Gone Wrong This is a view on the potentially disastrous implications of blindly applying 5s in a non manufacturing environment, a Marketing Department. It’s hilarious and pretty close to reality if you believe this newspaper report about HMRC in North Tyneside. Putting tape around the pencils and staplers (and bananas!) on your desk apparently happened in some big public sector organisations.  If you want to get into it a bit deeper into this Mark Graban posted the video with a transcript available on his blog post. If you want to learn more about 5s his leanblog is worth a look.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. 5s does work well as an improvement approach for lots of processes
    in lots of environments, particularly manufacturing..
  2. There are some situations where its application needs careful consideration. You need to think about your own contex, why you are applying the tecnique and what you want to achieve.
  3. Over zealous application of 5s, or any other improvement technique, can have disastrous consequences. (see office 5S video & HMRC article)

*You might be wondering about my 5s image, sorry it’s a bit obscure. All of the standard 5s images are just so serious and technical and to be honest they put me off. Anyway, I like Interstate 5 South, the picture reminds me of happy days on road trips in the US.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

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