I sat in a meeting the other day where a local manager was discussing his plans for the next phase of their transformation program. They were going to do 5S and had a list of all the right things to do based on much of the literature that exists. There was nothing wrong with the planned activities, except 1 thing. They weren’t clear what (or whose) problem they were trying to solve.
The site has a reasonable state of 5S already. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is far better than many I visit. There is definitely room for improvement, but they weren’t clear what they actually expected to gain from the activity, other than a cleaner and more organised site. That’s enough right?
That of course depends on who you are. As in many cases, the management team had a reasonable knowledge of various Lean tools, but their grasp of how they impact the business is still lacking. Additionally, for any true continuous improvement activity to be sustainable and provide the long term benefits we all desire, engagement from the front line is essential.
In this case, with the already reasonable level of 5S I was confident that 80% of the workforce, those who would have to maintain the higher level of 5S, would not see the point. They do not spend time looking for items, they do have long distances to travel for many items but that is due to the size of their product (aircraft) not the layout or cleanliness of the hanger.
It’s not enough to “involve” people. It’s not enough to attempt to engage them to suit your agenda. You have to answer the questions that they will ask – usually “What’s in it for me”? Engagement comes from making things easier, safer, better for the user/front line, not from involving them but from actually solving their problems and taking away the frustrations they face on a daily basis.
Is your improvement activity based on your perceived benefits, or the benefits perceived by the vast majority of those who truly affect the outcome? One of the causes of failed or unsustainable change is not that we didn’t involve or engage with the people, but we tried to sell a solution to the problem as we see it, not as they see it. Put yourself in their shoes; see the problem from their perspective. Then, and only then, you will truly get the engagement you are looking for.
When asking what problem you are trying to solve – try to see the problem from the perspective of the user, not the manager or the accountant; yes, the perceptions may be the same, often they are not.