Jul 16 2013

I’ve been running some basic 5S introduction sessions over the past few weeks & there have been quite a few knowledge workers (office staff) in the sessions & the inevitable question comes up about how far do you go. Personally I consider myself a pragmatist in that you should do what is “appropriate” for the area you work in. To me the same applies in all aspects of any lean implementation.

Every one of the tools & techniques that were developed into what became the Toyota Production System, effectively what we now know as Lean, were solutions to specific problems. The idea that we should take these solutions and implement them to the same degree & in the same way to every aspect of our business to me is ludicrous!

Even when we find that they work & solve certain problems in one area, does not mean that we should apply them in exactly the same way across our business. What happens when we force a solution onto a non-existent problem, or worse, a different problem? People begin to question the benefits as we exert significant effort implementing & maintaining systems that add no value to our products or processes.

Yes, one of the main concepts of lean is about learning once & applying many – taking what we learn in one area & applying to another. But this transfer of learning must be appropriate. It may be possible & even desirable to copy & paste from one area to another. We may only want to take certain aspects of what we learned & apply them elsewhere. There may be no benefit in transferring the learning to certain areas. How different is the work that is done in each area?

The key to any successful implementation is the cultural change that accompanies the change in how we work, this will not happen if we switch people off by overdoing things & solving problems that do not exist. How much effort do we waste in trying to fit that square peg into a round hole? Do we need to have a specified location for your stapler? Does your laptop need to be aligned to some taped corners? What benefit are we gaining by this? Is this not work for work’s sake?

Sure, there are arguments about enforcing standards & ensuring people follow simple systems, but those systems & the standards within them should be set by the people who use them. If they need it at that level, great, if not, let them set the target condition.

As an aside – Dan Markovitz wrote a nice little blog about Office 5S a few years ago. Worth a quick read.


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