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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Can you implement without auditing?

“How can you implement 5S without auditing?” This question was recently asked of me by a plant manager trying to implement 5S. I followed this up with another question “Why?” I don’t think I can get management to do that. My response simply “you can not”.

Plainly, how can you make it better, if you go backwards instead of forwards? The thing is that, no matter how well you do on the previous elements of 5S, if you don’t sustain the gain, you move slowly back to square 1. Believe me, there are a lot of companies out there that failed in implementing and sustaining a successful 5S program. 5S succeeds in environments where there is discipline and self regulations in place to ensure standards are kept, this being owned by the workforce itself. Standards are typically maintained through a simple daily auditing system.

In order to sustain you really need commitment. You usually commit yourself to particular course of action in which the consequences of keeping to this course of action is greater than the consequences of not keeping to it. A good example is starting an exercise program where you decide to work out at the gym 3 times a week. You may find this difficult to sustain as many Americans do. This is because forces, in our life, such as limits on time and energy challenge this plan. However, if the rewards of sticking to it (feeling better, lower weight, more energy, clothes fit) are greater than not (more time for other stuff), your commitment will increase. So if you have seen the benefits of the first 4 S’s being a safer workplace, higher productivity, fewer defects, and more a satisfying job then why wouldn’t you want to commit to sustaining these benefits.

The last S, “Sustain” is essentially about involving and motivating all members of the organization in assuring that the standards are applied and improved through employee empowerment and autonomy. Lean Manufacturing is more about engaging and empowering the full intellectual capacity of the organization then it is about tools and methods.


  1. Tim,

    You are absolutely right that most organizations will drift back to their pre-5S conditions without the proper systems in place to support the new standards. It's like when you clean the garage that has become a mess. If you don't change your behavior and the behavior of your kids, the garage will become a mess again. Auditing will tell you if are holding the gains.

    I believe that this is part of a bigger management issue. Many roll out changes and expect the new procedures to sustain themselves. Most if not all changes will drift back to the original condition without supporting systems and audits or data collection to verify that the desired conditions are being met.


  2. Christian, You are right this is a management issue. Some leaders like to delegate Lean instead of participating and leading the transformation. Unfortunately, they don't understand their role and they must also change for everyone else to change.