While performing a 5S audit last week I was reminded of the importance of being mindful of the 'broken windows' theory.
The ‘broken windows’ theory was first enunciated in 1982 by James Wilson and George Kelling in the Atlantic Monthly. The theory suggests that if a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one is in charge and soon more windows will be broken, which could result in the anarchy spreading from the building to the street. The authors propound that a successful strategy to prevent vandalism is to start when the problem is small.
If disorder goes unchecked then a vicious cycle begins. Our offices, production environments, and business processes are all susceptible to this theory. We need to attack disorganized areas and wasteful processes right away, don’t wait for the future. It is easier to sustain 5S (and lean for that matter) if you address the issue when it small and manageable.
I am sure many of you have examples where one piece of “litter” has escalated to a mess. It might be some unfiled papers on a desk that lead to piles of disorganization. Or maybe it is a messy draw or cabinet that causes the rest of the area to be complacent with returning items where they belong. Or perhaps it is a leaky part on machinery that causes a messy workplace.
Attention to the “broken windows” in our work environments will send a message to employees about the quality of their work which will prevent the defects, delays, waste and rework that can devour an organization’s profit margins.
Moral: “We cannot afford to overlook the small wastes in our workplaces and processes.”
It could be said that 5S is the broken windows theory applied to the shop floor.