In this article series, we explore how the purpose of 5S programs is absent from the culture of western management. The typical result of implementing 5S in organizations is that shop floors are clean and sometimes “tour-ready”. Housekeeping is a small part of 5S and doesn’t even make up a large portion of the third S: sanitize. It is no wonder then that western culture realizes only 1/5th of the potential benefits of 5S – since 5S is NOT a housekeeping program. In Part VII of this series, we look at the waste of waiting through the lens of the 5S thinking system.
Waiting is considered a waste because it is non-value added. It is non-value added because while waiting, the product or service is not being transformed into something of value. Waiting is simply a delay within any process.
Sorting out Waiting
Waiting is often ignored because it is silent, not easily identified and when it is found, often tolerated. The attitude towards waiting is that there are bigger problems to be worrying about. For example, excessive motion is identified, so we can attack it by reducing distances between points A and B, often solving some other hidden waiting problems without any awareness that we solved two problems at once. This is why waiting is often hard to see. It happens in fits and spurts, sometimes not at all and when it does, is masked by other wastes. Often we are looking at people for the waste of waiting and when we see people bustling around, we think all is well in this category. But we need to look deeper than this, don’t we?
I always like to refer to the 4M’s when thinking of 5S and 8 wastes. Man, machine, material and methods. With people we can easily see waste. How about your machines? Is it waiting for someone to cycle start? Is it waiting for material? Why is it waiting for material? Is the material handler late? Did she not bring the correct quantity? Or is it the wrong type? Is it waiting for a fault reset? What caused the fault in the first place? Is there a breakdown? How can that breakdown be prevented? Again, depending on how long you can spend on the floor, you may not see these things readily. Measure your downtime on these machines; this will give you an indicator of how much waiting waste is occurring in your machine operations.
What about materials? In order to determine this waste with materials, we need to watch and measure. How long does material sit, waiting for processing? Waiting to be batched? Waiting to be moved? Waiting to be reworked? Is there too much material? Why is there so much material? If it was reduced, would material move faster through the process? If there is too little inventory, then perhaps your people and/or machines are waiting. I once heard someone say: “I don’t want to see any inventory on the floor!” I asked him why he felt this way, to which he said: “Lean says that the goal is zero inventories!” This is absolute nonsense of course, when we think of JIT this way. Zero inventory doesn’t mean zero buffer inventory, it means zero excess inventory. So, the waste of waiting is a good way to indicate if your inventories are balanced or not. In other words, we can sort out the waiting in order to help understand how to balance our inventories. This is why we must consider just-in-time concepts to highlight waiting wastes along with many others.
Approvals are another form of waiting waste, along with a myriad of other administrative tasks such as “hand-offs”. We have to challenge our assumptions, stratifying the necessary approvals from those that are unnecessary and then changing the way we behave. Hand-offs need to be separated between necessary and unnecessary. Why are we waiting for approvals? Is the approval necessary? What are the criteria for approval? Can those criteria be built into the job the first time, eliminating the need for approval? These are all general questions that can be tailor fit to your specific situation, with the aim of eliminating unnecessary approvals. Often, I hear that managers do not want to relinquish control of approvals. This may be true in certain circumstances. However, I believe that approvals are sought out and required because we often don’t know what to expect and we don’t know what is expected of us. Clear expectations and good communication, which leads to confidence and resourcefulness, can often bring about the elimination of approvals.
Setting it in order.
Let’s continue with our last example. Once we know what is expected and required, we can set all of these requirements in order. In the case of approvals and handoffs, we may be dealing with financial or technical reviews. Specifications, ranges, min/max, or any other sort of detail of the job can be put into checklists or guidelines. This sounds generic, but some effort should be put into the testing of your details, so that the desired result is obtained. I recall work in a machine shop I managed as an example. We fabricated custom cams for post-print equipment. The features of the cam had standard specifications we used in the manufacture of these products, some industry specific, other specific to engineering principles and more were rooted in the principles of metallurgy. The point is this: we used basic guidelines to help us through the planning and manufacture of these cams without having to obtain a long chain of approvals from management staff (engineering, sales, purchasing). There was only a signoff by customer service, who represented the customer, on the approval of the cam design and manufacture. This process allowed our company to take and order for one custom cam on Monday and ship it within the week. Another big contribution to this system was to understand what delays in the process of manufacturing these cams occurred and then eliminating those delays. This preparatory approach to the project prompted us to use the principle of value streams (product/process matrix) to realign the machine shop with customer needs. So, production orders for large capital equipment were routed through the shop within a predetermined capacity, and the balance of the capacity was used for customer service orders, like the cams. In other words, we looked at our capacity and maximized it, eliminating delays in order to achieve our goals.
Sanitizing the process.
Waiting is a waste. So if we set up rules to sort out waste and set the process in order without the waste, then we need to follow up and see how our standards are holding up. There are as many ways to check on waste as there are reasons for the cause of waste. If you are a team leader, have an operator on your line post a flag up high and visible to all in order to indicate waiting. This gives you the opportunity to determine why. If you are in the admin area, record how long you wait for approvals. Bring that number to your manager and have a dialogue about why this occurs. Managers, take the time to sit, stand and watch for waiting. This request invariably opens the floodgates of objection: there is not time to “sit” around and wait for problems to occur. This objection is nonsense. How much time do you spend on reworking, reprocessing, rerouting, etc? We are all too eager to automate the functions of human ability, but we are never eager to eliminate the waste of waiting, which robs us of the opportunity to be more productive. It is the manager’s job to observe the process, inspecting it for waste and then sanitizing the process free from waste.
Standardize the first three S’
Workflow is the best medicine for curing the waste of waiting. By reducing batch sizes and standardizing these practices, we contain the wastes of waiting into manageable chunks. It is much easier then to see these wastes when we standardize the process, reduce the inventory levels and watch for the waiting to occur. Huge gains in productivity may be gained this way. The same can be done in the office. Standardize the workflow of paper, approvals, design and project management. Follow-up is the key. By standardizing, we are only saying what we wish to happen. By sanitizing the process, which is inspecting for contamination of the standards, we can zero in on the process and bring the process back to standard.
Sustain the 4S cycle
Like all of the wastes, we must be vigilant against the waste of waiting. It is everywhere, and will always reveal more improvement opportunities for us to seize. Teach people how to see waiting as a waste. Get them to watch an area and note when they see waiting, in any form, and make a note of it. Coach them through the use of 5Y’s so they can get a feel for how to dig at root cause. Coach them through the creation of real solutions and help them standardize those solutions. Sustaining means we repeat the 4S cycle for not only waiting, but look for the other wastes – they are always there. The fifth S is a reminder for us to teach and coach the 4S cycle to all of our people.