Tuesday, May 22, 2012

When Management Fads Attack

5S. Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, Shitsuke

I reckon 5S is a great idea for mechanics' workshops, construction offices, any workspaces where there's a lot of tools, a lot of paper, a lot of mess. For an organised office that houses a high-performing team of electronic paper shufflers, it's a massive WOFTAM.*

So what is this craziness called 5S? Wikipedia has a decent definition, and all the other websites are trying to sell you their expertise in implementing it. Stick with Wikipedia in this instance.

It's an organisational management tool designed to improve productivity via obsessive attention to where stuff goes and how clean it is. Picture the pegboard in Richie Cunningham's father's garage: scungy white with black outlines drawn around all of the tools so that after being used, they can be returned to exactly the right place. It's that sort of organised thinking, backed up with disciplined adherence to detail, times a gazillion.

If you're a Lean practitioner, this is the housekeeping stuff. If you think Lean Housekeeping is about losing weight by vacuuming and dusting, you're wrong, but please do try it, preferably at my house. 

Lean and 5S are methods of working with a focus on improving the way you do things. The company I work for is starting a transformational journey to business excellence through process improvement, and as such, every single person and workspace in the business is being jammed through the workplace 5S extruder. The CEO has done it, the production and despatch teams are doing it, and I've done it. Sort of. That's another story

Anyway, I 5S'd my workspace, dusted and shined the leaves of the plant that I inherited, and stood ready for inspection. Victory was mine - I had passed! Most of the people in my area passed. My boss, a brilliantly messy  mad-scientist type, cleaned his area by shoving everything on his desk into a box which he then shoved under his desk. The box is marked recycling. The box lies.

I took a shorter route to 5S compliance, as my desk was relatively tidy, if somewhat dusty: I filed until I got jack of it, and everything else went through the shredder. Yes, I have shredded some documents I wish I'd kept. Damn you, 5S! 

Other 5S compliance techniques in our offices include body blocking the guy with the hand trolley so he can't take away your filing cabinets. Files should be archived off-site, or filed in a central compactus...which we used to have, until it was converted to provide additional office space. 

If the hand-trolley soldiers manage to overpower you and get your filing cabinets, you might have to jam all of your important hard copy documents into your desk drawers with the other stuff you aren't allowed to leave in plain sight: stationary supplies, last year's diary, a cache of painkillers, antacids, band aids and tampons, the funny mug your boyfriend gave you, a couple of tins of soup, a manicure kit, a broken mouse, three mousepads and emergency chocolate. 

And no, it's not an efficient use of my time or the company's limited server capacity for me to scan every document that comes to me as a tree-version, and save it.

But don't think the pain has stopped just because I complied.  Today, I saw what the 5S team has done to the staff kitchen. Like all staff kitchens, it's imperfect and inadequate. It has no dishwasher or stove, but I've seen far worse.  Still, obsession is...er...obsessive.

They've labelled stuff. The microwaves, the sandwich press, the cupboards (cups, glasses, cleaning products), the drawers (cutlery, tea towels), the cupboard where you're not permitted to store cereal in cardboard boxes because it attracts rodents. The toaster, or more specifically, the position on the wall under which the toaster is to be stored when not in use. There are scary mystery cupboards too: these were not labelled. I don't know whether to sneak a peak, or assume that as they don't carry visible labels I'm just not meant to know.

But back to the cereal-eating rodents: why is this an issue? We have fat possums that live in the ceiling, occasionally breaking through to run around our clean, 5S'd desks in the middle of the night, leaving plenty of another S for us to clean up in the morning. And snakes: brown snakes and carpet pythons that find their way through cracks in the ceilings that the possums broke, seeking the warmth of our computer screens and hot water heaters. 

I've had it with this 5S business. Please leave your suggestions for how to mess with the minds of the 5S team below. Thank you. 

* WOFTAM: Waste of F*cking Time And Money


  1. my desk is subject to the laws of thermodynamics:

    Entropy & enthalpy.

  2. I dqo believe anyone outside Japan who seeks to implement management systems based on Jaapnese words should be able to write them correctly in original script, understand the quasi-Buddhist pop-philosophy behind it, and recall the state of the Japanese economy at present. Then they might be able to think about using it... Good grief!

  3. Are they reworking your computer desktop? Perhaps you could continually crowd the desktop with useless and/or dead links to mess with them.

  4. Wankers. Typical management - liking to be seen to be doing something but merely faffing about the edges.

  5. Jeez, I am glad that my boss, doesn't know about this method. he is mad keen on the production process of Toyota. Working in QA (Quality Assurance), we are in the firing line.

    Labels- Label individual items to mess with there head. Years ago I worked at a Station, north of brisbane and our Station office" went mad with the labeller like you describe. We responded in kind, labelled spoons, pens, pencils, pad of paper, ream of paper, labelled the door "door", labelled the roof "roof"and even labelled the dashboard of all the cars "dashboard".

    Well you guessed it, when we were questioned we simply stated "We were just complying with your wishes". (malicious compliance). Next day the majority of the labels had disappeared (funny that).

    Pot plant and dust. --- I would have sprinkled the pot plant with icing sugar and then stated loudly (in the mgr's presence), "Alright, which one of you, left their coke on my weed?". Then lick your finger, and sweep up the coke and offer the "boss" some. This action could be seen as extreme , but would prove a point.

    Back to a serious point now---I do agree with the premise of a tidy desk and being time organised, but managers need to trust their staff have a system in place that works and this is evidenced by the output of the staff.

    We need Leaders who will give staff the big picture and then and their staff on the journey to achieve the goals and celebrate the milestones (successes) along the way. Micro managers have Micro brains and are short sighted and will trip over their feet.

    For managers to be dogmatic about such processes and "anally retentive" , just leads to disenfranchisement of staff, malicious compliance, decreased productivity and low morale.

    The lovely Miss Higgins-Devine summed it up it well "Wankers"

  6. Yep, 5S the TOYOTA WAY! Might know where everything is but does not necessarily makes things better. Toyota just fined a billion bucks after having disregard for public safety. Also the employee that died from working 18 hours a day, 365 days a year. Toyota's defence: He volunteered.. Toyota put him in his place, a box!