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Yusen, We Have a Problem!: There are 5 S's in SUCCESSES(S)

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 9, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2015

by Kirk White, Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc.


There's an infamous tale told ‘round the Logistics Summer Campfire: The Mystery of the Vagabond Forklift. In the olden days, folks didn't seem to mind too much about organization or putting things in their proper place and most shifts at this warehouse ended like The Flintstones: a whistle would blow, drivers would shout "yabba dabba doo!" (not really) and jump off their lifts, then they'd run toward the door and clock out into the great blue yonder. The machines would remain where they were last used and the incoming shift would go on an Easter egg hunt for forklifts. Six rooms, twenty lifts and ten minutes of scrambling…per shift…per day. The inefficiency of it all compounded like interest on a car loan.

This practice continued, unchecked and unsolved, until that fateful day a forklift was almost sent to Mexico. The shift ended. The buzzer buzzed. The operator turned off his lift and left – with the lift still in the back of an outbound trailer. Yabba dabba don't!

Upon receiving the call from security asking if said forklift was really intended for export as it was clearly NOT listed on the paperwork, an embarrassed warehouse manager remarked, "Gadzooks…we need to immediately implement something to mitigate such circumstances." (This has been cleaned up a bit for publication as what he actually said involved a few colorful metaphors, delivered tersely with much volume.)

What he needed in that moment was a way to simplify the gemba so that work could be performed with minimal stress caused by disorganization.

The solution to this problem has FIVE S's: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. These five small steps for gemba, when properly implemented, can be a giant leap for productivity.

Step 1: Seiri (Sort)
This first step is the hardest of the five. It has reduced the strongest and most disciplined of operators into staring slack-jawed at their work stations, hands wringing, sweating, stammering, muttering "but I really need this," over and over as they pick through tools, documents and probably – honestly – a little garbage here and there.

To seiri, take a look at the work area, whether it be a desk, a work station, a room or even a warehouse floor. Look with critical, laser-focused eyes. Identify the tools used for each process and remove all the non-essential ones. Remove them. Get them out of the gemba. This includes, broken items, outdated documentation, trash and anything and everything else that is no longer used or useful. "But I may need it someday" items can be stored, but shouldn't be on the floor or work area.

This is not easy. Entire television networks are devoted to shows about people unable to seiri. Be strong. Purge. Do it again.

What should remain are the items used daily to complete the tasks at hand and nothing more.

Take a deep breath. The hardest part is over.

Step 2: Seiton (Straighten)
Give each tool a proper home. Lay out the workflow and place commonly used items in easily accessible places. Arm's reach is a great place to start. A good place to continue is to label the places so that items can be returned. Now this is normally an aspect where some balk at the concept – imagine nightmare rigid layouts where only one pen is allowed on the desk at a time and there is a circle where one's coffee cup must always go – sip, return, sip, return. However, that road is tread by organizations that have been practicing the 5 S's for decades and have mastered the fundamentals to such a degree that they can entertain such focused initiatives. The only concern with a coffee cup at this point is that it's removed (and washed) when empty.

Consider the embarrassed manager and the wayward forklift. By creating a forklift parking area, it suddenly becomes exponentially easier to track the machines.

Imagine a home workshop with a pegboard wall adorned with various tools – saws, hammers, pliers, etc. – and outlines of each tool drawn on the board. It only takes a glance to see that the saw is missing. This is the 5 S's at its very best.

Don't think this only applies to physical tools. Documentation can also benefit. After expired or unnecessary documents are purged, the remaining useful documents can be added to a (clearly labeled) folder and placed in a (clearly labeled) file cabinet. Go the extra mile and post the document retention rule on the file cabinet. "Keep for seven years" or "move to storage in three months" will answer questions many haven't thought to ask.

Step 3: Seiso (Shine)
Now that the heartbreak of seiri has dramatically reduced the amount of items in the work area and seiton has given each of them a home, don't waste all that good work by allowing clutter and trash to creep back into the mix. Add the seiso (shine) stage to the daily work. Return items to their seiton homes when not in use and clean up the area at the end of the shift; build time into the schedule for this purpose, which will lead nicely into…

Step 4: Seiketsu (Standardize)
Make it a habit. That's it. Once the work is complete, make sure that it is also constant. Document the new process. Train all employees. Add visualization to the rules (see last month's article). There may even be opportunities, especially if multiple operators perform the same function, to roll out the same layout across the team. Work to integrate the new organization and cleanliness routine into the DNA of the gemba. And to aid in this…

Step 5: Shitsuke (Sustain)
If the habit has been made more tangible by documentation and visualization in the seiketsu step, add checks and balances to make sure that the wonderful improvement is sustained. Unofficially add to the manager's end of day walk-through that he/she should visually evaluate the work station and if anything is missing/askew, immediately correct. Officially, a monthly "5 S Walkthrough" can be conducted. If monthly seems too aggressive, try quarterly. Just add the element of evaluation and accountability. If this is something that is regularly monitored and enforced, it will be followed.

Once again, the purpose of this (or any of the elements of Kaizen) is not to stifle the human spirit by turning a person into a robot doing the same rote task all day – the purpose is to free the employee of clutter and disorganization and streamline the process so that he/she can spend more time on performing tasks (genuine work) rather than trying to figure out how to do them (supplemental work) or, worse yet, searching for the proper tools (waste).

In the end it is the clearing of the chaos around us that allows us to perform with full focus and maximum effect.


Kirk White has worked in every division of Yusen Logistics. After a brief stint in Transportation, he transferred to Corporate, where he coordinated Yusen's Employee Empowered Kaizen system and served as a Specialist for the Business Process Re-engineering group, after which he moved to the Warehouse division to serve as the East Coast Quality Manger before ultimately joining the International division, where he hopes to use his Quality knowledge base to prove an asset to OCM.

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Tags:  Kaizen 

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