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  • Writer's pictureBill Greider

6S: Not quite as easy as it looks

Without a doubt, there are 2 lean "tools" that roll off the tongue, but are often very hard to pull off-kaizen and 6S (many use 5S).

Sure, doing periodic kaizen events with a selected group of people isn't really too hard until you realize that the to-do list at the end has to be implemented. Then "busy" kicks in. What I'm talking about is building a culture of kaizen where people are making improvements every day. Depending on the sense of urgency, this could take months or years.

The other beauty is 6S. All you really need to do is sort-set-shine-standardize-sustain and throw in safety. There, we're done. 6S can be so easy, in fact, that you can try it over and over for decades and not get it to stick.

Both of these concepts are challenging because both require building some routines that cut through the "we're too busy" and they both also require you work hard to gain agreement with everyone. 6S requires we build an entire new process into our business. Here is a quick overview on how to build this new 6S process:

  1. Break the building into zones and find a "zone leader" for each of these zones. Include every square inch, including break areas and restrooms. If you have 3 shifts, begin building this process on 1st to work out the kinks as you move forward.

  2. Shoot video of each zone and work with each zone leader to develop a "walkaround checklist" for their zone. Help the zone leader gain agreement with the people who work in that zone on what 15-20 items should be on the checklist. Don't try to get everything-we will replace items on the list as they become moot. 5 is great, 1 stinks. Items that come out of the safety committee meetings can go on the 6S checklists, for example.

  3. Establish a 30 minute weekly huddle for the zone leaders. This group will be responsible for building this process so it fits the culture of the company! Two simple rules: make it simple and FUN. This group also settles disputes, plans the month end celebration, figures out the reward system, etc.

  4. The zone leaders use the checklists to randomly audit one of the other zone leader's zones once a week. After the audit, the checklist gets handed in to the zone leader who's zone you just audited using their checklist.

  5. The zone leader uses the checklist to have a 15-20 minute huddle with their zone each week to gain agreement on which item(s) they want to fix that week.

  6. Keep score, post the standings so everyone can see them, and figure out a reward system for the monthly winning zone.

  7. Now, go after the other shifts!

  8. At the end of each month, hold a company-wide celebration where the winners are announced. This is also a great time to continue to teach the basics and principles of 6S.

Every company does this a little bit differently, but they all follow these basic steps. All you need to establish is a weekly audit for every zone, and weekly zone huddles for every zone. This alone can take a few months to build, but it is worth it!!!

Whatever you do, work with the zone leaders to figure out how to make sure 6S is not root canal surgery. In every company I work for, 6S is about smiles and laughing. (Like my friends Rodney Chandler, Ramon Torres, Sharon Sutton, Greg Fowler & Janet Thornton from Atlas Stamping & Manufacturing, (Newington, CT).

Soon you will reach what I call the "point of no return", where the process has taken hold and you no longer need to baby sit it.

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