Tuesday, July 19, 2016

5 Things Your Business Should Be Doing to Save Time and Increase Efficiency

This article is the first in a series on Lean Manufacturing.  Check back later for more to come!

At first glance, the lobby of Desert Paper & Envelope, Co. looks like any other business lobby: a tall front desk, a few chairs for visitors to wait in, a smattering of samples.  An end table with glass globes gaffed by the CEO adds a personal touch, and the scent of citrus-sage melts into the air from a flameless candle.  But walk around that front desk, to the receptionist’s seat, and you’ll find labels.  Everywhere.  “LEFT MONITOR” and “RIGHT MONITOR” are stuck to the surface of the desk.  Her name adorns every movable object—stapler, scissors, tape dispenser. 

You would think she was weirdly OCD, until you noticed that the whole office was like that.  “PAPER CUTTER”, “AUTO STAPLER”, and “LABEL MAKER” all have designated places on a credenza in the back.  Each sports a smaller nametag: “Office”. 

It’s not OCD.  It’s Lean.

Lean is the systematic elimination of waste to increase efficiency.  It’s most commonly used in manufacturing (hence why we do it), but the concepts are also used in other industries.  At Desert, we hold the whole facility to Lean standards because it’s not just in manufacturing that we find inefficiencies.   

We employ all Lean techniques, and our foundation is built on 5-S.  But our approach to Lean is about the people.  It’s about empowering the operators to fix what bugs them.  It’s about listening to the people who are doing the job every day, and using their guidance to streamline processes.  Because they understand best what it means to do the work.

There are many components of a Lean system, but today we’re going to talk about the most wide-spread one within Desert: 5-S.


5-S is a shorthand way to refer to five words that begin with (surprise) “S”.  They are: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.  They comprise a system for workplace standardization, which allows us to identify problems early and solve them while they’re still minor.  This is how it works:

Sort: take all of your stuff out.  Really, take it all out of your desk or your work bench or your toolbox.  Put it in a pile.  Then sort (see?!) it into smaller piles based on how often you use each item: every day, every week, every month.  Set job-specific items into another pile.  And then set Red Tag items—those you don’t need but appear to be valuable—in a fifth pile. 

And that’s it!  You’re finished sorting.

Set in Order: put everything back where it belongs.  How do you decide where it belongs?  Based on how often you use it, of course!  That’s what the Sort step is all about.

Items you use most often should be most readily available—e.g. on your desk, rather than in a drawer, or hung on a wall.  Place increasingly less-frequently-used items in increasingly less-convenient places.  And you’re finished.

Shine: clean everything.  A lot of people like to Shine before they Set in Order, which makes sense.  Also, deal with that Red Tag pile.  Get a red tag and label it with today’s date, the originating area of the item, and the reason for discard—e.g. not needed, extra supplies, needs repair.  If you know what it is, also include that.  Then put it in the Red Tag area, where it will wait until Judgment Day (when someone with authority decides to keep it or throw it away). 

Standardize: now that everything is clean and has a designated place, declare each thing’s place for all to see.  Literally label where everything goes.  Even things that seem obvious, like your phone.  Also, make sure you include a “return address”—a label indicating who each item belongs to—so your stuff can be returned if someone borrows it.  If, during Sorting, you hung items on the wall, outline them in tape so anyone can see when something is missing. 

Complete with color coding.  That red "T" belongs to a different work station--note how visual and universal the system is.

You’re almost done.  Now, all you have left is to:

Sustain: take a photo of your work area and hang it in an obvious place.  A photo shows everyone quickly and easily whether or not your area looks the way it’s supposed to, so it’s easier for an outsider to see if your work area is standardized or not.  Periodically re-5-S your area to keep it organized and efficient. 

And you’re done.  Yay!  Now you can 5-S anything.

But now you’re wondering—why would I do this?  What does this have to do with manufacturing? 

We do this because it builds continuous improvement into the job routine.  If you’re regularly examining your workplace, you notice inefficiencies in your daily schedule.  You notice if something is breaking before it’s totally broken, so you can fix it earlier to save repair money and avoid potential headaches and loss of productivity.  Also, you’ll eliminate those seemingly-inevitable junk drawers.  Bonus!

Teaser: our next article in this series will focus on KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators.  They are Desert’s way of “taking the temperature”—imagine going in to the doctor’s office for your annual physical. The doctor will take your blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, etc. For us, our vital signs are the KPIs, and they allow us to identify areas for improvement, opportunities for additional training, and recognition for a job well done.  This is exactly why we are vigilant about posting them in each area on a weekly basis; without them we might not realize when we are walking around with low blood pressure.

Do you practice 5-S?  Do you measure any unique KPIs in your business?  We’d love to hear how you’ve implemented these Lean techniques at your facility. Let us know in the comments!

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