My personal workplace organization efforts were put to the test recently, and I failed miserably. That isn’t a bad thing because I learned some lessons from the experience, but after bragging how I had rearranged my shed last year to make it easier to get things out and put them away, I am pretty embarrassed. This same test happens in your business every day and you may be failing miserably as well in this episode of “Extreme 5S – Workplace Organization on Steroids.” Let’s see how we can turn failure into a learning experience.

Getting started 

My grandson, Ryan, is out of school for the summer and looking for something to do to earn money for a mission trip that he is embarking on in August. Being the wonderful grandfather that I am I decided to see if we could match his need for money with my need for an extra pair of hands to help with the gardening. When he arrived for his first day at work I was running errands and purchasing more project ideas so my wife, Pat, put him to work weeding one of the flower beds. However, he wasn’t able to begin the task immediately.

My situation was very similar to what happens at your work place every day. Employees begin earning their wage as soon as they punch in but you don’t receive a reciprocal benefit until they start producing goods and services. The longer it takes for an employee to “get ready” to perform a task, the greater the loss of potential revenue for the company. I would like to say that the reason for the delay was the fault of someone else, but it rested squarely on my shoulders, as it does at your work place as well.

If you are a gardener you know that there seems to be gloves for every occasion. There are heavy-duty gloves to cushion the hands, light-weight gloves with rubberized palms and fingers for gripping things like weeds, and many others in between. Ryan needed gloves for weeding but, since I hadn’t done as thorough a job of organizing the workplace as I should have, the gloves were not easy to find. In fact, they weren’t all even in one location.

Some of them were in the baskets we last used for weeding, others were draped over the handles of the wheelbarrow to dry out, and others were in a variety of places in my “well-organized” shed. Ryan and Pat spent about 20 minutes unsuccessfully looking for a pair of gloves for weeding. She finally gave him a pair of heavy duty gloves that are fine for gripping the steering wheel of the tractor, but not for separating undesirable weeds from delicate desirable flowers.

Using the right tools 

So far this scenario has revealed two opportunities for improvement through Lean thinking. One is better workplace organization so that the “get ready” or setup time is minimized, and the other is ensuring that the tools and equipment used in the process are appropriate for the required tasks. Using the right tools for the job reduces waste in the process as you will see as my story continues to unfold.

When I returned from my errands I noticed Ryan wasn’t wearing gloves so I asked him if he would like some. He said Pat had already given him a pair so I started working on a different project and didn’t press the issue.

At quitting time Ryan went in the house to clean up. It took him a long time to scrub the dirt from his hands and finger nails. All of the time he was cleaning up he was still on the clock but I wasn’t receiving any benefit from his labor. Does that sound a little familiar to the clean-up activities at your shop? In Ryan’s case the lengthy clean up was due to not using the right tools for the process – light-weight gloves with rubberized fingers and palms. If he had been using the right tools he could have spent more time in the garden and less time at the sink.

Time is money
Good workplace organization can mean dollars and cents to your business. The less time people spend searching for the things they need to do the tasks you have charged them to perform, the more time they will have to create revenue for the business. Since productivity is a measure of revenue creation versus hours worked, productivity will also increase as a result of good workplace organization.

It has been my experience that the average employee loses about one hour each day looking for the things they need to do their job. That includes everything from a stapler to a nail gun. If the average hourly rate is $20, you are effectively giving every employee an extra $20 every day for revenue they could have, but didn’t, create. Lost productivity is not limited to the shop floor. It happens everywhere. You may not even be as productive as you can be. Try organizing your own workplace and measure the results. You may be surprised.

Successful organization 

I’ll share more detail of a successful workplace organization event in future articles, but I want to introduce it here to demonstrate what can be achieved when everyone is on board for the lean journey.

Eight people in a custom shop decided to organize their workplace to eliminate clutter and create flow. Prior to the event the eight employees operated as individual islands of activity in various locations in the shop. Jobs always had to be moved several feet between processes and tool sharing/borrowing was general practice.

Throughput was one completed project every two weeks. Once the clutter was removed and the processes were connected to create flow throughput increased to four completed projects per week. I’ll tell you how they got there in future articles, but you don’t have to wait until then to begin to reap benefits in your shop. Start workplace organization today and you will see positive results tomorrow.

Standardize and sustain 

After Ryan left that first day I walked through the garden to check his work. The gloves Pat gave him were on the ground where he discarded them. I couldn’t get upset with him because it was my fault that he had the wrong equipment and I hadn’t taken the time to introduce him to the workplace organization process. Ensuring that everyone understands the process and follows good workplace organization practices is what the two S’s of Standardize and Sustain are all about. Everyone has to understand the process, practice it daily, and be held accountable to their agreements in order to achieve the necessary culture shift that ensures sustainment.

I better get out to the shed and complete my workplace organization project and then take the time to work with Ryan to fine-tune it so it not only works for me but for him as well. After all, he is the one charged with the yard work this summer. If I don’t include him in the event, I can’t expect him to understand the rationale and support it.

Next time I will launch into the “extreme” part of workplace organization and explore how the 5S steps can be applied to other lean tools.

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