5S – Shadows Boards Are Bad and Reflection is Good

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I’m doing a gemba walk and I find a tool setting on a piece of equipment.  I look at the shadow board for the area which is about 12 feet away.  What should I do?

  1. Pick the tool up and put it in its place.
  2. Deduct one point on the 5S audit form.
  3. Stand in an imaginary 30″ circle and watch what happens to the tool.
  4. Ask the operator why the tool is where it currently is.
  5. Blame the operator and take the appropriate disciplinary action in accordance with the collective bargained agreement or the employee handbook whichever applies.
  6. Some other distractor that I can’t come up with right now.

That’s an honest question.  After ruling out 1, 2, 5, and 6, I’m not sure whether watching or asking is better. Please take this poll:

We all know that the shadow board is the right place for all tools.  We know that everything is in its place in a glance.  The lean sensei from corporate told us to put everything on a nice board with label machine labels done up in the company colors.  Looks good right?

What if the tool is used where it is though?  It gets used there every few minutes.  Isn’t the right place for the tool at the point of frequent use?  But we need to have it on the shadow board because that tool is used at three places in the area and the shadow board is centrally located in order to reduce motion waste.  Why not buy three of the same tool?

All these questions are good and bring to a bigger question — what should the balance between waste reduction and work place organization be?  Is it more important to have fewer, and larger shadow boards throughout the work area or is it better to create visually obvious places for tools at their natural point of use?  Centralized shadow boards offer the advantage of requiring fewer tools, and they it is easier to assure that everything that will be needed is there with a couple quick scans.  Point of use storage offers the advantage of less motion waste but may require buying more than one of the same tool and are harder to scan quickly.

15 years ago I prided myself on making large elaborate shadows boards.  Monuments to my ‘creativity’ and ability to instill ‘discipline’ where there was none.  Over these 15 years I have realized that I cheated a lot of people out of better work environments due to my desire to create these impressive displays at the expense of operator convenience and efficiency.  Other people suffered for my pride and ignorance of the true intent of workplace organization and visuality.  People suffered for accepting my advice that they accepted of their own volition or because they were compelled to because of ‘organizational authority.’  I taught people the wrong things.

I have learned that the 5S should reduce waste and make people’s work life better — for them and for the companies that they comprise.  I have learned that my with authority that my position or perceived competence lends me comes a responsibility examine my own assumptions as to avoid harming others.

This leads to two questions:  How should I help people organize their work spaces today and going forward, and what actions do I take today and what things do I teach that will cause other people to suffer?


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19 Responses

  1. There is no balance between organization and waste elimination – they are inherently linked.

    This comes to the primary purpose of 5S – it is to help us spot problems and spot waste. The tool not being put back indicates that something in the system is wrong. Instead of having to walk from 3 different locations to go get the tool, the tool would be much better at the point of activity. It would probably be better to have 3 tools. If the tool is used that frequently, it’s even better if you put it on a magnet next to where it’s used so it’s one easy motion. Or if it’s really used frequently, assuming it’s something like a t-handle hex, permanently attach the tool to the bolt. Now I have a bolt with a handle, which is probably the most efficient of all. 5S requires standardization but that’s not the goal. Improving the system is the goal.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  2. My first thought was “ask about the tool being out of place” but in some settings “asking” means “PUT THAT BACK!” even inadvertently.

    Some people misinterpret that the shadow board is where an item ALWAYS has to be. If something could always be on a board, it’s not very useful — just get rid of the tools then.

    You make a very insightful point here:

    “It gets used there every few minutes. Isn’t the right place for the tool at the point of frequent use? ”

    Yes, it should be at the point of use. You might have a “home location” for where it goes at the end of the day, and that’s it.

    You’re being very reflective — so don’t beat yourself up over any harm you think you’ve done in the workplace.

    What you describe is a very common problem with Lean – copying the tool. People tour a factory and see a shadow board, so they want to copy it, thinking that will help. Any method, including 5S, has to be used to solve problems or to be a countermeasure to something that’s not ideal.

    Again, I really appreciate the reflective nature of this post… very well done. The difference between choice 3 and choice 4 is a subtle one. Yelling at someone is a pretty obvious violation of “Respect for People” but so could be choice 4.

    “Why is that tool not on the board?”

    The person thinks “don’t you trust me to do my job? why don’t you help me solve REAL problems — like this machine breaking down too much because the supplier sends faulty supplies… because you probably bought the cheapest stuff….”

    Asking the question, even in a nice tone of voice, can cause a ton of problems.

    We’re all continuing to learn….

    • Yes the difference between 3 and 4 is subtle. I work in the same plant everyday so how I would react probably has to do with my relationship with the individual operator who is there at the time. I would be comfortable asking some pretty directly but with many I would be concerned about my question being perceived as criticism no matter how gently I tried to ask. Probably should think about why I don’t have better relationships with all the operators.

  3. I’d argue that picking up the tool and putting it back for somebody is probably worse than just yelling…. you’re actively interfering with somebody doing their job, at worst, or at best you’re cleaning up for them instead of instilling a sense of why they should “clean up” themselves.

    Lots to chew on here, great post.

    • I agree. Picking up the tool and putting it back might be the worst answer. It is bad on a couple levels – don’t want to send the message that are spitting on hankies and wiping faces (cleaning up after someone) on the people level, on a systems level it is the opposite of escalating an abnormal condition to a problem (sweep it under the rug).

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jamie Flinchbaugh, Mark Graban. Mark Graban said: Really good reflective post on lean, 5S, and solving problems vs copying tools http://bit.ly/6ArZBy […]

  5. What a great post. Simple, reflective and challenging all over a tool on the floor.

    What about painting the outline on the floor where it lays? Would that not be appropriate, a continuous improvement effort and answer all the questions? Or would that be to much like a smart alack?

    I enjoyed the post and of course the answer is it depends, not knowing the company, the stage of lean transformation they are in, etc. However, you did a great job emphasizing the need to develop the culture of lean.

  6. Other responses to poll:
    Buy operator a tool belt

  7. Really a nice provocation. My thoughts on the shadow board implementations I have seen, most are eye candy to “show” you have done 5S or Lean or TPM. Tool out of place I think could be a perhaps a lack of cultural discipline, poor implementation, or as is noted above maybe really inconvienient. I have shown you a photo of a pre-school room that had the children using the tool shadow board for their work area very effectively and the adults kitchen tools not very effectively. I n reflecting on that situation where a 3 year old gets it., the location for the tools was ideal and the child was certified in the use of the workbench before being allowed to use it. It included putting tools away. At work we went through a similar issue as you describe on a machine where a shadow board was “mandated” to our group. How else could we show 5S to management. The implementation wound up being a tool tray in front of where the operator worked with in appropriate reach each tool used during the process had a spot that you could place it and it would roll into the right location. Still have the right tools, knew if it wasn’t there, easy for the operator to use and at point of use. We arrived at this with an extreme amount of reflection and discussion and disregard for our direction given. The thing is it works and it came from the person doing it.

    • If I can find ’em can I posted them? I don’t think they showed any kids. I would certainly attribute the institution of higher learning (its my alma mater). 3 yr olds can get it right. we can too.

  8. […] on Lean Haiku – A Raised HandDaniel Markovitz on Lean AccountingBruce Baker on 5S – Shadows Boards Are Bad and Reflection is GoodKayGee on 5S – Shadows Boards Are Bad and Reflection is GoodBruce Baker on 5S – […]

  9. First, I would ask the operator why the tool is where it is. I would ask because I could gain a better understanding of the process and the use of the tool. I wouldn’t use it as a gotcha question. Also, I have found as an area impoves, tools are changed or modified as well as the physical location of the shadow board itself.

  10. […] 5S – Shadows Boards Are Bad and Reflection is Good – a reflective post about shadow boards and the purpose of 5S. […]

  11. […] month I wrote a post on my blog about 5S shadow boards and reflection.  The post focused what should be done when a […]

  12. […] We’ll use these later in our program. I found a post on the “Lean is Good” blog 5S – Shadows Boards Are Bad and Reflection is Good from December 11, 2009. What I liked about the post was that the author Bruce Baker even admitted […]

  13. […] what you can apply at your organization. Maybe you can use it for your meeting. I found the article 5S – Shadows Boards Are Bad and Reflection is Good from the Lean is Good blog. It helped us realize that when we decide to use a tool shadow board […]

  14. I find myself coming back to your web-site only because you have lots of awesome insights and also you happen to be at this a while, which is very impressive and tells me you know your stuff.

  15. Reblogged this on kingsiju.

  16. What an awesome post. Bruce, you are extremely wise & yet humble. Love it. You are so right about Lean tools. Some things are so great on paper, but the real challenge is applying them in the real world manufacturing environment.

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