A good friend of mine recently sent me a photo of what his team found while cleaning one of their production areas:
Yes, that’s a certificate lauding completion of various 5S activities… except the last one: sustain. And from the mess in the background you can see what happened.
Sustaining improvement – lean or otherwise – is difficult. How many of us are on a diet… again? Needing to clean the garage… again? In fact, sorting and straightening and all that is really the easy part. Doing it day after day is tough.
Three sources of the difficulty come to mind. The first is the lack of a plan to sustain the improvement. How often will it be done? How will it be monitored? 5S is often sustained through audits and daily checklists, even after it becomes ingrained in expectation and even culture.
But such plans are meaningless if there isn’t also leadership commitment. Are managers and supervisors holding themselves and others accountable to the sustaining plan? What happens when the plan isn’t followed?
However ultimately there won’t be leadership commitment if there isn’t a solid understanding of why the improvement program is happening in the first place. I’ve seen innumerable organizations, including mine, go down the path of “we must do this or that program”… without understanding why. I even know of one organization that I won’t identify (cough… mine… cough) that once long ago had a goal to implement two lean tools per year. We learned our lesson. What is the problem or opportunity, what is the desired future state, and what is the best tool or program to achieve that future state?
To sustain an improvement program you need a solid plan. For that plan to be effective you need leadership commitment. For there to be leadership commitment there needs to be a solid reason and understanding of why the improvement is needed – and important – in the first place. The power of Why.