Monday, 8 December 2008

5S and 3Mu (Waste)

Like blogger Stomponli, I get quite put off by thick catalogues, brochures and other junk mail which I have absolutely no need for. For example, I recently received 2 brochures together with the notification from LTA (Land Transport Authority) to renew my car road tax. They were about the new seat belt requirements for school buses. As my children are all fairly grown-up, the youngest being in junior college, I really had no use for the information in these booklets; and so I did what any 5S-minded individual would do; I promptly ‘Seiri-ed’ (discarded) them. Thankfully they weren’t as thick as those beautiful, glossy magazines from Ikea and Sony.

It then occurred to me that my action incurred considerable waste. Just think of the resources that went into producing and delivering the brochures to me. And more resources will be needed to dispose off or recycle them. Now multiply that by the thousands who are like me.

One reason why 5S is so popular is that it can be used to reduce or eliminate waste in many situations. But the waste we deal with in 5S is a bit different from that for the LTA booklets. In our case, the waste is not in the form of physical waste of energy or materials. Rather, it refers to wasteful activities that do not add value to the final product or service. This video clip illustrates what I am talking about.


With proper 5S, the person in this video would not need to waste time searching for and accessing the item he wanted. Yes, it’s only a few seconds but it is still waste. Furthermore, it causes some frustration to the workers.

The Japanese have an interesting way of classifying this type of waste. They call it Muri, Mura and Muda; or 3 Mu for short.

1) Muri means Irrationality or Strain. It means; “Doing that which cannot be done”. It usually refers to tasks that are very difficult or impossible to do; such as maintaining prolonged periods of vigilance, or having to remember a lot of things, or straining to read small words or symbols in dim lighting conditions?

2) Mura means Inconsistency. It means; “Not doing that which should be done”. It usually refers to situations where things that are not running as they should; such as when there are systems but people do not follow. One example is the yellow boxes at road junctions where cars are not supposed to stop in. Another example is the people who rush into MRT trains the moment the doors open and not giving the passengers a chance to alight. Their actions slow down the entire process and results in waste.

3) Muda simply means Waste. It refers to activities that do not help or add value, e.g. waiting/delay, rework, repair, etc. Muda is often the result of Muri and Mura.

I have read a Chinese 5S book which translates the 3 Mu’s as, 三不 or, 不合理,不均衡,and 不精简。

The 3 Mu’s are all around us; in our workplaces, homes, roads, public places etc. In any place where there is human activity, you will find them. I believe that if more people are conscious of, and are able to spot these wastes and then apply the simple techniques of 5S to eliminate or reduce them, this world could be a slightly better place to live in.

One technique in 5S which is widely used to reduce waste of the sort I have discussed here is Visual Control. I will explain the next time.


In my other blog, I once posted an essay about a very different type of waste. Do check it out here.

Death is only a sadness. Tragedy lies in waste.” – Herman Wouk

Monday, 15 September 2008

Seiso your computer keyboard

In the Sunday Times, Life Section, there was an article about dirty computer keyboards. Often they are much dirtier than they look. According to a British study, our computer keyboards can have five times more germs than a toilet seat. And in Singapore, the report says that many people like to snack at their work station and at the same time never clean them. Such dirty workstations become the breeding ground of disease-causing bacteria that can cause stomach upsets and diarrhoea or worse.

It looks like this is one good place to implement 5S; especially the 3rd S, Seiso. Let’s begin with a question. Do you clean the keyboard regularly? And how do you do it? (Seiso)
As me, I use this duster once a week or so. I find it very effective because the bristles can reach in the places where a cloth cannot reach. Previously I occasionally use a cotton bud. However, it is always better to practice prevention (Seiketsu). Don’t eat when you are at the keyboard!

Besides the keyboard, I also used this duster to ‘wipe’ my LCD monitor. As for those areas behind the computer which is difficult to reach, and where dust tends to accumulate I use this mini-vacuum which I bought at Best Electromart for only $18. But I find that the suction power is a bit weak; which means I need to clean more often when the dust is still easy to remove.

Monday, 1 September 2008

TQM Training for Asean participants

Last month, I was engaged by the Singapore Productivity Association to conduct a TQM Course for a group of participants from the neighbouring Asean countries. Sponsored by the Association of Overseas Technical Scholarship (AOTS) in Japan, this 10-day course had a long title: Improving the Competitiveness of SMEs through more effective implementation of TQM.

Back in the eighties and nineties, TQM was extremely popular. At that time, I was working in the National Productivity Board, and we had regular attachments of Japanese short-term experts coming to Singapore for periods of two to three weeks. I was assigned as a counterpart to an expert in TQC by the name of Motomu Baba. I learned a lot from him. I was also sent for a one-month TQC course in Japan in 1989. However, in recent years, TQM has become less popular. Many companies that implement TQM ran into difficulties.

Hence, in this course, we devoted a significant amount of time to looking at the pitfalls that companies will face when they implement TQM. In preparing for this assignment, I realized that there are very few books and resources that deal with the so-called ‘failures’. Most books discuss only the success stories and prescribed steps on how to carry out TQM. As such, I had to develop quite a bit of my own materials; including some case studies; but it was a great learning experience for me as well.

As the main objective was to train consultants and trainers who can help SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) with what they learned in this course, I taught them a very simple model of TQM which the participants liked a lot. My model comprised a few key elements:

1) Six core quality concepts
2) Quality Management
3) Quality Improvement
4) Employee Involvement (including 5S and Quality Circles)

As part of the curriculum, the trainees were divided into groups and sent to companies to carry out what we called Field Practice; i.e. to apply what they learned in the actual company environment. I was not involved in this part of the training.

Another interesting segment of the course was a lesson conducted via video-conference by a Japanese TQM expert in Japan. I participated in that session and learnt quite a bit from the Japanese expert by the name of Noboru Machida. Some insights I gained include:

1) In Japan, they do not adopt a common model or concept of TQM. Many organizations develop their own unique approach and gave it a name of their own. In Singapore, our civil service called their’s PS21.

2) One mistake that companies made was to try to implement everything in one go which is too ambitious. Mr Machida likened TQM to a big banquet or buffet. It is not possible to sample every dish. Depending on the company’s own situation, they should choose those relevant aspects and embark on that first; and then slowly build up their own TQM from there.

3) It is wrong to use the words like ‘failure’ or ‘success’ in TQM implementation. Rather, we should adopt a PDCA approach of continuous improvement. After each cycle, we review where we have gone wrong and then we improve on the next cycle.

4) He also shared an interesting feature of the Toyota culture of “People can speak Failure” and “Learn from trouble”. It encourages staff to give honest reports so that they can see what went wrong and then proceed to improve by prevent recurrence of past mistakes.

I took the opportunity to ask some questions about the practical aspects of implementing Hoshin Kanri in a small organisation. Incidentally, he found the name of my firm very meaningful and wished that he had thought of it when he first started out on his own.

I feel a bit sad that many organizations have abandoned TQM just because there has been many ‘failures’. I believe at that time, many of us, including the consultants were still new to the subject; and there was a shortage of good training materials and case studies. Today that has changed; but unfortunately, many organizations have become wary of the name TQM and prefer to move on to newer methodologies like Six Sigma. Maybe, it would be more productive if they had stuck to one system. Anyway, that is only my opinion, and I certainly do not want to go into a debate of TQM vs 6 Sigma.

As always, I found great pleasure in teaching participants from the less developed countries. They are very keen to learn and show great respect to the teacher. I hope I can find the opportunity to go these countries, just like the time I went to Myanmar in 2005 to share my expertise with them.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Why are the Japanese so disciplined?

In 1985, I was sent to Japan for three-and-a-half months of training in Productivity management and promotion. Whilst traveling in their crowded subway and trains, I noticed some people wearing face masks; like the little girl in this photo. I told myself; why are these people are so fearful of catching germs from the crowds. Later, I found out that people wear face masks in public when they themselves are unwell. They do not want to pass their germs to others. I really salute them for their civic-consciousness.

Have you ever wondered why the Japanese are so disciplined? I guess there must be many reasons. But I think one of the main reasons is that they are taught from young to be disciplined and considerate to others.

It starts in the home. In Japan, most women stop working when they are married and become full-time housewives. They devote a lot of time to rearing up their kids and do not employ domestic maids like we do in Singapore. In Singapore, usually both husband and wife have full time jobs and they will employ foreign domestic maids from countries like Indonesia and Philippines to take care for their home and kids in their absence. As such, Singapore children seldom have to do household chores like washing dishes, cleaning their rooms or even make their own beds. Most of the time, they have someone to clean up after them. So of course when they grow up, doing 5S does not naturally to them.

Recently, I learned that at school, Japanese school children are also taught to keep things clean and tidy. Once a week, they have to do what we call ‘area cleaning’ in the army.

Last year my youngest daughter, who studies Japanese language as a third language, was sent to Hamamatsu in Japan on an exchange programme. I asked her to take some photos of Japanese students doing such ‘area cleaning’ (souji wo suru). I share them with you here.

Each student keeps 2 pairs of shoes – one pair for use inside the school, and another pair which they wear home. These racks are for them to keep their extra pair of shoes. Every morning when they get to school, they will change over to their school shoes. At the end of the day, they will change back to their other pair.

Besides cleaning their own class room, they have to clean common places like the gym and the corridors. This is done once a week.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Shitsuke is Discipline

I have come across various definitions of Shitsuke in books and websites, such as:

a) Training and discipline
b) Sustaining
c) Continuing training
d) Maintaining standards
e) Commitment
f) Adherence to standards

I believe the original meaning of this word Shitsuke is used in the context of teaching children and it means manners and discipline. In Japanese, it is written as .

In the context of the work place, I would define Shitsuke as discipline. It means Conforming, or “doing what’s been is decided”. I have taken this definition from a passage that I came across in a book entitled; The Canon Production System, Creating Involvement of the Total Workforce by Alan T. Campbell.

"Canon has benefited in two important ways through the 5S Movement.

First is the workers’ change in consciousness - a readiness to follow rules and “do what’s been decided”… For example, keeping parts and tools in their place was once a hard rule to enforce. It is never broken now; this reduces delays and wasted motion and helps visually control the workplace.

The second benefit can be seen in the manufacturing process itself, in fewer accidents and equipment breakdowns, increased work efficiency, and lower defect rates."

This definition implies that Shituke is something that comes from within a person. It is more than simply following rules and regulations. It includes unwritten rules and basic courtesies and consideration for others. And it is something the person will do as a habit, without having to be reminded.

For example, I often meet clients in their premises. Sometimes, to the embarrassment of the host, we find that the whiteboard in the meeting rooms are quite dirty and there’s writing left on the board from a previous meeting. This is so even in many office blocks which are being kept clean by cleaners. Although there are no written rules which say that the user should clean the whiteboard after use, it is something that is ‘understood’.

In this regard, I think of something that I find quite shameful as a Singaporean. There was a time when I often see stickers in public toilets warning of a fine of $500 if you did not flush the toilet after use. As a Singaporean, don’t you feel ashamed that our authorities need to put up posters reminding us to keep our toilets clean and threaten people with a fine for doing something that should come automatically; and in the process live up the our reputation of being a ‘fine city’.

Anyway, this threat apparently did not work and so nowadays, they have installed auto-sensors to flush the toilets automatically. Alas, this measure has become counter-productive because in many public toilets, especially those in our kopitiams (coffee shops) these sensors do not work. Consequently, the toilets become even dirtier and smellier than before. I am very much tempted to put up a photo of one of these typical toilets here, but I think I will spare you the dear reader of the torture.

Photo by Flickr member neajjean

Photo by Flickr member doc_ido

Shitsuke is a fundamental requirement for any organisation that wants to excel in quality, productivity and safety. We all know that without cooperation, consideration for our fellow workers, it is very difficult to develop a culture that ensures safety and productivity. Hence in explaining Shitsuke to my trainees, I emphasize 3 aspects. (And by the way, integral to these 3 qualities is punctuality):

a) Cooperation
b) Consideration
c) Care

As members of an organisation, we have a basic responsibility to be considerate, and to cooperate with and even care for the safety and welfare of our fellow workers. This is the heart of Shitsuke.

In the beginning of this blog, I wrote about the littering problem in Singapore and compared ourselves with the Japanese. Have you ever wondered why the Japanese are able to do what we have been struggling to achieve for so many years? I think the answer lies in the homes and the schools. I will elaborate next time.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Another reason why you should 'Seiri"

Seiri, as you may recall, means Clearing - to get rid of clutter.

I recently came across a Focus on Family article in Today newspaper which says that clutter causes stress. The title of the article is: Decluttering Your Life. Here are some excerpts from the article:

** Experts say the most common cause of stress among women (housewives) is Clutter. The more stuff you accumulate, the more stressed you get. And the less likely you’ll be to function effectively.

** The sooner you stop putting things off the better.

** Don’t be afraid to throw a few things away.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Seiketsu is Maintaining

As you practice the previous 3 S’s regularly, you will naturally progress to the 4th S which is Seiketsu. Seiketsu means maintaining the uncluttered, neat and clean condition that you have achieved in practicing Seiri, Seiton and Seiso. It means preventing the condition from backsliding to the previous condition.

For example, after doing Seiri, you may find that new junk reappears in no time. And then you have to do Seiri again. After a while, you start to ask yourself; “Why do these unnecessary items turn up so often? How can I prevent them from reappearing so quickly?”

Likewise, after you have done Seiton, the whole place looks neat and tidy. But before long it gets messed up again, and so you ask yourself; “Why does this place get messy so quickly? Can I prevent it from getting untidy so quickly?”

Similarly it’s the case for Seiso.

Hence, in Seiketsu, we often have to adopt a problem solving approach to maintain the clean and tidy condition. In this sense, Seiketsu is more difficult than the previous 3 steps. It requires the use of our brains more than our hands.

Example 1

Let’s consider an example from the home, in this case the kitchen. You may find that frying produces a lot of oil mist which is difficult to remove from the walls of your kitchen. You then decide to install a cooker hood to extract the oily fumes. But of course you need to ensure that the cooker hood is well-maintained and functions properly. But this is not enough to remove all the fumes and so you next think of changing your kitchen walls to tiles which are easier to clean. Another measure you may want to take is to switch to non-stick frying pans which do not require much oil. And finally, you could decide to eat less fried food and switch to steaming instead.

All these measures that you come up with make it easier to maintain the clean condition of your kitchen falls under Seiketsu.

Example 2

Another example is from the public roads. In Singapore, the government has very strict rules for earth-moving trucks which travel on public roads. Before any truck leaves the construction site, its wheels must be washed to remove the mud. At the same time, these trucks are fitted with covers to prevent the earth from spilling onto the roads; although I often see trucks filled to the brim with the flaps not fully closed. Finally, construction workers have to clear away any mud that is inadvertently carried out onto the main road outside the construction site.

I hope my Malaysian friends do not get offended if I use Kuala Lumpur for comparison. When I was last there, (which was at least 10 years ago; maybe the situation has changed) I saw a lot of construction going on. I also saw a lot of dried mud outside construction sites. When a vehicles passes by, it kicks up a cloud of dust. As a result the air was quite hazy. But my Malaysian friends tend to put the blame on the forest burning habits of their fellow countrymen and neighbours in Indonesia.

Example 3

Finally, let me share with you an actual case from one of my clients. The place in question is a small office in the warehouse. When the staff embarked on 5S, they soon found that their equipment like fax machine and printers become dusty quite quickly. Initially they were quite puzzled as to where the dust came from because their office was air-conditioned. On closer examination, they realized that the dust came from the warehouse outside where lots of movement of forklift trucks took place. The dust found their way into the office through the single door which was opened frequently because of the human traffic.

The 5S team then brainstormed for ideas on how to reduce the frequency of opening and closing of the door. Finally they decided to change some procedures so that production and delivery staff need not come into the office so often. They put a box near the counter outside their office for the production and delivery personnel to deposit their documents like production orders and gate passes. They also provided a chop and staplers and other facilities near the outside counter. They even provided a sofa for people to wait outside instead of coming into the office.

These and other measures helped to cut down on the amount of dust entering the office and thus made it easier to maintain the cleanliness of their office and office equipment.

On a broader scale, Seiketsu also encompasses the routines that you put in place as part of the 5S system in you workplace. This could include doing regular checks and inspections of the 5S conditions.

But of course all these measures will not work unless people cooperate. And that brings us to the final S which is shitsuke or discipline, which I will touch on next time.