Saturday, 15 December 2007

How to carry out Seiso (for equipment)

An Example from the home

My kids are very fortunate. They each have their own personal PC’s. But I was quite angry when I saw how dirty their machines were. Not only were the difficult-to-reach cables at the back of the PC filthy, even the PC body and monitor were covered with a layer of dust. They promised (after repeated naggings) to do it after their exams.

One day, they told me they have done it. I was surprised, because I didn’t recall seeing them cleaning their workstation in the manner that I expect. On checking I found that only surface of the PC body has been wiped. The back was just as filthy and dusty as ever.

An Example from the factory

Once I was working with a small local furniture manufacturer. This was many years ago, and I had just started working as a management consultant and was still quite new to the technique of 5S. I noticed that their machines were very dirty and I convinced the boss to implement the third ‘S’ – Seiso. He allowed the workers to stop work about 10 to 15 minutes before the end of their work shift to clean their machines.
On the first day, I eagerly went down to the factory 5 minutes before closing to see how the workers were doing. I expected to see them busily cleaning their machines. Guess what I saw. They were all cleaned up and waiting for the siren next to the clock card machine. I then went to one of the machines. It looked quite clean. The saw dust have been swept away from the surface of the machine. But when I banged on the machine, lots of dust fell to the ground.

The lesson from these two examples is this: Cleaning must be properly planned and should not be left to the workers. The supervisor or group leader should make a Cleaning Schedule and supervise its implementation until he is happy that everyone understands his role.
How to prepare a Cleaning Schedule
It’s quite simple really. All you need to consider are the “5 wives and 1 husband”. Well actually in this case, 3 wives will suffice.

1) What – make a list of the cleaning tasks. If the machine is a huge one, divide it into sections first.

2) When – decide on the frequency of each of the cleaning tasks; which ones need to be done daily, which ones weekly and so on.

3) Who – where more than 1 persons are involved, divide out the work.

4) How – decide on the best method for each task and the tools required.

After that it is just a simple matter of putting all the above into a big chart; preferably with diagrams to illustrate the key points and of course some warnings about safety precautions and so on. Put up the Cleaning Schedule on a prominent place near the machine and supervise the implementation. Fine-tune your procedure as necessary along the way.

F-Label Technique

Seiso is a form of Checking or Inspection.

Remember this principle that we learned last time. As the workers carry out their cleaning or Seiso, make sure they keep a look out for minor defects. Minor defects are problems in the machine or equipment which do not need urgent attention because the machine can still run with them. Examples are dents, broken catches, missing nuts and screws, loose wires etc. In most factories, operational people will not take the initiative to rectify or report these minor problems. As a result they will tend to accumulate until the machine finally breaks down.

The secret is to achieve a situation where your machines are all working like new is to thoroughly implement Seiso and ensure that all these minor defects are repaired as soon as possible. The Japanese like to use a technique called F-label technique to handle such minor defects.

1) As soon as a minor defect is discovered, the worker should repair it himself if possible. Sometimes it could be something as simple as a missing screw or a loose wire.

2) If practical, attach an F-label to the machine near to this minor defect. F stands for “fault”, but our local boys like to think of a dirty word.

3) Make a list of all the minor defects and discuss them with the Maintenance department to work out a plan to repair them all.

4) After each defect is repaired, remove the F-Label from the machine. Otherwise keep it there, even if they make the machine look unsightly, as if it was plastered with bandages; which it actually is in a certain sense.

If you implement the Seiso technique for equipment cleaning that I have recommended here, I assure you that you can safe yourself many heartaches resulting for machine malfunctions and stoppages.

Remember Murphy’s Law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong ….. and they usually go wrong at the worse time, if I may add.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Seiso is Cleaning (1) – The Importance of Seiso

The third ‘S’ in 5S is Seiso; and it simply means Cleaning.

Example 1: Our beloved AR-15

Many of us who have gone through NS (National Service) will remember that all soldiers were given a ‘wife’ when they joined the army. During my time it was the AR-15. Now they have a new one, SAR-something. Right from day 1, we were told to take good care of our wives. We have to keep it clean. And so we were taught how to dismantle our weapons and clean it thoroughly using a variety of tools like tweezers, rifle cleaning rod, steel brushes, flanelite etc. Every morning, when we drew our rifle from the armoury, we had to clean it. Every evening before we return it, we had to clean it again, no matter how late the hour or tired we were.

We had regular rifle inspections, and if our rifles were found to be dirty, it usually meant ‘extra duties’. Cleaning our rifles became such a basic part of army life that we could even dismantle our rifles and clean them in the dark. If you gave me an AR-15 today, it is likely that I would still be able to do it by instinct.

Question is; why is it so important to keep the rifles clean? The simple answer of course, is that we want it to be in tip-top working condition at all times. A dirty rifle is likely to give rise to problems. And in the battlefield this could spell disaster.

Example 2. The beloved lorry.

Some years ago, when I was still working as a management consultant with the National Productivity Board, I was assigned as a Productivity Manager to a company called Tat Seng Paper Containers Pte Ltd on a part time basis. This company produced carton boxes and delivers them to various MNCs. The company had 4 delivery trucks; two were owned by the company and two were owned by subcontractors.

One evening, we had a meeting until quite late in the evening. When the GM, Mr S M Low and I went to the car park, we noticed someone passionately cleaning a delivery truck. I said to Mr Low; “Wow, your staff is really hardworking; cleaning his truck at this hour.”

“That chap is not our employee,” replied the GM, “He is one of the contractors”. You can see why this contractor was so diligent in taking care of his truck. He knew that his livelihood depended on it and thus he needed to keep it in tip-top working condition. He also needed it to last for as long as possible as it represented a big chunk of his investments, probably bought with his hard-earned savings.

The lesson from these two examples is this:

Cleaning is a form of Preventive Maintenance.

Cleaning removes dust and dirt from our equipment. Dust and dirt are the cause of many equipment problems. Hence, we can say that cleaning removes the direct source of many equipment problems. This basic principle is applicable to all equipment; including those that our Creator gave us.

Example 3: Our teeth

Our teeth are important equipment which we use regularly. Some people do not take care of their teeth resulting in their loss before they even reach the age of thirty. But some people, like my dad have a good set of teeth even when they reach a ripe old age. Why the difference? The answer is mainly because the second group of people take good care of their teeth. How?

1) By regular brushing and flossing.
2) By visiting their dentist regularly.

Have you ever thought about what the dentist does whenever you saw him? The first thing he does is to do scaling. Scaling removes the ‘dirt’ which your normal brushing could not. Plus, in the process of scaling, the dentist carries out a detail check of your teeth to detect any minor problem and take action before it becomes serious. You could say, Early detection saves teeth.

Herein lies the second function of Seiso.

Seiso is a form of Checking or Inspection.

Perhaps you can understand better now what I wrote in my first article concerning my visit to Japanese factories. We were told in no uncertain terms that a dirty factory simply cannot be a productive factory. All Japanese workers are responsible for keeping their machines clean. In other words, to take ownership of them.

So far, I have limited my discussion to equipment cleaning. The logic applies to other aspects of your workplace as well - your parts and materials, your facilities, environment etc. although maybe not to such a large extent as equipment.

Next time, I will blog about how to carry out Seiso.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Seiton is Organising

The second ‘S’ in 5S is Seiton; and it means Organising or: To set in order.

It’s another fundamental principle of good workplace organization. Arrange everything systematically, and in a disciplined and user-friendly manner so that anyone can find the right thing without delay. The guiding principle in Seiton is:

► A place of everything,

► Everything in its place.

When I teach this topic, I often advise my trainees to follow three simple rules:

After you have gotten rid of unnecessary items in Seiri, you have only necessary items at your workplace. Arrange or organize them systematically such that they are:

1) Easy to See
2) Easy to Take,
3) Easy to Return.

Furthermore, under Easy to See, you should design a visual control system where it is:

A) Easy to see WHERE

You should have a good address/location system so that each item has its designated location with an address. This includes using a colour code system. Then ensure the system is user-friendly by using large, clear labels. This way, when an item is not returned to its designated location, you can easily spot it.

B) Easy to see WHAT

You should try to implement a system of ‘reserved seats and matching names’. This is especially important when you have many different items that look similar. You want to avoid costly mix-ups and using the wrong items.

C) Easy to see HOW MANY

You should arrange things neatly to facilitate easy counting or measuring. Where applicable, you should indicate clearly when it is time to reorder or replenish; and how much to order.

A Personal Story

In this regard, I would like to share a personal story with you.

When my father was quite old and bed-ridden, my siblings and I hired a Philippino maid to look after him. It was not easy to find a good maid to undertake such a messy job; as most of them were young ladies who shunned this relatively easy but rather ‘dirty’ job. But we were fortunate to find any intelligent middle aged lady by the name of Lita who understood English well. All my father’s doctors praised her because she could quickly follow their instructions on my father’s medications; which made our lives much easier. Of course we had to pay her a comparatively high salary to compensate for the unpleasantness of her duties.

Her biggest fault, however, was that she did not have a good understanding of the concept of Seiton. I remember one occasion when I was conducting a class and she paged me several times. Expecting the worse, I called her as soon as I could and got this ‘urgent’ message, “Sir, sir … no more diapers.”

“How many pieces left?” I asked. “Two” she replied. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” I said in irritation.

I very well couldn’t interrupt my class to go and buy diapers, and thus waited till the end of the day before I rushed down to this shop at Ang Mo Kio Community Hospital called Abdeen’s where adult diapers were sold at a very reasonable price, and bought 2 packets of 10 pieces each. Meantime, my father had to ‘suffer’ some discomfort because his normal consumption of diapers was about 5 pieces per day. Our usual practice was to order via fax from a small company which made home deliveries if you purchased a minimum of 2 boxes. Their lead time was 2 days. It was much cheaper too when we order in bulk like this.

And so I gave Lita a lesson in 5S using the principles of Seiton I mentioned above. Being the smart lass she was, she quickly came up with a system which went something like this.

When the 2 boxes of supplies arrived, she would take out 4 or 5 packets (1 packet has 10 pieces) at put them at the end of my father’s bed. (We bought him a second-hand hospital bed). These 5 packets served as a safety stock. When the rest of the 2 boxes had been used up, she would inform me (the purchasing officer) and then start using the 5 packets which had been set aside. This way, I have sufficient time to react and my father need not suffer from lack of diapers.

I should digress to inform you that it is no simple matter to look after a bedridden old man. Besides diapers, there are many other items to manage, such as gloves, milk powder, Vaseline, urine bags, urinary catheters, disinfectant, cotton buds etc. etc. But as you can see, with a little planning and application of the 5S principles, we can have things under control and minimize the number of crises.

Of course, an in-depth application of Seiton goes far beyond what I have covered here. I shall go into it at a later date.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Clearing Campaign

This past week, I have been doing a lot of Seiri.

As of next week, I will be shutting down my office and working from home. For the past 6 years, I have been sharing office with a couple of friends and associates. But recently, they have gone separate ways, and so to cut costs, I have decided to give up the office and work from home.

The volume of work that my firm has been handling has reduced quite significantly over the past 2 years. And as I approach my 55th year, I think it is good time to move back home and reevaluate my options. I will continue to do free lance consultancy, specializing in 5S; but what I really enjoy doing most at this stage of my career is writing. I have been doing a self-study course with the Writers Bureau and if the opportunity arises, I certainly would like to diversify into this area of work. I ask myself, If not now, when?

Initially, I wanted to bring back 2 steel cabinets to store all by stuff. Then I decided, I better put into practice what I have been teaching others. So I did the first ‘S’ in 5S which is Sort and Discard. Over the past 10 years, I have accumulated tons of equipment, books, files, course notes and documents which I don’t really use or have too many copies of. So, I discarded most of them. I even gave away a mini-fridge, an old photocopier and a pc and laser printer. I also left behind some furniture for the next tenant. Now, I don’t even need the 2 steel cabinets. To save space, I converted many project reports to soft copy, videos tapes to DVDs and CDroms to an external hard disk.

One important principle that you should bear in mind in Seiri is this. You should do it regularly and not wait till an occasion such as the one I am facing, when you are forced to make quick decision. Your chances of making the mistake of accidentally throwing away things you actually need, and keeping things that you don’t need will be much smaller.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Interesting Example of Seiri

In my previous article about getting rid of clutter (Seiri), I mentioned that we should even get rid of useless thoughts and habits! Well I came across something quite similar to that in an article in Today (the newspaper) today.

Writing in his regular Focus on the Family column, Dr James Dobson gave this advice on how to handle the problem of Anxiety.

“It is widely believed now that general anxiety such as agoraphobia or other specific fears are the by-products of powerful feelings that have been repressed, and we must learn to deal with them ….. Only when we’ve begun to clean up the powerful emotions that we’ve stored away in the toxic dump of our minds, will we rid ourselves of the their seepage into our daily lives”.

Thursday, 31 May 2007

Get Rid of Clutter

I once read in the Readers Digest of a profession known as Clutter Consultants. These are people who you hired to come into your homes to help you to literally put your house in order. And yes, you might have guessed as the author did, that this could only happen in America, the land of plenty.

The first thing this clutter consultant is likely to do is to get you to practise what in 5S is called Seiri, or Clearing. You have to sort your stuff into necessary and unnecessary; and get rid of the latter. Give, sell, throw; it doesn’t matter. Just don’t keep them lying around. And as one Japanese author put it; you have to be ‘ruthless’.

This is the most fundamental first step towards higher productivity. Many of us have a habit of keeping things which we cannot decide whether or not we needed. In other words, we procrastinate. The first rule in 5S is; When in doubt, get rid of it. Of course this may sound a bit extreme. At the very least, I would say, you should make a decision to decide later. By that I mean, mark those things that you cannot confirm are truly unnecessary. Come back to it X number of months later, and if you still cannot find any use for it - dump it!

But what if I accidentally throw away something that I later discover that I actually needed? Well too bad. It’s a risk we just have to take. The alternative is to keep on procrastinating until we have accumulated a mountain of junk; and then the task simply becomes too daunting, and we give up altogether.

Here are some tips for carrying out Seiri.

1) Do it regularly; daily or weekly or monthly depending on the item. This will prevent the problem building up into a gridlock as mentioned above. For example, for emails, we should delete the obsolete and junk emails at least once a day. A manager once told me he had a subordinate who actually kept several hundred emails in his In-box!

2) Apply Seiri to everything; not just at work but at home. Not just physical things but also intangible things such as emails, addresses/contacts, steps in work procedures etc. One writer even said we should get rid of useless thoughts and habits! I say, don’t forget your own body. Get rid of the useless fats.

3) Set some rules. For example – No more than 10 emails in the In-box. Create a separate KIV folder. File all read emails required for future reference in separate folders and review them once a month.

4) Practise prevention. Think of ways to prevent junk from appearing in the first place. Timely advice you may say, considering that the Great Singapore Sale has just started. Those of you who use emails regularly must have learnt some tricks about how to prevent spam. Anyway, techniques for preventing clutter actually belong to the 4th S which is Seiketsu. More about that later.

In conclusion, I have only this simple advice. Do it now. And start with those places that you have never looked at for a long time. You will be surprised just how much junk you have acquired. Even for stuff which you use regularly, the stationery tray in front of you, the book shelf next to you, your CD collection etc. I guarantee that you will be able to find some junk if you looked hard enough.

And you will also surprised how good it feels to be rid of these junk

This picture is from an August 2006 Straits Times article about cluttered homes belonging to some old folks which are fire hazards and breeding grounds for bugs. Volunteers visit these homes and try of help the owners to clean up. But “getting people to part with their possessions can be tough”, wrote the reporter Yap Su-Yin.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Where’s the Stuff? (东西在哪里?)

I think many Singaporeans remember this very funny advertisement from Ikea. A group of thugs breaks into a house and confronts a young man.

Thug (menacingly):
Where’s the stuff? Hand it over quickly! (presumably referring to drugs)
Young man:
I don’t know.
Thug gets impatient and repeats question:
Young man (in exasperated voice):
I don’t know. I really don’t know.

And then the camera zooms out and we see the young man’s room is in a complete mess with things strewn all over the place.
And the message from the advertisers says: "Storage problems?" ..… I think you can guess what they are selling.

I love this advertisement. It’s funny and it brings across so graphically the basic message of 5S, which is:

Good housekeeping makes it easier to find things and thus improves productivity.

But what happens when you get to the workplace?

Over the past 20 years, I have amassed literally thousands of photos of cluttered, messy and dirty workplaces. Most of the time, people know that it is important to practise good housekeeping, but they are too busy and have ‘no time’. Unfortunately, these people will wait till a crisis arises before they try to put their house in order; such as in the event of an accident, or a warning from the authorities or an impending visit by their customer. In other words, they think that housekeeping is important but not urgent. We will do it when we have time. But the longer you delay, the dirtier the place becomes and the more difficult it is to put right.

In his outstanding book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey says that a highly effective person is one who is 'proactive' and 'puts first things first'. He distinguishes tasks that are urgent but not important, from those that are important but not urgent, and consciously sets aside time for the latter. Good housekeeping, or what we call 5S belongs to the second category. My Japanese teacher, Mr Motomu Baba puts it differently; "Do fire-preventing, not fire-fighting."

So take a good look at your workplace. Is it like the photos below? If it is, in Steven Covey’s book, you are not creative but ineffective.

003a - messy desk

003b - messy store room

003e - messy store room

003f - messy work table

Friday, 27 April 2007

No Littering in Singapore?

There’s an article in page 35 of The Straits Times today titled, Singapore Wows Vancouver Visitor. Written by a Vancouver architect, planner and property developer, Michael Geller, the article was full of praise for our country; especially its cleanliness. “During my stay, I did not see any litter on the streets.” he declared.

002a - No Littering
“CLEAN LIVING: No littering, no graffiti … Singapore has to be the cleanest country in the world.”

Really? Maybe if Mr Geller had visited blogger, Walter’s estate, or those of some of Walter’s readers who left comments in his blog, he might have a change of opinion. Of course, he should make his visit early in the morning before our army of cleaners start their rounds.

One of my Japanese 5S teachers at the National Productivity Board, Mr K. Tsuchiya once told us that there are 3 classes of workplaces.

1) A First Class workplace is one where nobody litters and yet everybody is picking up any rubbish that is found.

2) A Second Class workplace is one where some people litter but there are others who pick up the rubbish.

3) A Third Class workplace is one where many people litter but nobody is picking up the rubbish.

Walter’s article about the littering problem in his estate prompted me to ask, Is Singapore 1st, 2nd or 3rd class by Mr Tsuchiya’s yardstick?

There was a time when I liked to ask my trainees what they thought. Usually, most of them would say 2nd class. We have many litter bugs here, but we also employ many cleaners to clean up after them. However, judging by what Walter wrote and what his readers have commented, I suspect we are not even 2nd class because, the litterbugs seem to doing a more efficient job than the cleaners. Hence, nowadays, I dare not put the question to my trainees anymore, for fear of hearing the truth.

As a 5S trainer, I liked to collect newspaper articles regarding the littering/cleanliness problem in Singapore. I post a few of them here. Take a look for yourself and see if you agree with Mr Geller that there’s no littering in Singapore.

002b - Dirty Estate 1995
The picture above is from 1995

002c - Dirty Estate 2005
This picture is from 2005. See any improvement?

002d - Dirty HDB Block

002e - Dirty Park1

Friday, 30 March 2007

My 5S Journey

In May, 2003, at the peak of the SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) crisis in Singapore, I came across an interesting article in the Straits Times where our then deputy prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong exhorted Singaporeans to learn from the Japanese; especially their sense of civic consciousness and responsibility. The article mentioned something which I have have have been working with for the past 20 years – the Japanese technique of Good Housekeeping and Workplace Organisation known as 5S. (Actually, for some unknown reason, they mentioned only 4 and dropped the last one, Shitsuke, which was actually the one most relevant to the article. But never mind.)

"When it comes to cleanliness, the Japanese are hard to beat. Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong referred to them in his May Day Speech, saying that "we should do like the Japanese". Japanese workplaces are notoriously neat and tidy. The Japanese are said to live by the credo of the 4Ss ......" (Straits Times, May 11, 2003)

Having been fortunate enough to be involved in the 5S Movement in Singapore since it started in 1986, I feel I can play a small part in turning the PM's goals into reality. Through this blog, I would like to share my knowledge and thoughts about this subject of 5S; and of course, at the same time, I hope to promote my services to potential clients. As some of you may be aware, I run my own consulting business, Hoshin Consulting which provides training and consultancy in 5S and other productivity-related areas.

What is 5S?

5S is the acronym for 5 Japanese words; Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke.

  • Seiri (整理) means Clearing.
  • Seiton (整顿) means Organising.
  • Seiso (清扫) means Cleaning.
  • Seiketsu (清洁) means Maintaining, and
  • Shitsuke (no Chinese equivalent word) means Discipline.

My First Encounter With 5S

My first encounter with 5S was in 1985 when I was sent by the National Productivity Board to Japan for three-and-a-half months of training. During this time, I visited many outstanding Japanese companies and noticed that they all strongly emphasized keeping the company and its equipment clean and in tip-top condition by this technique or system known as 5S. In 1989, I was fortunate to be sent again to Japan for a 1-month training stint in Total Quality Control, where I got to visit more companies which have won the prestigious Deming Prize.

This 1984 article in the Straits Times about the first batch of trainees to Japan for the Productivity Development Project Fellowship (PDP) training caught my attention. After seeing this article, I promptly applied for a job at NPB as a trainer in the IOE (Industrial and Operations Engineering) Department. And then in September 1985, I joined the 3rd batch of trainees for PDP fellowship training in Japan. The training last three-and-a-half months from 8 Sep to 20 Dec.

The photo below was taken in 1985 at a plant called Aisin Seiki in Nishio, a company that manufactures brake pumps for Toyota Motors. I am standing, 3rd from the right. We were attached to Aisin Seiki for 2 weeks. Would you believe that we are at a rock garden right in the middle of the factory. The factory was so clean that it was a 'shock' for us Singaporeans.

When I returned to Singapore, my colleagues and I worked closely with the Japanese experts attached to NPB and we aggressively promoted 5S in Singapore; especially to the small and medium sized companies. We conducted lots of training and consultancy projects and produced training videos, as well as organized various promotional activities. We even provided training to other consultants not only from Singapore, but also the other Asean countries through what was known as the Japan-Asean Regional Training Programme. For my part in this effort, I was awarded what was called the Triple-A Award in October 1988.

After I left the NPB in 1992, I continued to provide 5S training and consultancy to companies in Singapore and the region up to today. Although, on the whole, I believe I have lost out in terms of monetary remuneration, when compared to my colleagues who remained in the NPB, (myself to be blamed for not being a very good entrepreneur), I think I gained a lot especially from the exposure to companies in other countries. My work took me to many different parts if Malaysia, like Pasir Gudang, Shah Alam, Kerteh (in Trengganu), Port Dickson, Melaka, Bangi, Kuantan, Kuching and Bintulu. I even had 2 memorable assignments in the beautiful country of Seychelles as well as more recent ones in Indonesia and Myanmar. As a self-employed consultant, my working hours are much for flexible and I could spend more time with my family and church; and indulge in my favourite pastime – blogging.

Through this blog, I hope to share and learn more about 5S which is widely applicable even in the home and public places. Of course, I hope to receive lots of contributions from my readers, including other consultants. Also, I do not intend to limit the topic to only 5S but to other subjects related to productivity and quality.

Finally, I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my Japanese teachers who have taught me so much; especially Mr Hajime Suzuki, Mr Kazuo Tsuchiya and Mr Motomu Baba.

A shot of Mr Suzuki (left) in the early days of our 5S journey.

You probably know what they say about consultants. They borrow your watch, tell you the time and walk away with it. So I must also thank those people who have lent me their watches, during these past 20 years. I hope I can return some of them through this blog; and at the same time borrow a few more.