Monday, May 24, 2004

Mowing the Grass--Learning about Lean:  Part I

It is May in Indiana and one of our great pastimes of the spring is cutting grass.  Seriously.  The soil is good, the weather is cool, the rains are abundant and the grass grows like crazy.   It is a huge topic of conversation and a subject of intense scrutiny, from the technical (how often to you sharpen your blade?) to the aesthetic (how did you select that diagonal pattern?).

Due to inattention and bad timing, our lawn got out of control and before the neighbors filed charges with the Grass Police, I waded into it during a long Saturday afternoon.  And I surprised myself by learning more about lean systems.

The Middle "S" of 5S

You know about 5S (there is a quick discussion here and here's one of the best books on the subject ).  5S is a foundation of standard work in a Lean system by keeping the workplace visual and neat.  Of the five "S's" (Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain), the middle one gained new meaning for me Saturday.

As I prepped the mower for the 5" tall grass, I tipped the mower deck and scraped off some accumulated grass clippings.  As I did, I noticed that the engine seemed to wobble a bit on the mower deck.  Investigating further, I noted that one of the three motor-mount bolts had fallen out.  Who knows where it was.  But I chose to repair it before beginning, even though I already had a long afternoon ahead of me.  I removed one of the two remaining bolts, headed for the hardware store, got a matching replacement, and quickly secured the motor with three bolts. 

Why "Shine"?  Is it about a sparkling surface on my mower?  About not clogging the grass chute with a build-up underneath?  Yes, but that's not enough.

When I "Shine" my workplace, I am literally cleaning, wiping and touching all it's surfaces. And in so doing, I get up close enough to it to see details I would not notice otherwise.  In this case, I detected a bit of a wobble in the motor that was not evident when the mower was on all four wheels.  The two motor mount bolts held the motor in place OK...but what happens if a second bolt drops out?  What safety issue arises?  What damage to the motor happens?  Instead, I could fix the problem in a calm and clear manner and prevented any possible further problem.

"Shine" is about getting close to the work.  Touching it.  Feeling it.  Examining it.  To see details you would otherwise miss.  Do 5S in your workplace.  And make it Shine.  And see what you learn. 

I hope this is helpful. 



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