“But What If We Don’t Need Workplace Organization?”

Rick Bohan

I was talking recently with a very smart distribution manager at one of my clients.  We’ve been very involved with Workplace Organization and Visual Management all over the organization and especially in manufacturing.  That fits my usual modus operandi.

The manager was telling me that his folks are getting a bit bored with these phases and are starting to wonder what the purpose of all this “lean stuff” is given that a strong focus on Workplace Organization doesn’t do much for them in the warehouse.

I’ve run into this before…it seems that different departments/functions respond to the Workplace Organization initiative differently.  Maintenance departments seem to either love it or ardently dislike it.  There’s not much middle ground with them.  It’s the same with Tooling Maintenance and Repair.  Tool Rooms and Tool Cribs generally seem to like it, though the enormity of the task (as they see it) sometimes puts them off.  Manufacturing runs the gamut but mostly, shop floor operators get it and like it, if only because it makes the “other shifts” comply (eventually) with some agreed upon standards.  Receiving and Shipping departments usually don’t seem to have a lot of use for it.

I’m not sure why this is so.  Perhaps it’s because most of what shipping and receiving folks work with is pretty well organized to begin with.  Everything that comes in has a place to go to and everything that’s shipped has a place that it’s being stored prior to shipping.  The shipping and receiving department has lots of documentation that’s, necessarily, reasonably well organized for the most part.  (Further, that surfeit of documents that they have to track makes those workers sensitive to adding anything more to the mix…say, a “5S Self Review Form” that has to be completed weekly.)  As for tools, tooling, equipment, machinery, and supplies, well, there are fork lifts, pallets, and…not much else.  So, they decide where the fork lifts are going to be parked at the end of the shift, straighten up any loose pallets lying around, sweep out the shipping office and, voila!…5S is done!  Which is probably mostly what they were doing anyway before the Workplace Organization effort started.

I’m sure the fact that shipping and receiving workers don’t have much say over what stays and what gets tossed out or red tagged is important here as well.  Many years ago, I was hired to conduct 5S training for warehouse workers and their supervisor.  The company made and sold a variety of small hardware…clamps, fasteners, that sort of thing.  As we were walking through the warehouse, I saw a number of anvils on the finished goods racks, just like the ones that Wiley Coyote tried to drop onto the head of the Roadrunner.  A few questions helped me determine that the company didn’t sell anvils any longer.
Consultant:  “So, let’s get rid of them.”

Workers and Supervisor:  “We aren’t authorized.”

Consultant:  “So let’s go to the person who is, and get authorization.”

Workers and Supervisor:  “Knock yourself out.”

The workshop went downhill from there.  In fairness. 5S solves a problem they didn’t have.  They could quickly get to everything they needed …what did they care if there were some anvils up on a top rack at the back of the warehouse?

In manufacturing, maintenance, tool repair and other functions, the department’s own disorganization can impede flow of material.  In receiving and shipping, disruptions to flow, in large part,  are caused by the disorganization of others…missing labels, bad packaging, incorrectly filled orders, and on and on.  (To be sure, poor management of inventory can profoundly impact shipping and receiving and, to some extent, this is a “workplace organization” issue but I think it’s not typically seen that way.  Rather, it’s seen as a “poor systems and procedures” issue and there’s a good argument to be made for that position.)

All that said, I’m still of a mind that Visual Management has a strong application to warehousing and shipping.  A few years ago, I spent just an hour or so talking with a shipping supervisor about visual management.  Several days later, I went back to the department; the supervisor had organized staging lanes for outgoing shipments, had re-organized finished goods into three “one day of production” batches, and place dry erase boards at the end of each finished goods rack.  Come to think of it, I actually forget what the info on the dry erase boards was for but it fit with the supervisor’s overall implementation of visual management.

I think I just need to spend more time in the shipping and receiving department.


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