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Interview with Joann Parrinder, APICS President: Innovating Ideas into Action with 5S

Ron Crabtree

The concept of 5S, which is a methodology to reduce waste through a rigorous approach to workplace organization and cleanliness has five steps that loosely translate as Sort, Setup, Scrub, and Shine, Standardize and, finally, Sustain. Until recently, it never really occurred to me that the concept of 5S could be extended creatively to improving processes that have absolutely nothing to do with physical organization.

Joann Parrinder is a co-author of our book Driving Operational Excellence and has written a very interesting chapter in it titled “Lean Thinking Applied to Your Idea Development [Life]cycle.” Joann, glad you could join me.

Joann Parrinder

Thanks, Ron. I’m glad to be here. Let me give you a bit of my background. I have about 15 years of program and project experience and I’m PMP certified in project management. I like to build things, so my projects have primarily been in the automotive industry building products like radios and tuners. I’ve even delved into IT projects that develop IT applications: ERP applications, installing IT infrastructure. I’m a university instructor for project management as well as operations management, and I have a Masters in Industrial Engineering and a Bachelors in Math and IT. I’m also APICS certified in production and inventory management as well as a supply chain professional.

Ron

I’m really impressed with the work that you’ve done over the years to help organizations get superior results. You’ve got a story to share with us around that and — what’s the story behind writing the chapter in the book entitled “Lean Thinking Applied to Your Idea Development Lifecycle.”

Joann

I’ve become very sensitive to the process of things, how we develop things. Earlier this year I was teaching an operations management class I was thinking about lean using the 5Ss while preparing a session. As I was going through each of those 5Ss — Sort, Setup, Scrub and Shine, Standardize and Sustain — I couldn’t help notice that they were the same steps that my team was using when we were writing the specifications document for a new radio that we were developing for a customer. It became very clear to me that thinking lean is not just for existing products and services to remove or reduce the waste, that you could also use that idea for developing a new product or service as you go through its development lifecycle stages.

Ron

How does this really work? Could you drop into some of the details here? Walk us through some of the meat, if you will, of that chapter?

Joann

As you know, when you’re developing something and it goes through the lifecycle, the lifecycle stages after you’ve got that initial idea. It goes through concept than design, and build, then you’re going to then test it, implement it and verify it so you can go into production. But, in order to production, you have the idea and start writing the specifications. When you’ve written down all your ideas, talked to your customer, are talking to your team, they’re all throwing their ideas in so you document them.

Now you have possible features and functions, and options and how you’re going to use the product. Time to sort through that and start working on your specifications document. You’re going to set up and organize it into features and functions and you’re going to go through that and then review that and refine that with your customer, with your suppliers, with your team. And you’re going to scrub and shine that. So, when I talk about a feature for, say, volume control on a radio, everybody is going to know exactly what that feature is all about. And as you go through all of this information, you’re going to reach a point where you’re done talking about it. You can stop writing. You’re going to standardize it and you’ve got a baseline.

Now, your materials management team can work with the purchasing department and go out and get quotes. They can figure out how much the material is going to cost. The finance department can figure out the labor. And your marketing team can now put feelers out there to see “how appealing is this radio?” And, they’re all going to come back with ideas for changes. You know, things never stop changing. So, as long as you have a way to look at all of those changes, then you’ll be able to sustain your idea.

Ron

So, this is pretty interesting, you know, it makes me think about the practice of target costing which has been widely adopted by the auto industry. As you know, the concept of starting out what you’re trying to do and then getting it to market, and then building out all the functionalities and features based on target costs and functionality. But, what is not in there that you just addressed is the methodology of that whole front-end part of smoking out with the team the best way to get to what it is we need to do very, very efficiently. What else?

Joann

I focused on just one stage in the development lifecycle and that’s the concept. Just getting all those requirements documented. But now, you can go to the next stage, the design stage. And you’re essentially starting all over again with the 5Ss. You have your design engineer and he’s going to sit down and look at all these features and what can be addressed in this circuit and in that circuit. And he’s going to go through all the requirements that way to make sure that from the electronics point of view, it’s been addressed. And your mechanical engineer is going to do the same. Your software engineer is going to do the same. And so, this is going to establish the design. And they’re going to sort through it, set up and organize it, scrub and shine it, standardize it so then you can freeze the design and, if any changes come about, again address them so can sustain that essence to the original idea.

Ron

Could you sum all of that up in, like, a few key takeaway points?

Joann

Well, thinking lean and, in particular using the 5Ss, that concept, is not just for eliminating or reducing waste in existing products and services. You can use it for developing a new idea. Going through the various stages of development, concept, design, build, test, implement and in production. Having a change control process, establishing how you’re going to manage changes to your idea while sustaining its original essence is the key.

Additional Reading

Processes – Love ’em – Hate ’em – Improve ’em!, Joann Parrinder

Lean in Service Industries, Sales and Marketing – The Time Has Come, Ron Crabtree

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