The Power of Organization and Ownership

Les Landes

Sometimes, getting the workplace organized and orderly can have a bigger impact on performance than people realize. Recently, a team in the upholstery department of a client in the aircraft service industry took on the task of reorganizing its shop. Part of the reason for the change was the increased number of Corrective Action Reports the team had received.

The team started the reorganization process by learning the principles and practices of "5S" – sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain. By the time the project was completed—about three months later—every inch of the space and assembly process was changed around, producing results that surpassed everyone’s expectations. Before the change, processes were highly irregular. Now, the entire flow from sewing to assembly to gluing to the foam area is precise and consistent—and people aren’t stepping on top of one another anymore.

Most importantly, during this process the group discovered that getting the department organized got the team straightened out as well.

Organization Pays Off Big

Part of the resulting benefit has been faster, easier access to the tools and materials that everyone needs to do their jobs. In the old layout, tools were scattered, and it was hard to find what people needed. Not surprisingly, when the team members started pulling all the tools out of various places to get them organized, they found some they didn’t even know they had. Now, all tools are in lockers with shadow boxes, and the team uses the sign-out/sign-in sheet whenever a tool is taken out or replaced.

The same approach is used for parts and materials that had been spread around and tossed into cardboard boxes before the redesign. Now everything is orderly, and items are placed in clearly marked, transparent plastic bins that are staged to minimize the time to access what people need.

The results of the change have been nothing short of amazing. According to one person on the team, it used to take her a week to do four chairs. Now she can complete the same work in two days. Another employee claims that it’s improved efficiency by 50 percent or more. Productivity gains of that magnitude are almost unthinkable in most organizations—and that’s only half the story of this project.

In addition to dramatically faster production times, quality has improved as well. Before the change, foreign particles sometimes got inside the seats, and the team had to rip them open and start over. That problem has been virtually eliminated, and they’ve cut down a lot of rework.

Ownership Pays Off Even Bigger

Aside from the tangible improvements in quality and productivity, the project has had a noticeable effect on the pride and professionalism of the team, and the impact on sales and marketing is clear. When customers and prospects visit the facility now, the upholstery area is always showcased on the tour, and the team is making a highly favorable impression.

The director of manufacturing engineering, who provided support for the project, says that 5S principles gave the team valuable tools, but the team’s success came mainly from one thing—ownership. She told the team from the outset this was an opportunity to create a work space exactly the way team members wanted—in a way that would be beneficial for them and their work.

At least three important lessons come from this project. First, when employees are given a chance to create their own work space, and they’re given the tools to do the job right, their level of dedication and performance can be truly amazing. Second, no one knows the details of a particular system or process—and what its potential might be—better than the people who work with it every day. Third, no traditional marketing tool can surpass the impact of proud, fully engaged employees in making an impression on prospective customers.