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The five Ss: Number 5: Shitsuke (discipline)

Quality Tools > Tools of the Trade > 48: The five Ss: Number 5: Shitsuke (discipline)


Now we have covered the first four of the five Ss, we can complete the set with the final one. Shitsuke, or discipline, draws together the other four Ss, ensuring they are used properly. Seiri (organization) discipline means regular sorting out that which is not needed immediately or at all and ensuring the ‘putting away’ rules are valid and used. Seiton, or neatness, discipline ensures that the things that are used are always put away properly so they can be quickly and easily retrieved. Seiso discipline ensures everyone always keeps things clean and that things are in good working order. Seiketsu, or standardisation, is very much a method of discipline, leading to everything being available, visible and clearly labelled.


The problem with people is that we are not perfect. We make mistakes, we forget, we do things incorrectly. We are not, after all, machines. When faced with the multiplicity of tasks in the workplace, we do our best, but the complexity and time pressures are more than we can cope with. We also get stuck in habits which are not helpful with our work. Habits are, however, very useful things, and if we can align them with the work disciplines of the 5 Ss, we can forge them into a complete disciplined approach.


Education is an important method of changing how people think and act. Employees can be trained in following policies and in using tools and processes, making habits of known good practices. Too many companies, however, send people on courses and then never follow up to see whether any value has returned to the workplace. A disciplined education system ensures that learning is applied and delivers true value.


Learning on the job can also be an extremely effective form of education, as the speed of feedback is often much faster and you can see more rapidly the results of ill-discipline. For this to work, however, people must be permitted to make mistakes (but not permitted to keep making the same mistake). A focus on learning from all experiences is one of the most effective methods of discipline there is.


There are many tools to ensure jobs get done as they should. A simple one is the checklist. With the discipline of ticking off actions that are to be completed, you can guarantee that a job will get done correctly every time.


It is easy to think that discipline means following rules only, and that using your brain is not required. In fact discipline is about thinking every bit as much as it is about doing. Disciplined thinking includes always following up a problem with a causal analysis that identifies root causes that can be eliminated.


Discipline also means using creativity and innovation. This is where you are required to fully use all of your mental powers. Disciplined creativity is more than about standing around dreaming. It includes understanding how creativity actually works and then playing the mind like an instrument. There are many well-defined methods that can enhance people’s creative potential. Creativity is not guaranteed and you cannot ‘create to order’. You can, however significantly bend probabilities with a disciplined approach.


A common area where failure occurs is in the communication between people. When I intend to commuicate something, I have to do it through the limitations of language, which you then have to interpret. This leads to many misunderstandings and problems. Discipline in communication includes utilising clear language and, importantly, checking that people have understood properly (for example by asking them to summarise back to you what you have just said). The use of signs and labels (as in Seiketsu) can provide clear communications where they are needed.


Clear responsibility leads to discipline, just as lack of responsibility leads away from it. If you and I both have responsibility for something, it is easy for both of us to assume that the other person will complete the task. Division of jobs leads clear responsibility, but can also lead to a divided workforce. It is important that everyone feels responsibility for the whole company and for the well-being and success of everyone else.


Managers are particularly important in instilling discipline into the workforce. They can insist that discipline is used. They can schedule reviews and even check that the reviews are effective. They can also empower their subordinates, giving them the authority to decide, for example to shut down a production line when a problem threatens product quality. Discipline can involve hard decisions and a culture of punishment will lead to people who are risk-averse and who will lack the discipline of facing reality, no matter how uncomfortable it is.


Perhaps the most important thing a manager can do to encourage his or her subordinates to take a disciplined approach to work is to model the behaviour that is desired. Your workers will listen to you when you tell them how they should behave, and they will watch carefully to see if you are taking your own medicine. Failure to do so leads to a cynical workforce who will put on a dog and pony show whenever you are around, but who will not take disciplined thinking to heart.


Next time: Power analysis


This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Institute for Quality Assurance

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