Alberto Lorenzo, EUN chief executive: “Excellence is the target you never reach; it is the path we want to keep going down, learning and enjoying on the way”
The Toyota Production System was launched by the Japanese carmaker following World War II (between the years 1946 and 1975).
When Japan needed to rebuild after its collapse, the national culture of discipline and continuous improvement (Kaizen comes from the words ‘kai’ meaning ‘change’ and ‘zen’ meaning ‘good’) led the firm to define a large number of tools to perfect its organizations.
One of the pillars of the TPS is the 5S Method that groups together five concepts starting with the letter ‘s’, i.e., seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke, meaning ‘sort’, ‘set in order’, ‘shine’, ‘standardize’ and ‘sustain’.
A properly implemented 5S Method makes organisations more efficient and safe. Advanced management experts also consider it an excellent “first big step” that all companies can take to help their people leverage continuous improvement and the Kaizen dynamic and fully roll out the culture of excellence across the organization.
That is why getting the 5S Gold diploma represents a boost to our mission. EUN chief executive Alberto Lorenzo Mitxelena says no other standard tool is such a good fit with our mission as 5S.
Why does 5S tie in so well with the EUN mission?
At EUN we optimize spaces for efficient content storage and management. That is our value proposition. What better way to show this to our customers than leading by example? Is there any better way of showing what we are about than with workplaces that give an impression of organization, order, cleanliness and good management? If 5S implementation makes sense for your regular organization, it makes even more sense for EUN.
The commitment to 5S was therefore considered strategic for the company.
Implementing, maintaining and improving on 5S produces highly visual outcomes right from the start.
Other improvements in advanced management, by contrast, take longer to be seen. So having fast and visible results makes it easier for all personnel (even the groups most resistant to change) to start onboarding issues that lie at the very core of advanced management. We also aim to convey our takeaways to our products, our solutions and our customer service, always in the awareness that “we optimize spaces to store and manage content efficiently”.
This was not the first time we had taken up the challenge of implementing 5S.
5S is a routine work method, not a project you start, roll out and close down again. There had been several attempts where we would put in the effort to start with and get results, but then at some stage during the circle it would end up being shelved. So when we revisited it in 2019 we decided to recruit a person to lead and work exclusively on its implementation, maintenance and improvement. That was one of our smartest decisions. But the role of the team is just as important as that of the leader and we needed all EUNdarrak on-board because 5S won’t work if a link in the chain fails... we all needed to contribute to its success and we will continue to do so going forward.
What process followed up to winning the award?
Our first success was joining the 5S Club, when we scored 40 out of 100. This encouraged us to keep going with the project. That was back in 2019. Then last year we set ourselves the goal of obtaining a diploma. The pandemic made us reconsider whether to plough on with it or to focus on other issues, but finally we took the plunge and got behind 5S, continuing with the improvements and doing the homework needed for an external audit.
An audit that turned out to be special...
Very atypical, and for two reasons. First, because we wanted to do it for the entire building (factory and offices) and not just one part, which is what usually happens. Second, because we were the first organization to have an Euskalit audit online (we had no choice as we were in the middle of the pandemic). That meant we had to produce very comprehensive audiovisual reports and conduct the audit over Teams.
We attained the silver level in that audit. A good result but still we wanted to do better.
For that audit we divided the organization into 13 areas, with each having to score more than 60 out of a 100 in the 5S assessment. We only came in under this in one area, where we got 57 points, so we got a silver diploma. We could have left if there but
...we thought it was important to keep trying, especially because the 5S “collateral benefits” include increased efficiency, more safety and a better mobilisation of team excellence...
and also because awards tend to be highly motivating for the team... so we decided to go for Gold in 2021. For us it was a strategic commitment. As I said, not only because we want to be a leading-edge company in organization and management but because it is a perfect fit with our mission. We should be 5S experts so we can propose more efficient customer solutions that better leverage space, better manage content... We wanted the benefits that come from committing to 5S and we also wanted the award.
So we threw down the gauntlet for 2021 and the team rose to the challenge. What changes were made?
The first, I think, was a change of mindset. We proposed making 5S part of the EUNdarrak work culture; that we only know how to work by sorting things out, setting them in order, making them shine and by being sustainable... In other words, always working like this, not just when there is an audit coming up. That is why the person who had been in charge of the process since 2019 set the goal of extending this leadership to the maximum number of people possible. And we did all this while keeping up with ongoing improvements at the same time. The rollout has been the year’s top success. Proof is that audits have been completely accepted within the company and the auditors mentioned how aligned with our objectives each employee they chose at random appeared to be when asked why 5S mattered to EUN.
The audit at Beasain was conducted on 27 July, which is when we got the good news. What was working with the auditors like?
The first thing I would say is that we already knew them, since they were the same team that had done the remote audit in 2020 and which had opened the 5S club doors to us in the Basque Country in 2019. So they were well placed to evaluate the changes made. It is true that the work went on for a long time. As they told us, they were going to score us well for the ongoing improvements (the last of the 5Ss) across all areas and dig down especially on the one area that had averaged below 60 the year before. They spent quite a lot of time on that area and only half an hour on each of the other ones. They checked it not only at the macro level but right down to the smallest detail... and at the end they called us in to report their findings. We scored an average of 70 points: ten above Gold level.
A really good result!
The auditors said they had seen substantial improvement across all areas. They were very surprised that 5S had been implemented throughout the organization and with all the workers, showing that we really did consider it strategic. They said EUN was a 5S example to all and that we had done something really unique by implementing it throughout the entire factory, not just one small part. They said we had shown them that a full and simultaneous rollout was possible.
As chief executive, what does this award mean to you?
It gratifies me particularly because if there is one area where we should all do our bit it is in 5S. Every one of us did well and it shows. It means a lot to EUN that after having done very well the previous year, with the silver diploma, we didn’t just rest on our laurels. Not only were we capable of meeting a target, we improved on it in just a year. The award also underlines our value proposition.
The next step will come in autumn when the audit at the Mexican subsidiary takes place.
We had been hoping to get Gold there too, but we were aware back in June that it wasn’t going to happen, considering the problems Covid has brought with it around issues like the return to the workplace. But the work that is being done under the leadership of our head of operating processes is very good. This will be our first audit in Mexico, as the last one was for Beasain alone. Maybe next year we can do a joint audit for the whole of EUN, showing that we are a unique company in that we are a local business wherever we are based but can count on the strength of what we share. We will probably extend it to the franchises going forwards; that would be very interesting.
It looks like there are many future plans in this area...
Yes, because what we look to is the path to excellence, not the target. I don’t think you ever reach the target. And that is the approach we will take next year: to not let it flag. Getting from 40 to 60 was hard, and from 60 to 70 was very complicated... but we have to persevere and go for it. That is the plan for Beasain. For Mexico the goal this year is to reach 60 points. We have to be ambitious because there is still a way to go. After the 5Ss we need to think about the sixth, seventh and eighth ones. Some organizations are already on it.
What will the sixth S be?
Safety. We are going to incorporate workplace health and safety into the 5S methodology and ensure the safety of our people; in fact, it is already up and running in our internal audits. I would like to deliver above 60 points in the 6Ss, having onboarded safety as it is an ideal fit with the corporate sustainability that is one of our principles.
It looks pretty obvious that the 5Ss and the rest are here to stay...
The Kaizen philosophy is not designed to give us more work but to help us improve, be more efficient, safer, to better implement the strategy and to want and believe in excellence.
These are the reasons why we support continuous improvement, and if we win awards on top of that, so much the better. But for EUN in particular this commitment enables us to better align with our mission. What more can I say? If we change our habits, we can more easily reduce the accident rate, enhance efficiency, improve our image and be better placed to convey our designs, solutions and services to our customers. That is how we justify this strategic commitment.
And long may it last.
Absolutely. After winning the award in June we said, “we’ll celebrate today but tomorrow we’ll get back to improving”. And that is what we are doing.