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Rec Park electric shop uses 5S to get space back, inspire staff, and find stuff faster

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Maintaining the San Francisco Recreation and Park's Department's Structural Maintenance yard was no small task, but change had to start from within. This is how the Maintenance Yard's Electrical Shop took the 5S methodology of organization to work more efficiently, and motivated once-resistant staff to be open to change.

Partners in Public Innovation's prior experience in San Francisco started with the work that was happening in Recreation and Park's Structural Maintenance Yard in 2017. One of the first initiatives was centered in the Yard's Electrical Shop, whose electricians are responsible for performing a wide variety of electrical repairs and improvements on San Francisco's many beautiful parks. The team in San Francisco was inspired to teach 5S to the Structural Maintenance Yard, after being trained themselves by folks working in the City of Denver and having seen success with a similar effort at their Maintenance Yard.

What is 5S?

5S is a simple, structured, repeatable method for removing obstacles and keeping workspaces clean, organized, and safe. It is also a form of visual management - allowing you to easily see your space and what you need at a glance. In this case, when observing a physical space, you could visually see where the problems might be in the workplace and remove them by arranging and organizing tools and electrical supplies in an efficient way. Since much of the Electrical Shop's time was spent starting and ending their days in this storage space, it was an important component to helping their work flow more efficiently day-in and day-out.

Ryan Jackson, Electrical Shop Supervisor, was one of the project's early adopters in Lean Process Improvement. He saw the value continuous improvement tools could have on his work and also of those electricians in his shop, and wanted everyone to participate in renovating the way they approached their work. The Electrical Shop team embarked on their 5S project journey, first learning about the approach before beginning to identify sections of their shop to tackle. They decided to start with the Wire Room, a room off to the side of the main shop full of different color electrical wires. The wire and ballast area was disorganized and hard to navigate. There was no discerning where one bunch of wires started and where the others ended. The room was in such disarray that it was going to be a process to tackle for sure. However, it presented a focused opportunity to start somewhere, where there was mostly only one type of material to deal with, it was a smaller space in comparison to the rest of the shop, and would show a quick example of how this work could be a success and should continue.

The Wire Room: Before 5S

Using a simple task tracker, created with a large sheet of paper, some Post-It notes, and some sharpies, the Electrical Shop set up a list of specific to-dos in order to clean, organize, and label the wire room. While not everyone was initially bought into the idea, different members of the shop were assigned to different sub-task groups, starting with the most eager electricians who wanted to clean up the shop. Their goal? To reduce the amount of time spent searching for materials needed for their jobs for the day in the morning before dispatch. The quicker they could get what they needed, the quicker the City's parks, and their work orders, could be addressed.

After working through weeks of chipping away at their task list, mostly spending some time working in the mornings before dispatching to the parks for the day, the team completed organizing the space. The wire room was significantly transformed, and they were now able to easily identify, collect, and order wire. The wires were color-coded, organized by type, labeled, and assigned to specific areas of the room so that it was visibly apparent when the team was running low or empty on any given wire. The completion of this one area gave them motivation to do the same for the rest of their shop.

The Wire Room: After 5S

However, the biggest shift was not in the physical space, but in the attitudes of the electricians. When the effort started, some folks were on board with the project more than others, and the team was worried that progress would not be made. The team spent time helping the shop through the hurdles of completing the physical tasks, but also made an intentional effort to get to know the electricians and the work they did every day. We built trust, and when met with what seemed like resistance, we were able to have better conversations around what needs were not being met, or what intentions were not clear in the project plan. We were able to adjust and adapt our approaches based on the feedback we were hearing in real time.

For example, one of the electricians seemed initially resistant to the organization efforts, but as the team unpacked the reasons behind that resistance, we were able to understand that the electrician had concerns from an environmental and sustainability perspective. We needed to not just say that we were cleaning up, we needed to provide our plan or options for recycling and disposing that would be sustainable for the environment and for the City funds that had gone into purchasing some of these materials. We quickly acted, creating a "how-to" list for disposal and recycling that was aligned with good City practices. The electrician was appreciative for this information and joined in to help with the efforts of the project.

Had we just shut down and stopped because we hit a roadblock, we would have not learned something ourselves. Even greater, we wouldn't have grown as a project team and as a partnership without listening to their feedback.

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