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Monday, November 28, 2011 - The 5S Lean pledge for committee work

Shannon Flumerfelt, Ph.D., Lean Thinking for Schools

If you are looking for a useful New Year's resolution, you might consider taking the 5S Lean Pledge. This means that you promise to use the 5S tool, Sorting, Setting, Shining, Standardizing and Sustaining, for all committee work in 2012.

Educational leaders who understand the value in collaborative cultures and learning communities often rely on various types of committees to engage key stakeholders and complete strategic tasks. Committee work does stand as the expression of shared governance in education. There is a lot at stake in committees' work since their interactions and their results are subject to public scrutiny.

So, the need for using best practice in committee work is quite high for educational leaders. However, committees can often be confusing, lacking in direction and missing expected outcomes.

In fact, committee work can become a way to hide from confronting reality by lessening responsibility, diminishing accountability and evading sustainability of initiatives. However, if committees are steered by careful planning through the Lean tool, 5S, these problems can be overcome.

The 5S is a Lean tool that is often used to understand processes that have physical aspects, such as for cleaning and maintaining a workspace. However, the 5S Lean tool is also helpful in establishing routines around more tacit types of work, such as in facilitating committee work to success. The five steps of the 5S for committee work are described as:

1) Sorting - identifying steps, elements or activities that are critical or required for committee success and setting aside those that are not critical or required.

A committee needs specificity in terms of the scope of its work. Sorting can be expressed as one to three key Charges for the committee. And this, therefore, excludes other work. For example, if a committee is formed with the Charge “To advance the use of instructional technology in a building within the next year,” then this means that it should not add other work to its scope (Sorting).

2) Setting – further prioritizing and categorizing those steps, elements or activities that are critical or required to committee work.

A committee examines its Charge and decides how to break down the Charge into core concepts, functions or other categories to move forward. For example, if a committee has a Charge to “Establish a set of online teaching resources for faculty use by the end of the semester” (Sorting), then a concept map of the key types of resources or subject categories delineates how the work should proceed to meet its Charge, such as “Hardware/Connectivity Issues,” “Software Support” and “Training Resources” (Setting).

3) Shining - improving the steps, elements or activities that are critical or required for committee work to transcend into daily work of key process owners or stakeholders.

A committee completes its Charge by focusing on it work, presents its findings and then asks for volunteers to pilot a solution so that it can be improved. The point of the pilot is to develop the solution until it works for others.

For example, a committee has a specific Charge, “Set up a teacher leader academy for Fall 2012,” (Sorting); completes three categories of work, “Curriculum and Outcomes,” “Recruiting,” and “Mentoring and Support” (Setting); then pilots the three categories separately, “Pilot of Curriculum and Outcomes, “Pilot of Recruiting,” and “Pilot of Mentoring and Support” (Shining) to determine how to improve the initial proposal so that faculty prospects, trainers and mentors all participate fully and receive maximum value from the teacher leadership academy.

4) Standardizing - developing culture, climate and accountability by using the improvements in the steps, elements or activities in the improved committee work so that they are accepted and expected systemically.

A committee examines the results of the pilot phase (Shining) so that the solution moves from the committee to gemba, where the work takes place, as best practice (Standardizing). This may involve the committee making recommendations as to how key stakeholders can participate fully in the solution, creating models or templates for participation, providing information to leadership as to how to facilitate the solution long range, and determining other key organizational issues needed for upholding best practice.

For example, a committee with the Charge, “For the next 15 months, examine how to improve reading student achievement,” (Sorting); works for the first nine-month phase under the five categories of “Teacher Quality,” “Curriculum and Assessment,” “Classroom Management,” “Culture of Learning” and “Teaching Tools” (Setting); develops and tests solutions for four months for the five categories as “Pilot for Teacher Quality,” “Pilot for Curriculum and Assessment,” “Pilot for Classroom Management,” “Pilot for Culture of Learning” and “Pilot for Teaching Tools” (Shining); and then makes formalized recommendations on findings, creates systems-based exemplars of best practice, sets up a three-month teaching academy using master teachers for faculty to practice various recommendations, establishes an incentive system and debriefs with the instructional leaders on their findings (Standardizing).

5) Sustaining - creating rewards, recognitions, incentives and maintenance for keeping the improvements in steps, elements or activities based on the improved operation or process overseen by the committee.

After Sorting, Setting, Shining and Standardizing work, a committee now aims to ensure longevity in its carefully honed work by establishing formal organizational culture and structure.

For example, a committee with a two semester Charge, “Identify Recommendations for Teacher Evaluation,” (Sorting); establishes four categories of work as “Intrinsic Motivators,” “Data Sets for Decision Making,” “Evaluation Process Steps,” “Philosophy and Best Practice for Adult Learning” (Setting); tests its initial hypotheses with focus groups, interviews, and surveys with key stakeholders of the four categories of work and subsequently runs a one-month pilot of a new teacher evaluation system (Shining); then further expands for two months the new teacher evaluation system as a whole to one building (Standardizing); and finally designs checkpoints for success including key stakeholder training for teacher evaluations, expectations for leadership competency development of data driven decision making ability and building-based development in continuous improvement cultures (Sustaining). 

The 5S tool of Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize and Sustain, is one way to lead committee work to success. Committee work is harder than it looks to do well, but when approached with the deliberate protocols of the 5S tool, committees can work smarter and get better results. So, take the 5S Lean Pledge to Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize and Sustain your way through committee work in 2012!

If you have questions or comments, please contact Dr. Shannon Flumerfelt at