Back to Basics: A Methodical Approach to 5S

5S has the potential to change your work culture by improving quality, lowering costs, building customer confidence, increasing factory uptime, reducing repair costs, promoting safety, and most importantly changing behaviors for the better. Any industry leader would vote in favor of 5S – especially with all the outcomes listed above.

But maybe you’ve had a different experience to your 5S initiatives and the improvements seemed over promised and your outcome was undesirable.

With the new year fast approaching, now is the time to get back to basics and learn about a methodical approach to 5S.

5S is not a one and done process, it’s so much more. 5S is a lifestyle, not a program. Programs have beginnings and endings – 5S is not like that! It's a daily practice. 5S requires the total commitment of your workforce and it should be presented to your employees in small bite size pieces. Longtime work habits and behaviors will need to change and an ideal way to motivate your employees is with small projects so they can see quicker results.

5S is a five-step process and each step must be completed before moving to the next one. For an easy to follow step-by-step implementation plan check out 5S Made Easy. The core of 5S rests on pillars that help you remove anything that doesn’t add value for the customer. To determine non-value adding items the Japanese referenced these five elements:

1) Sort (Seiri) – This is the first series of steps to help you remove unnecessary items. The most effective way to help you clear out, clean up, and identify needs for the immediate work space is to attach 5S red tags to items that are questionable. Everything that’s tagged should be moved to a designated red tag area where someone can decide the next appropriate action. For more ideas on red tagging see this recent post.

2) Set in order (Seiton) – This is the second step that focuses on storage and location methods to better understand how to organize your space. Organize items, choose storage locations, and define procedures for use. To effectively determine “a place for everything and everything in its place” you could ask these questions:

a. What do I need to perform my job every day?

b. Where should I place frequently used tools?

c. How many do I need in my work area?

To help you organize items in appropriate locations, use visual identification tools like tool shadow boards, labeling systems, bins, store drawers, signs, and labels.

3) Shine (Seiso) – The third step focuses on the importance of cleaning up your workspace. At this point, cleaning should become a habit and the workspace should be routinely inspected and the area maintained. With routine inspections, you can establish preventative maintenance on equipment and machinery.

The intent behind “shine” is to help make non-conformance more visible. For example, if a piece of equipment is filthy an oil leak would be difficult to see, whereas the leak would be highly visible if the equipment was clean. A fresh coat of paint goes a long way.

Keep track of daily inspections by recording them on a log. The inspection log should include the location of the problem, the nature of the issue, who takes action to correct it, the time and date when the issue was discovered, and how to remedy the situation.

4) Standardize (Seiketsu) – This is the step that ensures that the first three steps are maintained. By implementing standardization, you can prevent ineffective methods from resurfacing. Set roles and responsibilities to ensure efficient process improvements are made in your workplace. With routines and standards implemented 5S will continue to be repeated by your workers.

Create 5S inspection teams that consist of employees, supervisors, upper management, safety managers, and maintenance personnel to track positive work behaviors. When you notice behaviors that aren’t demonstrating 5S, provide corrective feedback and coaching.

5) Sustain (Shitsuke) – Some consider this to be the hardest step but stay positive. Sustain sets your business up for a culture of continuous improvement. Like any new habit, it takes a level of self-discipline and encouragement from others to be successful. Maintaining and reinforcing involvement will help you continue to sustain 5S.

Remember: 5S never reaches an ending point. There’s always room for improvement and a point where you’ll need to cycle through the five steps again.

Together, the five elements above are common starting points for achieving lean initiatives. And as with any new organizational initiative, introduce 5S by starting small projects and building on them.

If you’d like to schedule an onsite 5S assessment, we’re here to help!

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