5S an introduction

What does 5s stand for?

  • Seiri (Sort): Look at your work area anew. What do you need on a nearly daily basis? Does everything still work properly? This phase of 5s is mostly associated with 'When in doubt, move it out'. 
  • Seiton (Set in Order): When you have done the sorting you can start to rearrange your work place. Which things do you need most often? Place them where you do not need to reach for them. This pase of 5s is mostly associated with 'A place for everything and everything in it's place'. 
  • Seiso (Shine): You start to clean your newly re arrenged workplace. You make sure that the cleaning helps in maintenance of the workplace and equipment.
  • Seiketsu (Standardize): In this phase you start to add visual cues and instructions to your work place. The purpose is to keep the area organized and clean by making the standards obvious and visual. If you cannot see the standard at a first glance it probably is not standardized yet. 
  • Shitsuke (Sustain): This is about training and communication to sustain the results from the first four phases. People are creatures of habit. When the focus on a certain goal is gone old behavior will come back.
Sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain

The spring cleaning mistake

A lot of companies start their lean journey with a 5s action. The idea is to get visual results quickly. This often leads to a lot of energy during the cleaning and a lot of things being thrown out. Afterwards there is a really clean work place and a nice celebration. The results however do not stick. 

This approach to 5s tends to overlook it's place in the Lean methodology and therefore loses sigths of the main purpose of 5s. Set in order, standardize and sustain are forgotten. So you have visual results for a couple of days and then everything reverts back to the old situation. It can even lead to backlash later, because people will have lost things they were not ready to part with.

5s in Lean

5s takes a central place in reducing struggle for employees by reducing waste and offering training and education.  It is part of a larger effort in your Lean transformation. It should be clear to people how it fits in. It should also be clear what goals are being pursued by using 5s. There are some examples of goals in the image below.

5S KPI's

There are some physical goals like space needed for one value stream or costs spent on inventory. You may also want goals for time spent on looking for information of tools, time spent on inspection or correction, number of mistakes or even absenteeism. There is a lot to be gained by good 5s. Try to pick a couple of goals and stick to them. This will give people clear purpose during 5s and help in acceptance of 5s as a new way of working. 

Preparing 5s

If you want 5s to work you need to get a good idea about the root causes for problems in the company. You can do this by going to the gemba and by conducting interviews. I have used CTQ-trees to get a clear sense of what was holding employees back in their physical work environment. 

Once you and your team have a clear idea about if and how 5s can help you need to make a project charter and involve your stakeholders. Together you will prepare KPI's to keep tracking your progress.  

Making 5s a success

5s should become your new way of working, whether in the office or in a production facility. You can recognize this by clear visual cues in each system and work place, by employees who spend little time on waste (waiting, motion, inspection, correction and so on) and by education for all employees on what is expected of them in maintaining these high standards. They need to feel enabled and be able to keep the standards up to date. 

With 5s it is important to stay focused on the goal. What are you trying to achieve by 5s? Cleaning is not a long term target in and of itself. Cleaning can help in meeting your goals with regards to safety by making sure surfaces do not become slippery.

5s is not a one time action, it is a way of working and part of your daily practice. Be sure to figure out how to make it a part of your daily routine and continuous improvement efforts before you start using it. When used well it can lead to great results for your employees, your customers and your campany.   


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