5S: What problem are we fixing?
Put simply, 5S is method of creating, maintaining and improving a clean and orderly workplace that exposes waste and errors. 5S helps identify unplanned levels of inventory either as tools, materials, work in progress or finished goods. Often we can use simple visual processes to help us identify these problems quickly through systems that provide instruction, information and feedback on how well the operational process is working. 5S can be applied to any process, including administrative and electronic systems.
5S is much more than just “housekeeping”. Housekeeping and an organised workplace are the results of 5S, but the real purpose of 5S is to make problems more evident more quickly.
5S is a great place to start on our Lean initiative because it promotes an action oriented approach to change and allows people at all levels in the business to get involved and provide input with improving their workplace.
Here are some suggestions for implementing 5S:
Create a sense of urgency around our 5S activities. Let’s understand we are implementing 5S in our business and why we need to do this now and why we shouldn’t leave it for 12 months. If 5S does not improve our operation and fix people’s frustrations why would we use it.
Have the team develop a vision for how our business will be different once 5S has been implemented across the organisation. Take the time to put some thought into how it will affect our Value Streams and the expected operational benefits that will result.
Implement in a pilot area first and then develop and execute the rollout plan for the rest of the organisation. The rollout plan should include regular and achievable milestones and targets that are visible and unambiguous. Each area should have visual 5S measures displayed in the work area, and celebrate the achievement of their targets at least every few months.
Make sure 5S is seen in the context of the whole Lean initiative and not as a stand alone tool, and make sure people know why we are doing 5S.
Make sure that our 5S activities are “successful”. That means ensuring that people actually solve some of their problems with the application of 5S.
Think about ways to set people up for success.
Don’t just implement 5S because it is easy - implement 5S to engage people in improving the flow of work and eliminating waste. If you cannot clearly see how 5S is going to improve the operation, chose another tool that will drive real improvement first.
Plan for training and coaching of staff - we should not expect people to understand 5S without relevant training. Think about ways to standardise the 5S training so that everyone receives the same information. The training can be structured into the kaizen blitz’s that are planned for each area.
Insist that management lead by example by getting involved with 5S activities on the floor and implementing 5S in their own work areas. Every time a manager condones or ignores a 5S issue that should be addressed we are eroding the whole program because it shows that we are not serious. What is not said is often more powerful that what is said. Build 5S reviews into management Gemba walks.
Build 5S standard work into our processes and daily activities at all levels in the business. Don’t allow 5S to be something that we do only when we have spare time, or on a Friday afternoon. We don’t approach Health and Safety this way.
Through the involvement of the team members in the work area, clearly define the expected 5S standards in all work areas and use visual standards to display and monitor these expectations.
Take the time to have the team members visit good examples of 5S in other parts of your organisation or outside the company.
Use structured problem solving techniques with the teams to solve specific 5S issues. Use of a standard process will accelerate the uptake of the tools as people get more practice with the techniques.
Ensure that all work instructions reflect the 5S requirements for all activities and tasks, particularly for putting away materials, tools and product.
Take every opportunity to emphasise 5S by including it in all job descriptions and every meeting. If we apply the same principles to the implementation of 5S as we have to Health and Safety then we are more likely to succeed.
Build 5S expectations into our performance measures, but ensure that audits and measures are designed to help people understand why we a doing 5S. Sustainable results will not be realised if people are just finding ways to improve audit scores without fully understanding the real objectives of 5S.
Have the Leadership Team review progress on a regular basis and continue to set new targets. As the new behaviours become habits, develop ways to continuously improve the 5S culture. Consider rewarding and recognising teams for their level of improvement or innovative solutions to 5S issues.
Be innovative about how 5S can be applied to other processes in other parts of the organisation. As we become more experienced with 5S it becomes more a way of thinking rather than something physical that we do. Ultimately every organisational process will benefit from 5S thinking.