The Biggest Benefit of 5S No One Thinks About

The Biggest Benefit of 5S No One Thinks About

Most successful organizations have adopted some form of 5S on their lean journey. Most recognize 5S as a workplace organization method that uses a list of five Japanese words: seiri, (Sort), seiton, (Set in Order), seiso, (Shine), seiketsu, (Standardize) and shitsuke (Sustain).  Some even add a sixth S for Safety. The result is usually a well-organized, clean work space. Often this includes shadow boards and racks for storing tools and cleaning supplies. However, even the best organizations often overlook the biggest benefit of 5S:  its ability to be diagnostic!

5S as Steps for Building an Organized Work Place  

The 5S process was likely introduced by Hirano Hiroyuki in 1995 as a series of identifiable steps, each building on its predecessor. The process beings with seiri, or Sort, where everything in the work place is sorted into needed or not needed. Items are red tagged if they are not needed and physical obstacles are removed.

The next step in the process is seiton, or Set in Order. In this step, items that were determined to be needed in the previous step are placed in the necessary spot to maximize production.

The area then goes through a process called seiso, or Shine, where everything is cleaned and made to look like new. Often companies stop here, seeing the obvious benefits of organization and cleanliness, but there is a much greater purpose.

The final two steps are seiketsu, or Standardize, and shitsuke, or Sustain. In these steps the work place is put on a regular cleaning schedule and audits are introduced to ensure the level of organization and cleanliness is sustained.

Again, the result is an organized, clean work place that drifts back to disorder as audits grow old and time creates new priorities.

5S as Diagnostic Improvement Process 

Hidden in each of the steps is a specific question (hypothesis) that is tested by the process and designed to drive improvement, not just sustain a clean workplace.

Step 1, or Sort, asks what is necessary and what is not. A hypothesis is formed right away about what is important and what is not. For example, it may be determined that five wrenches from ¼ inch to ⅞ inch are needed in the area. The wrenches are lined up nicely on a board in size order and a shadow created for each. But the diagnostic questions are, “Why five wrenches? Could the process use three? What is the reason for all the sizes?”

We believe Google has mastered the true need of a search engine. A single box to input the search request.

Step 2, or Set in Order, asks where things should be located and designs a work place for productivity. This is the second hypothesis about how everything should be organized. Take the example of the five wrenches on the shadow board. The questions to be asking are “Where are they used? Could they hang on a hook next to the point of use? Is there a better location or work place design?”

Step 3 attempts to Shine the area. A question arises around where the source of contamination is coming from. For example, at a saw mill it would take hours to clean the saw dust daily, but if containment ideas are tested and researched every day and made part of the shine process, time can be saved.

Steps 4 and 5 work to Standardize and Sustain the process. As with any standardized work, it should be posted and reviewed regularly to look for improvement opportunities. And the audit should not just check compliance and grow old, but look for improvement opportunities. For example, ask “Where is the wrench that was supposed to be on the shadow board? And when it’s not there, is where you found it actually a better place to store it?”

Help your organization see the true benefit of 5S and make it a diagnostic process. 

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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