Implementing 5S

October 31, 2003
By David McBride

As many organizations attempt to become “World Class Manufacturing” operations, where to begin their lean journey is the first question facing management. The answer for many is a 5S program. The 5s's are: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. Depending on a company's situation, 5S can be implemented in different ways. However, many companies have found success using the following 8 steps:

1. Organize the program committee.

2. Develop a plan for each S.

3. Publicly announce the start of the program.

4. Provide training and education to employees.

5. Select a day in which everybody cleans up his/her own working area.

6. Select a day in which everybody organizes his/her own working area.

7. Evaluate the results of 5S.

8. Perform Self-Examination and Take Corrective Actions.

5S, like all other quality and prevention initiatives, requires commitment from top management and participation by everyone in the organization. Requiring plans tailored to each facility, a 5S program cannot be implemented using a “one-size-fits-all" approach. 5S is best implemented very gradually over a period of time. Because implementing five S can be such an overwhelming task, some companies decide to institute it department-by-department.

The most common mistake companies make when implementing 5S is the failure to train adequately at the outset. Upper management and other members of the steering group must have a working knowledge of 5S. This starts with a thorough review of the 5S program, implementation methods, team concepts, and the role of management. Practical exercises, or a real world pilot project, should follow. Since most steering group members work in the office, they should also apply 5S to their own office or work area. This activity will not only provide a practical understanding of 5S and the kinds of issues that will need to be addressed throughout the implementation, but it also communicates the commitment of upper management to a company-wide 5S implementation. At this point, management should endorse the formal Five S plan and set dates for implementation.

The implementation team, typically consisting of supervisors and team leaders, is the next group to be trained. Requiring the same training as upper management plus training in team leadership, they should receive practical training through the implementation of pilot projects. A good approach is to carry out one pilot program under the leadership of the 5S advisor (a consultant or internal resource fully experienced in all aspects of 5S) and then to carry out a second one on their own. A program committee that includes the plant manager and some of the area workers should coordinate the preliminary work. Once the preliminary work is completed, plans describing implementation of the Five S campaign should be prepared and released. When the results are satisfactory, the program can then be launched company wide.

The goal and process of the first “S” is organization. The sort process distinguishes needed items from unneeded items and removes the latter. This process forces people to remove all items not currently needed for work, whether they are in the factory or in the office. It is initially the most difficult for people who are afraid to let go of parts, machines, and data "just in case" they may be needed in the future. However, "red-tagging" items allows workers to set aside and evaluate items and information in terms of their usefulness and frequency of use. The items and information are returned, stored elsewhere, sold, given away, or thrown away. Red tagging is best done in one target area at a time and within one or two days. When red tagging is completed, problems and annoyances in the workflow are reduced, communication between workers is improved, product quality is increased, and productivity is enhanced.

"Set in order" organizes a work area for the maximum possible efficiency. Organization and orderliness work best when they are implemented together. "Set in order" means arranging needed items so that they are easy to use and labeling them so that anyone can find them and put them away. The key word in this definition is "anyone." Labeling is mostly for other people who need what is in the area, when the area "owner" is away. The benefit is economy of time and motion. When orderliness is implemented, there is no wasted human energy or excess inventory.

"Shine" - as the word implies - means to thoroughly clean everything in the work area. Planning a cleanliness campaign is a five-step process including: cleanliness targets, assignments, methods, tools, and follow-up inspections. The goal is threefold: 1) to turn the workplace into a clean, bright place where people enjoy working, 2) to review the first two Ss, and 3) to find the source of dirt or litter and eliminate it. The definition of cleanliness is "keeping everything swept and clean." "Shine" should become so deeply ingrained as a daily work habit that tools are also kept in top condition and are ready for use at any time.

Once the first three "S’s" are in place, "standardize” details a plan to maintain the continual improvement activities. The plan should include the creation of procedures and simple daily checklists that are to be visibly posted in each work area; the checklist should serve as a visual to ensure that the daily 5S requirements are being met. Standardized cleanup integrates sort, set in order, and shine into a unified whole.

The last "S," sustain, requires discipline. Without discipline, it is impossible to maintain consistent standards of quality, safety, clean production, and process operation. The more closely workers are able to follow manufacturing standards, procedures, and rules, the less likelihood there is of errors, defects, waste, and accidents. However, trying to impose discipline in an authoritarian manner will not get far in most firms today. Rather, people should be motivated to want to follow the rules because the workplace rules are actually a set of shared values. Shared values are achieved by coaching and team participation, not by orders and penalties. Implementation of 5S provides coaching by getting the workers to do the simple things right. "Buying in" to these basic values is the essential starting point to developing a "World Class" organization. Empowering shop floor workers to take control of their daily activities and their work environment is the unifying principle of 5S. By taking an active role in designing and maintaining their workplace, workers take more pride in their work, leading to greater satisfaction and higher productivity.

Many believe that 5S is a must-have tool. For any of the tools in the toolkit for becoming lean -- quick changeover, total productive maintenance, mistake proofing, and so on -- 5S significantly helps in both the implementation and sustaining of improvements. The Gold Standard for 5S is that anyone should be able to find anything in their own workplace in less than 30 seconds, and anywhere else in the workplace in less than 5 minutes without talking to anyone, opening a book, or turning on a computer. 5S is the foundation for successful lean implementation. 5S is the tool to begin, support, and sustain the lean journey.

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