5S is a Lean manufacturing technique that addresses the organization of workspaces and work processes for a safer and more efficient manufacturing facility. It is called 5S because the five steps in this Lean tool, sorting, setting, shining, standardizing, and sustaining, start with the letter S in English and Japanese.
While much talk about 5S is geared toward manufacturers' needs, the 5S visual control technique can be of great value in other environments, such as healthcare, construction, education, and office settings.
Seiri – Sort
Sort is the first step of a 5S program. First, process operators go through the workspace to determine what is needed for the task or production process. Next, workers should remove everything not required to complete the process from the work area.
Utilizing 5S red tags can be helpful during this step. Workers attach red tags to unnecessary items or equipment whose immediate use or need is not apparent. This tagging approach goes hand in hand with a "red tag area," which is a specific holding space for the tools and equipment to be later assessed and determined whether or not it should be removed, recycled, or relocated to a different department.
Seiton – Set in Order
Once the workspace only contains necessary supplies, the next step is to set it in order. This step ensures that all items have a designated home. Next, team members map out where tools and equipment will be placed and decide on a logical order for them to be set to reduce the waste of extra movement.
Shadow boards and floor markings are valuable tools for visual management. Shadow boards have specific outlines behind or beneath where tools hang or sit when stored. These silhouettes make it evident to workers where to replace tools, and they make it easy to identify what tools are missing. Custom floor signs are another clear visual indicator of homes for specific items on the factory floor, like garbage cans or wash stations.
Seiso – Shine
Up next is the cleaning, sweeping, and shining of the newly sorted and set area. A clean manufacturing workspace is a safer and efficient workspace. Also, being proactive in your efforts will keep your facility organized well after the five-step process is complete, and it will set an example for workers that a "shined" workplace is expected.
Equipment should be painted if necessary, maintenance should be completed on machines, floors should be swept, and floor tape replaced if needed. Make sure workers have all the cleaning supplies required to get this job done.
Seiketsu – Standardize
Don't let your team's hard work from the previous steps go to waste. Standardize 5S operations in your facility. Employees will understand what is expected of them once a clear and documented system is implemented. Look at the first three S's in the process and create standards and procedures for how and when these tasks will be repeated. Ideally, you'll store this Standard Work in your improvement software platform, which everyone can access as needed.
Online audit sheets allow you to create a checklist specifically for your facility and 5S process. You can create audit sheets to be used by whoever is evaluating an area on any given day. You might also think about ramping up your visual communication efforts and hang posters and signs reinforcing the process, 5S principles, and expectations.
Sustain – Shitsuke
Once your facility is up to the standards you set, attention turns to sustaining the new practices maintaining discipline. This focuses on turning 5S from an event into a continuous way of working.
At this point, culture and consistency are essential. When workers see that leaders are willing to invest time and resources into sustaining 5S, and when workplace organization is a common topic, they will live up to expectations.
5S for Remote or Knowledge Work
As we mentioned, 5S is most often associated with manufacturing work areas. Still, the idea of decluttering and structuring needed work tools and information applies equally well to the digital lives of remote and knowledge workers.
Here are some things you can do to bring the 5S Lean philosophy to your digital workspace.
- Take an inventory of your files and software tools. You might be surprised by the number of redundant folders you are keeping on your various storage platforms.
- Review the software licenses and subscriptions you have. Are you using all of these tools?
- Are you able to maximize the features of the tools that you do use?
- Can any files or licenses be eliminated?
- Do all team members know how to access files and information?
- Is there documentation for where to store digital information and how to use each tool?
Once you've done the initial audit and cleaned things up, be sure to check your digital folders often to ensure that they haven't multiplied again. Always be vigilant for duplicate files or items that can be eliminated. Conduct frequent malware scans on your computer to make sure it is not compromised. Finally, keep apps up to date to ensure that you have the version with the most recent updates, bug fixes, and security protections.
5 Tips for Implementing 5S
While 5S is not complex, some important best practices can improve your chances of long-term success.
- Start with an easy work area and a committed team so that you can get an early win. This will help the idea of 5S spread and show the team what success looks like.
- Identify some metrics to help prove the impact of 5S. Things like reduced process cycle time, increased productivity, fewer defects, reduced waste, and fewer safety incidents can all result from effective workplace organization.
- Provide 5S training, especially for those who will lead and facilitate the implementation.
- Use the 30 seconds test to validate success. Anyone should be able to find any tool, document, item, or team member in less than 30 seconds.
- Encourage creativity and innovation. 5S should have an enormously positive ROI. Most changes won't cost anything at all.
5S can seem like a big ask system, one that may even seem too daunting to tackle. But once you go through the process, the result will be a clean, safe, efficient, and well-optimized space that will benefit everyone.