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How to sustain the 5S program?

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How much time do you spend searching for stuff? It could be a simple tool to perform an operation or a report that you need to refer to or forward to others. The time you spend on searching is non-value adding from a customer’s point of view. It is a wasted effort that does not help in transforming a product or service to something a customer desires. In fact, it could make the customer wait longer while you are executing the search process for the needed tool or report. The idea is that an organized workplace could be an efficient workplace. While some may argue that they are able to perfectly find stuff even if it is disorganized but what my work for one may not work for the other. In companies and organizations where multiple people share workplaces – an organized workplace works for everyone. It reduces the stress that comes with having to constantly keep looking for stuff that you need to get your work done.

5S+1 is a lean technique to organize a workplace using a step-by-step approach. The name 5S+1 originated from the Japanese words for the process to get organized. The English equivalent of these Japanese words stand for: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. A sixth S was added later to this list (which stands for Safety) and hence some places in literature refer to this as 5S+1 or 6S program.

The Methodology

Let’s go through each of these process steps to explain the approach/methodology:

  • Sort: The first step is to sort through the clutter in a work area and identify those items which are needed and those that are not needed. This activity can be done periodically (say every year) as items would have accumulated over time in a work area. Sometimes, this process step also called a Red tag event where a red tag is attached to all items that are not required. Since, there are items that may be required in the future, a red tag will also contain some area where you can tag some notes to it indicating the reason for this disposition. A red tag room is created to store these red tag items just in case you have decided to throw items that were in fact useful. It is a good idea to keep the red tag room locked and have a defined process to get the items out of the room and dispose of the items that are truly not needed.
  • Set in Order: The second step of this process is to arrange the items that are left over in such a way to minimize motion waste. Items that are used very often should be kept close to their point of use. Items that are used rarely can be kept in a slightly farther location. A spaghetti chart can be used to help identify where different items should be placed. The theme behind the step is that there should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. Once a home for each item is defined, generally the area is marked to make it clear what items goes where so that if any items are missing, it will become immediately obvious. Actions can be taken to trace the item and put it back in its place.
  • Shine: The third step in the process is to ensure that whatever items are kept in the work area are in pristine working condition. There is no point keeping stuff that does not work! The process of shining the items can help detect if any problems exist with the tools and corrective actions can be taken to get them repaired so that we don’t have to waste time using tools that are broken. This step also acts as a preventive maintenance so that problem areas can be identified before the problem gets out of hand.
  • Standardize: The fourth step in the process is to ensure that there is standard way of working. For example, the standards can define how the first three steps of this process are to be done. When should the sort activity happen, who should do it, how should it be done. What is the process for finding a home for each item, how should the third step be done and so on. We can also define standards for how an area should look like so that by looking at this picture for example, we can clearly identify if an area has been following the 5S steps. This step ensures that there is a structured approach to the current way of working. Sustain: The fifth step in the process is to ensure that this activity is not a one-time activity. How do we ensure that the 5S+1 process is sustained over a period of time? One approach is to have an audit process so that the 5S activity can be rated to see how well an area is being maintained. Without having any measurements in place, it would be hard to identify improvements and also if the process is being followed in a structured way in the first place. Other ideas that can help sustain the effort is to have a rewards and recognition program to sustain the 5S program over a period of time.
  • Safety: This is the sixth step in the process (some people may call it the first step!) A safe workplace is an effective workplace. No business can continue to run profitably if it does not provide a safe working environment for its employees. Safety issues can result in lost time and productivity from workplace, increase in overhead costs due to medical expenses and possible lawsuits against the company. An unsafe workplace will also result in increased insurance costs for the company. More importantly it is just bad business – we need to take care of our employees, customers and anyone else we may deal with as a part of our business. In this step, we review all possible near misses and take steps to eliminate or minimize the near misses so that the number of accidents in the workplace can be reduced. One tool we can use to check the effectiveness of the 5S+1 program is to use a 5S+1 Audit. An example form that can be used to audit the workplace is available in the Sigma Magic templates which you can access by selecting Lean and then 5S+1 Audit.

Audit Template

A sample screenshot of this template is shown below. 5S Example
The top section contains standard information about the area that is being audited such as the team name, team members, and date of the audit or any other observations by the auditors. It is usually recommended that there is a structured approach to the audit process with clear guidelines on who is on the audit team, when it will take place, how will the scores be used etc. that is shared with the organization. It may also be a good idea to include other lean team members (peers) on the audit process so that best practices can be shared between teams. It may also be a good idea to track the performance of a team audit scores over time to see if the area is getting better, consistent / repeatable, or getting worse. Based on this trend, appropriate corrective actions may be required.

This audit template was developed for a manufacturing or warehouse area and may need to be suitably modified for other areas/processes. Each element can be rated on a scale of 0-10. If there are multiple auditors, we can have a separate rating for each observer that is averaged or there can be a discussion among the members before they enter a common score on this template. The second approach is the preferred approach. Of course, there is no need to spend a lot of time debating if the score should be a 4 or a 5. Just go with one number! If the ratings are significantly different say one team members says 2 and other says 8, then each needs to explain the reasoning for their ratings and hopefully a common agreement can be reached.

Once the team “walks-through” the area and provides a rating for each of these elements, an overall score and observations of the audit team can be shared with the area and a print out of the score can be shared with the team which they can use for future improvements. As a part of reinforcing the right behaviors, we should always take the time to recognize and appreciate efforts taken by the team in improving the 5S scores. Also, ensure that the audit team is trained to avoid grade inflation and any partiality between teams. You may want to calibrate the scores given by the audit team on a random basis just to ensure that the process is working in a robust manner.

In some companies, the 5S+1 audit performance scores are linked to the incentive program. This provides another motivation for the team to keep their work areas neat and tidy. Sufficient communication should be provided to the organization to ensure that this exercise does not become a paper exercise and people see value in keeping their areas organized.

In summary, an organized workplace is an effective and efficient workplace. 5S+1 is a structured approach to keep the workplace organized. In order to sustain the program, a 5S+1 audit should be instituted so that this program can continue to run in a sustainable manner for a long time.

Feel free to share what are your thoughts on the 5S+1 approach and the 5S+1 audit? What works for you and what doesn’t?

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