How to Implement 5S for Lean Workplace Organization

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5S is a system that melds cleanliness and organization with efficiency.
5S is a system that melds cleanliness and organization with efficiency. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

5S is considered to be one of the fundamental pillars of a Lean workplace. "5S" refers to the five Japanese words, beginning with S, that enumerate the workplace cleanliness and organization system of the Toyota Production System. This methodology is equally applicable to office and factory floor environments and is a great place to start when embarking on a Lean transformation. More than just a form of spring cleaning, 5S will instill the discipline to have "a place for everything, and everything in its place", as well as encourage process thinking.

Things You'll Need

  • 5S Team
  • Area Floor Layout
  • Colored Tape
  • Red Tags
  • Camera

Grasp the situation - Draw spaghetti diagrams of workflows in the area to establish work paths and physical boundaries. Time processes and take "before" photographs to establish baseline performance

Sort (first S) - Go through the workplace removing anything that is not needed for regular workflows, as well as excess inventories. Throw away garbage and move items that you are unsure of to a red tag area for later evaluation.

Set in order (second S) - Move tools and materials close to point of use. Make things easy to find and easy to access. Use indicators, such as shadow boards, tape outlines, and min-max inventory levels to make missing items obvious.

Shine (third S) - Clean the area, removing dirt, repairing damaged equipment, and generally cleaning the workplace. This will provide a good mindset and help avoid "broken window syndrome" (see resources).

Standardize (fourth S) - Implement daily checklists to maintain 5S. Create owners and rules to maintain the first three Ss as part of daily work.

Sustain (fifth S) - Post audit scores and before / after photographs on the wall near the area. Track scores over time to show improvement. Encourage management to walk by the area and ask the team about its 5S efforts

Revisit the 5S area frequently, lead by example, and always try to eliminate the root cause of problems identified in the weekly audits. In a recent Lean Enterprise Institute survey, backsliding was identified as the primary reason for Lean transformation failure. Be prepared for backsliding and have the measures in place to counteract it.

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