5 steps for preparation for 5S

Tim Akerman
Tim Akerman
Categories:   Lean   Lean Six Sigma   Management  

Many people have heard of 5S, however, people often think of 5S and associate it with housekeeping. So, is 5S just an extreme form of housekeeping? Certainly not!

5S was originally used in Toyota to improve performance. The ‘5S’ referred to five simple everyday Japanese words that everyone would understand. The thought process was that by keeping the words simple and grounded in day to day language, the worker could focus on the intent not remembering complex terminology. When this technique was first imported to the west, the trainers used the Japanese words and created an obstacle that should never have been part of the process. The driving force for this was seeing the task not the process. Copying the Japanese implementation across language and cultural boundaries failed to communicate the philosophy and structure behind the process. 5S is an integral part of kaizen linked to elimination of waste and focus on value. For that reason, I use five simple English words – I only teach in English.

The 5S’s are;

Simplify
Straighten
Scrub
Standardise
Sustain

Another misunderstanding from the west was adding a sixth S, safety. Safety is of vital importance, however, adding safety as the sixth S misses the point. The five S’s are grounded in an assumption that everything is safe. If the process isn’t safe don’t wait for 5S, deal with the safety issues before starting 5S, after all why would you work with an unsafe process?

Preparing for 5S is vital and too often organisations don’t invest enough to ensure they create the right environment that allows employees to succeed. There are five critical steps to creating the right environment for employees to succeed at 5S.

  1. Create policy and a plan.
    To implement 5S successfully the organisation must establish a clear policy that documents the benefits of 5S and the roles and responsibilities for implementation. The leadership team must be united on the need and purpose of 5S. The team who create the policy and plan should be drawn from all levels of the business. This is to ensure that the potential pitfalls and problems are identified and discussed. Through this discussion the business can ensure alignment between all levels of the business and significantly reduce the opportunities for conflict. The policy should explain the behaviours and standards the business will adhere to regarding 5S.
  2. Write the Procedure.
    Document the process for implementing and managing 5S. 5S is a form of standard work and supports employees and management alike in understanding the benefits and advantage in standardising working practices. Implementing 5S without standard work will make the process much more difficult than expected.
  3. Create a red tag format and area.
    Standard red tags used throughout the business create consistency. This consistency ensures that everyone is clear about the meaning and purpose of any red tag in the business. The red tags also contain standardised information allowing correct identification of the item, date tagged, reason for tagging and disposition of the item. This item can then be placed in a fixed area for disposal or storage.
  4. Create a red tag log.
    Red tagging alone won’t create a clear picture of the items in the business that are not required. The red tag log allows management to track items and the decisions made regarding their disposition. The log also allows tracking of location, cost and stock level.
  5. Communicate the plan and train those involved.
    Once all the preparation is done, communicate why 5S is important and what benefits implementing 5S will bring. Once this is communicated throughout the business select the first team to implement 5S and train them how to implement the process.

Preparing properly for 5S will increase the speed of adoption and the likelihood of success. The leadership must understand their role in the process. Leadership should not be dictating, they need to collaborate with the workforce. The most effective activity that leadership can undertake is to identify and remove obstacles to progress, ensuring that employees have the tools and resources to succeed.
Read the future posts on how to implement each of the steps of 5S