Many experts will advise that 5S is a good place to start when embarking on your Lean Journey. Why is this?
#1. In most cases, the first 3 (Sort, Set and Shine) are pretty easy to understand and accomplish. With some simple training, supplies, time and a little bit of elbow grease, you can carve out a very well organized area in your workplace. The tough part is to make that condition the Standard throughout the company and Sustain it. Everyone must understand the concept and participating in it must become part of the culture.
So, does this mean that 5S is easy or difficult? I believe it’s both, which is one of the reasons it’s a great place to start. You get to enjoy some immediate gratification, but most importantly, you will experience how critical it is to be fully committed to Lean principles. I always advise people to use 5S implementation as a “gauge” for how committed they really are. In a time where instant gratification is dominated most cultures, people tend to want to jump right to those parts of Lean that they believe will make them the most money. Unfortunately, 5S doesn’t grab the attention of top leaders the same way a dramatic reduction in inventory or labor does, so it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves from an untrained eye.
#2. 5S is a prerequisite for most other Lean tools. We know that Standard Work is a baseline for all improvements, but if the workplace is unorganized and the necessary items needed to do the job are not easy to locate, how can Standard Work be followed? Without Standard Work, you really don’t have a chance to improve the process and 5S is a critical prerequisite.
How could you even think about a SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die) if your tools are not in the correct place. TPM (Total Preventative Maintenance) is crucial to keeping your equipment in good working order, but if there is always dirt and grime around your machines, you won’t know if there is a leak that needs repair.
One of the main complaints I always hear about a Kan Ban system is that cards get lost, so it doesn’t work. If your workplace is very neat, clean and organized, a Kan Ban that ends up in the wrong spot is very likely to be quickly discovered. If the workplace is full of clutter, a Kan Ban card can easily become part of the clutter and not find its way back to its proper place.
#3. It’s allows you to see problems more easily. 5S is almost like an automated Andon. If you have a good 5S condition, problems can be seen easily. For instance, if there is a designated place for WIP (Work In Progress) and it is clearly understood how much is supposed to be there, you can easily understand if work areas are working too fast or too slow. If the floor is normally clean and you see a spot with screws on the ground, this tells you that you have an opportunity to stop the screws from getting dropped.
#4. People are less likely to get injured. Actually, Safety is known as the 6th S in some companies (I don’t personally feel that this fits). But I do know that trip hazards, slip and falls, bumps and cuts are much more likely to happen in a cluttered environment than an organized one. I’ve seen some workplaces do a terrible job with labeling in an environment where chemicals are used and I’ve also seen a few building evacuations because of it.
#5. People enjoy working in an organized environment. Yes, there are those out there who really don’t mind working in a dirty, filthy place, but studies have shown that morale is higher in companies with a higher level of 5S.
So by starting with something as simple as sorting through your items, setting them in a designated space, shining them up, you can achieve higher levels of Safety, Quality, Problem Solving and Morale. Not to mention, you won’t really be able to proceed further in legitimately implementing Lean practices. Don’t you think that it’s worth it to rank 5S as a high priority for your workplace? Just make sure you are aware of the commitment level you need to Standardize the practice and Sustain it, otherwise all you are doing is “cleaning up” once in a while.