Thursday, June 9, 2011

5S: A Useful Tool for Building a Lean Workplace - Feature Article

Cluttered, dirty, confusing, wasteful, and dangerous…not the adjectives you want used to describe your business. Implementing a Lean initiative, beginning with 5S, can transform your business into an organized, clean, efficient, straightforward, and safe workplace.

5S is a tool that can be used to create a foundation upon which a complete Lean initiative can be built. Mark Graban, founder of and a Senior Fellow at the Lean Enterprise Institute, believes "5S needs to incorporate Lean thinking…looking at providing a better workplace, engaging people in that improvement, providing more value to customers, and preventing errors."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Web site, "5S is a system to reduce waste and optimize productivity through maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results."

The components of the 5S system are: Sort, Set In Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain (also known by the Japanese words: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke). The Japanese names are tied to initiatives that are mostly associated with Toyota (the Toyota Production System, for example), but the concept goes back even further to Henry Ford's CANDO (Clean-up, Arrange, Neatness, Discipline, and Ongoing Improvement) system, which he discussed in his classic 1926 book, Today and Tomorrow.

Before beginning the 5S cycle, the creation of a 5S team will help ensure the success of a 5S initiative. The team should include staff, frontline workers and, yes, management because as Karen Wilhelm, publisher of the Lean Reflections blog, says, "Companies that do not have a full commitment to lean and learning at every level will not see business results." Lean consultants are often brought in to substantiate that commitment with training for each of these components:
  1. Sort: The process begins by culling through everything in the target area, whether it be in manufacturing, an office, or a hospital environment, and eliminating all unnecessary items. Keep only the essentials and store or throw away the rest. The entire team should be involved in the sorting process so an accepted, general consensus about what is and isn't necessary can be reached.
  2. Set In Order: The next step is all about arranging the remaining items and creating an organized workspace. The straightening, labeling, etc. during this phase are all aimed at promoting an efficient workflow. There are many valuable tools and procedures that can be implemented to make this stage a success. These include painting or labeling floors to indicate specific work areas, using tapes and labels to outline where tools or other supplies should go, special bins to store supplies and for inventory control, shelving and cabinets to solve storage issues, and more.
  3. Shine: After the unnecessary items have been discarded, and the work area organized and made more efficient, then the cleaning process can begin. Sweeping, shining, and making the work area tidy helps workers to quickly recognize leaks, broken parts, malfunctions, etc. and, most importantly, it improves worker safety. This step in the 5S process needs to be practiced on a daily basis…workers need to make it a habit to clean the workplace before things get messy.
  4. Standardize: When the first three steps of the 5S process have been completed, attention needs to shift to creating a detailed procedure to standardize these practices. Because 5S is a visual process, some of the handy tools for this step include signs, checklists, charts, and scoreboards. It is this step that requires the most training and practice to promote the consistency needed for a successful 5S initiative.
  5. Sustain: Achieving success with the first four steps means nothing if the fifth step, Sustain, is overlooked. Maintaining the 5S process and creating good habits can be encouraged by visual reminders such as signs or posters around the work area. Regular meetings to review procedures and to discuss new issues will keep the focus on sustaining 5S efforts.
Wilhelm urges that each "S" is important and that following the sequence is key. But, "Many people do say that 'sustain' is the most important, and you can make a good argument for that being true," she said.

Despite the seemingly easy implementation, many 5S initiatives fail. According to an Industry Week article, "…the average lifespan of a 5S effort is a paltry one year." Why such a dramatic failure rate?

Karen Martin, of Karen Martin & Associates (a Lean consulting firm), believes the two missing elements are often leadership and culture. "Japanese leaders are trained as coaches and Lean is seen as an overall plan instead of being done in a step-wise fashion as it is in the U.S.," she said. Martin further points out that in the book Lean Thinking by James P. Womack & Daniel T. Jones (considered the "bible" of American Lean philosophy), the words "leadership" and "culture" don't even appear in the index.

Graban stresses there has to be a Lean spirit. "I think if 5S is done in the spirit of helping people improve their own workplace and engaging people in improvement then that's more in keeping with the Lean spirit," he said.

"A bad system will defeat a good person every time," said W. Edwards Deming, a consultant of statistical control procedures for post-WWII Japan. Just because an organization implements a 5S/Lean program doesn't mean it's doing it for the right reasons or that it will lead to business successes.

Martin points out, "There's a lot of what we call 'Lame' going on out there." She says the danger is that, "Organizations will hear about 5S and think it's a nifty tool to implement at their company without a deeper understanding of Lean. They need to understand that 5S is a countermeasure to solve specific problems, not a tool to be slapped into an operation for no clear reason."

Graban shares an example of an accounting firm in the U.K. that made workers take all their family photos off their desks and put tape outlines marking where their keyboard and mouse should go. "How in the world is putting tape around your keyboard going to help you do a better job for your accounting clients. I would argue that it doesn't help at all."

If an organization truly embraces the culture of 5S and Lean by providing proper training and sustaining the efforts on a daily basis they will see success. As Lester R. Bittel said in The Nine Master Keys of Management, "Good plans shape good decisions...good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true." Bad habits can bring disaster, but good habits bring great rewards.

Wilhelm believes that, "The main reward of 5S is that an organized workplace is a prerequisite to improving flow, one of the main concepts of Lean." Martin says the rewards of implementing a 5S initiative include: increased productivity, boosted employee morale, cost reduction, heightened customer confidence, and quicker service. And Graban adds, "If you look at good applications of 5S they engage the people who are actually doing the work…that's where 5S becomes very powerful."

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