Top 10 Tips for 5S Success
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Top 10 Tips for 5S Success by Kevin McManus

There are a lot of benefits to be gained by putting a 5S process in place, but many organizations fail to successfully accomplish this goal. The following ten suggestions are intended to help you avoid the failures that others have suffered as you attempt to make your workplace more swept, straightened, sorted, standardized, and self-disciplined.

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Don't See Your 5S Initiative as a Stand Alone Effort – Besides bringing up ‘program of the month' memories from the past amongst your people, treating your 5S initiative as a stand alone process will create a lot of confusion about why you are undertaking this effort and will result in the inefficient use of resources. Many companies use special training, audits, and meetings that have a specific 5S focus in an effort to get the program going. Instead, you should build 5S practices and expectations into your larger performance improvement plan and operational excellence strategies. Similarly, don't form a 5S specific team – instead, build 5S initiative reviews into your regular Leadership Team and workgroup team meetings.

Require Management to Set a Strong 5S Example – Nothing will kill a 5S effort quicker than having employees walk by messy managers' desks or work areas right after they have attended a 5S project update meeting. Just as the Leadership Team should be the most effective team in a given company, the work areas of managers in a 5S company should be the cleanest and most organized. Additionally, you should expect every member of management to support 5S practices consistently and regularly – if a manager sees someone not practicing 5S ideals, they should politely challenge those people and ask them to correct the behavior or condition, even if that person does not report to them.

Require Every Supervisor and Manager to Enforce 5S Practices on a Daily Basis – The monthly walk through (high performance workplace audit) discussed below serves as a great tool for providing measurable 5S progress and for reinforcing the ultimate in 5S expectations, but you should also recognize that supervisors are conducting performance audits whenever they are out there with their people. What is not said often sends a stronger message than what is said – if a supervisor walks by someone who is violating a 5S (or other type of high performance) expectation and does not say anything, they are telling that employee that their behavior is OK. Similarly, the daily reinforcement of good 5S practices when they are exhibited carries much more weight than saying ‘thank you' to the overall group in a meeting.

Incorporate 5S Expectations into EVERY Employee's Job Description – If you want your work areas to remain swept, straightened, and shiny, expect each employee to leave them that they when they go home for the evening. This is best accomplished by (1) rewriting EVERY job description to include this expectation, (2) emphasizing this expectation in work group meetings, and (3) providing immediate performance feedback when a workplace does not meet the expectation at the end of a shift or day.

Clearly, and Visually, Define What Each 5S Workplace Should Look Like – ‘Before and after' pictures of 5S progress send a strong message about what is expected and will be recognized. Pictures also help people better understand what each 5S concept will look like when it is actually put in place on the job. You may also benefit from taking your work groups over to a ‘5S best practice' work area and talking about the differences between that workplace and how their own currently looks.

Modify Procedures and Work Instructions to Keep 5S Changes Alive – If you want all of your people to adhere to the “A place for everything and everything in its place” philosophy, you had better rewrite your procedures to include steps for putting things back where they belong. You also need to make sure that clear, easy to use procedures exist for disposing of waste or obsolete product or supplies. After all, don't our work instructions define what we are expected to do at work each day?

Build 5S Expectations Into Your Monthly High Performance Work Practices Walk-Through – Sure, you can do a special 5S walk-through each month just like you do the monthly safety inspection, but your time will be much better invested if you create a monthly high performance practices walk through assessment tool and include 5S expectations as part of it. For example, in addition to looking for consistency of 5S practices, also look for consistency in the use of visual performance postings, safe work practices, proper lean changeovers, six sigma project support, and employee awareness of high performance concepts as you move through each workplace.

Include 5S Recognition in Your Regular Employee Recognition Efforts – The best thing you can do is recognize each team each month that meets or exceeds the minimum score on the high performance work practices walk through. Avoid the tendency to give out a “Cleanest Workplace of the Month” or a “Most Organized Department” award, and especially avoid punishing people for being ‘one of the worst'. You only have so many recognition dollars to spend in your budget – use them to recognize team success against an all encompassing set of high performance work practice criteria.

Create a 5S Punch List and Show Regular Progress Towards Its Completion – One of the best things about putting 5S in place is that once you get over the initial hump, it is relatively easy to keep 5S alive. For example, once you have sorted out all of your obsolete equipment and supplies, you should not have to do those tasks again as long as your people each fulfill the expectations of their ‘modified' daily job. By creating a single 5S punch list for the whole facility, reviewing it weekly as part of your Leadership Team meeting (don't form a 5S Implementation Team), and tracking the percent complete for each action item on the action plan, you can easily keep up with the progress of your initiative.

Create a 5S Implementation Plan with Milestones that Appreciate Process Evolution – If you follow the above nine guidelines, you should see progress in a relatively short amount of time. Additionally, you should see little regression back to where you were when you started your 5S initiative. For example, after 3-6 weeks of consistent sweeping and straightening up at the end of each day, that behavior should have become a habit, each workplace should be much cleaner, and the need to emphasize and spend time on these two pieces of the 5S puzzle should be low. Also, once you have undertaken that big effort to get rid of all of the stuff you have collected over the years and created a reorganized approach to storage in all work areas, you should not have to worry about doing those tasks again.

Finally, I hope you can see how other operational excellence and lean six sigma approaches can benefit from using several of these approaches as well. For example, if you are going to change job descriptions to include a 5S emphasis, consider including six sigma project support and process improvement tool practice in those changes as well. In short, build high performance practices, expectations, and measurements into the larger work systems.

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Last Revised - February 25, 2015