11 Tips and Tools For a Better 5S Workplace

5S is nearly synonymous with Lean Six Sigma ideology these days, especially since it is one of the first Lean techniques many workplaces will implement. This is largely due to a low barrier for entry:  There are no or few financial hoops to jump through, and the basic ideas behind 5S are simple. In case you’re unaware, 5S is a workplace organization technique derived from the Japanese words for Sort, Set-In-Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. This blog post is not a guide for the basics of 5S, though many are available, but is meant to introduce eleven subtle techniques and/or tools you can use to improve upon your 5S efforts and make them more effective. Let’s take a look at these tools now.

11 Helpful Tips and Tools for 5s Success

  1. Using floor tape –  The first part of the 5S process, the sorting, involves taking all of the items in an area or workplace that is to be organized and sorting them into various “bins.”  Items that are used commonly, items that are used seldom, and items that are used rarely or never are all sorted into their own individual areas. Using floor tape (which you can find here) to actually map out these bins can help you keep your organization efforts, well, organized. While you’ll be putting your commonly used and essential items back in place right away, it is standard practice to evaluate the usage of items in the other piles over the following weeks or months in order to determine their necessity to your business, or at least that particular work area. Floor tape is a great way to visually create these zones so workers know what is going on with each pile.
  2. Labels – Labels, such as those produced by a industrial label printer (like the ones found here), are another great way to give your workers visual cues. The fact that they can have text and imagery is a great added bonus and allows you to customize them, as you can include instructions for each of your 5S bins on these labels or signage pieces.
  3. Responsibility Roles – One of the best ways to ensure that your 5S efforts are carried out in an effective manner is to assign a specific employee or team to each task. For example, one group might be in charge of the initial sort, while the next day another team or person handles the setting in order or the cleaning (shining) of the area.
  4. Diversify Opinions – When assigning teams or individuals to your organization efforts, it is important to have a range of workers represented; assembly line workers, delivery drivers, dock/loading bay workers, managers, and anyone else that a 5S project might affect should be consulted. One item might not be important to one worker, but might be a daily necessity for another, drastically changing how it is sorted.
  5. Prioritize – Ideally, every aspect and area of your business would be 5S’d, but it’s important to be systematic and methodical in your approach. Don’t get ahead of yourself or spread your Lean team thin by trying to take on too many tasks at once. Evaluate which areas of your business are the most in need of efficiency improvements and prioritize those. Don’t move onto another project until the last is done (important to the last two “standardize” and “sustain” steps of 5S).
  6. Prepare Workers – Depending on how your workplace was setup before you began using Lean strategies, 5S’ing an area might change its setup quite a bit. Unfortunately, changes aren’t always well-received by workers who have grown accustomed to things being a certain way. The only thing that can make this tendency for resistance even stronger is a change that comes as a surprise. Let your employees know what you plan to do in advance. The key to getting workers on board with change is to frame the changes so that employees can see them as just as important to the success and growth/improvement of your business as you do.
  7. Make It Measurable – Having proper benchmarks to determine whether efficiency has been improved by the 5S’ing of a workplace is vital; you don’t want to be wasting time on projects that aren’t giving you the return you’re looking for. Usually, these measurements come in the form of units produced, materials wasted, defect numbers, or bottom line profits.
  8. Normalize – Sometimes, you may find that the results are measurable, but indirect – in most cases this is fine. For example, you may realize after 5S’ing a workplace that you are producing more units in a given period of time, while this is great, you might not be able to say definitively that the re-organizing of a team or area lead to these improvements. In order to be confident in your evaluations, you should normalize for measuring 5S changes by ensuring that all other factors stay as unchanged as possible in the times you’re evaluating. If done properly, you can be more confident that your efforts are responsible for any positive effects.
  9. Standardize – When implementing multiple 5S projects over time, you really should place some weight on the fourth step:  Standardize. Standardizing your 5S practices means that organizing and operating in a Lean fashion become commonplace, and part of the daily habits of your workers. Mindset amongst workers is a huge in Lean, and helps you overcome mental stumbling blocks when implementing new projects. Standardizing the way in which you implement 5S each time can also make your team quicker and quicker at transforming work areas with each progressive effort.
  10. Passive Communication – Make use of things like post-it/sticky notes, stickers, and wall charts to organize communication between multiple teams or team members. If you do use rotating teams or groups of people, allowing messages to be easily passed on from day to day can help to avoid confusion as to starting and stopping points; this makes sure you don’t have overlap in tasks and end up wasting time.
  11. Going Company-Wide With It – Even if you’re going to keep your Lean efforts carried out by a specific set of individuals, you need to make sure that your entire company is on board with the idea of lean. This doesn’t just mean talking to them on an individual level or making them understand each project you’re taking on, but holding company-wide training sessions. In these sessions, you should cover what exactly it means for a business to be Lean or to strive for continual improvement. Instilling the lean mindset throughout your business is the best way to ensure that it sticks. It is often said that the final “sustain” step of 5S is the hardest to achieve, because it takes 8-9 weeks for actions to become habit for most people. The only way you can help to smooth transitional periods and hurry them along is to allow workers to help each other by all becoming “experts” on Lean and 5S.

While there are certainly more than eleven things you can do to improve the effectiveness of 5S projects and efforts, that’s more than enough to get started on. Besides, many such considerations aren’t even made when people first begin on 5S, so you’ll already find you have a leg up!

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