5S Back to the Basics

The Time is Now… Take 5S Back to the Basics

Many companies that have been working on improving efficiency and effectiveness with the 5S techniques find that over time, the standards which they once followed begin to loosen. Facilities find that while in the beginning it was easy to identify problems, and implement solutions by following the 5S’s, it gets progressively more difficult as problems are identified and eliminated. Despite the fact that the ‘big wins’ may become fewer and further between, it is still important to stick to the concepts identified in 5s, and continue to work hard to operate in a lean way.

With that in mind, many facilities need to focus on getting back to the basics when it comes to 5S. This can begin by holding refresher courses on what 5S is, and why it is important. Showing everyone in the facility how far they have come using the 5S standards, and reminding them of the fact that it was sticking to the lean standards that helped them get where they are today. Once this training is complete, it is time to take 5S back to the basics on a day to day level. But what does that mean practically?

Getting Everyone on Board

While training is essential for getting back on track when it comes to 5S, you’ll likely need to do more to really get everyone on board. Without everyone participating in the improvement, it won’t be nearly as effective, and it may actually fail more quickly because those that aren’t helping will bring others down. It is possible to require everyone actively participate in 5S efforts, and that is a good thing. More importantly, however, you want to get everyone to actually support the progress that is being made.

Encouraging everyone to identify areas where improvements could be made, for example, is a good start. Publically recognizing it when people do this, or even rewarding them in some way, really helps take it to the next level. This type of reward and recognition can be an ongoing activity, or just part of a re-launch promotional period, depending on the facility.

Looking for Lean Solutions to Problems

One of the biggest ways companies can get out of the habit of following 5S concepts is by putting efficiency above true lean standards. True lean solutions focus on the long term profitability of the company, and not just improving processes for the sake of improvement itself. When a problem is identified, for example, it can be easy to find a solution when you are willing to spend a significant amount of time and money on it.

According to an article about 5S Implementation by T. Earley:

Examine your process measures and see if they are robust and will reflect the improvements you wish to make. If not create new measures of performance and collect data to make a baseline against which to measure performance improvements.

-T Earley

Just because it solves a problem, however, does not mean that it is a truly lean improvement. In many cases, the solution actually requires more resources than it saves, which means it should never be implemented in the first place. Some problems are so minor that they don’t actually warrant fixing, and others can be fixed in a much simpler way that will translate into long term benefits as well as costs savings. The bottom line here is that solutions to problem must be reviewed, and found to be lean, prior to being implemented.

Looking for Simple Low Cost Improvements

When getting 5S back to the basics it is always a good idea to restart the practice of looking for simple, low cost solutions to common problems. This is a staple of the 5S methodology. Look at the following examples of finding ways to improve efficiencies which can be done inexpensively, or even for free. See if any of these problems exist in your facility, and then implement these 5S approved solutions:

  • Unorganized – When tools or equipment is unorganized, it creates a lot of wasted time and effort. Look through your facility to find areas that are unorganized, and identify simple solutions. For example, if your personal protection equipment storage area is a mess, start using an industrial label maker (like this one) and place vinyl labels on each item that match up with the proper storage area.
  • Unsafe – Safety problems can cause a lot of waste within a facility. In addition to being important for the benefit of the employees, safety improvements can also translate to a more efficient workplace. If your facility has a problem with people or vehicles getting in the way of each other, consider the inexpensive solution of applying floor tape (like the ones found here) in a way that identifies where everyone should be walking, or driving.
  • Inefficient – Identifying inefficiencies is very important when focusing on 5S, and putting simple solutions in place is always best. One great way to identify inefficient processes is by breaking them up into individual tasks, and seeing where improvements can be made. Sometimes it is the smallest improvements that can make the biggest long term impact.
  • Unnecessary – In many facilities there is a lot of work that is done that is entirely unnecessary. This could be something large like creating products that are not profitable, or it could be something small like storing inventory on site for a day longer than is required. Identifying unnecessary work, and reducing or eliminating it, is a great way to operate in a leaner fashion.

Sustaining Momentum

Once you’ve gotten your facility back on track when it comes to 5S, you need to really focus on the fifth S. Sustaining this momentum over a long period of time can be difficult, but it is important or you will end up right back in the same position you were in. Having regular evaluations to see where the facility is falling into bad habits, and correcting them right away, is an important part of keeping everyone focused.

Another great way to maintain the momentum is to identify 5S or lean successes, and celebrate them publicly. By constantly showing people that these strategies truly work when they are implemented, it will inspire them to continue to focus on the 5S basics.

So, if your facility is struggling with getting into bad habits, why not get back to the basics and reenergize your 5S strategies. It is a small thing that can have lasting benefits throughout the company.

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