5S Tools and Blueprint Used In My Last 5S Project

When re-organizing or changing up your work floor or operations setup, you can have a potentially massive task on your hands. The problem with “potentially massive” projects is that they tend to easily become overwhelming, leading many to one of two undesirable outcomes: A) You take shortcuts and end up with a sort of half-result that isn’t as great as you had wanted, or B) you just decide the task is too much work or would take up an excessive amount of time, and decide to scrap it altogether. So, let’s say you know that there are some efficiency improvements that could be made by cleaning up your own cluttered workplace, but you’re unsure of how to go about it. Lucky for you, I’ve got your back.

The 5S System

If lean manufacturing principles were the driving force behind your quest for improved efficiency or continual improvement, you’re probably already familiar with the system we’re going to use to get things cleaned and in order: The 5S system. A lean principle itself, the 5S system stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. As a general summary, the system helps you take a cluttered area and sort it piece by piece, removing unnecessary items while still keeping the useful items. You’ll then develop a system for ensuring the items you decide to keep stay organized after the project is over when you resume normal use. In order to illustrate each step in detail and provide a blueprint for how you can replicate it, let’s walk through the recent 5S reorganization of a lumberyard that I was involved in. Along the way, I’ll point out some helpful 5s tools for keeping your project streamlined, intentional, and easy to complete.

Step 1. Sort

In this step, we took every single tool, piece of wood, piece of garbage, and basically everything from the workplace and began to sort it into areas. For a lumberyard, moving every piece of lumber is a huge undertaking, but one of the goals of this re-work was to cut down inventory on discontinued or under-performing products (specific thicknesses and grades of plywood or plasterboard, for example). Before you begin gathering and sorting things in your own project, you need to consider all of the possibilities for the items you will gather, and create an area to place things in for each option.

For us, these categories were:

  • Commonly sold items to go back in stock where they came from
  • Discontinued items to be donated to Habitat for Humanity (a nonprofit that builds homes for underprivileged families)
  • Items that are seldom sold (which would be placed in a new section at the back of the warehouse)
  • Items to be recycled
  • Items to simply be thrown away

Once you’ve decided what options make sense for your business and project, create a large area with floor tape to indicate the sections. We used different tape colors to easily identify what each section/pile should contain. Next, we took every item and sorted it into the appropriate category and corresponding floor taped area.

Step 2. Set In Order

Then we removed all of the things that were in the “throw out” type piles, and placed everything else back in its (potentially new) area. However, it’s important to note that in order to best make use of the tactic, you should make modifications to any spaces you want to improve before replacing any items. For us this meant building new, larger racks for the most commonly bought pieces of lumber so that we could store more lumber without the risk for pieces overflowing out onto the work floor. Some helpful tools that we used included:

  • Label Makers: These made it easier for employees to know where things should be stored by making labels for each bin, work area, shelf, etc. Labels work better than hand drawn markings (like the old sharpie on wood ones we had prior to our 5S project) and, if laminated, they can last much longer. (Example of a good 5S Label Printer)
  • Floor signs: For larger-scale areas in which a small label might be missed, consider using floor signs or vinyl signs to show what the area is for so it can be seen easily even from far distances. (Variety of floor signs can be found here)
  • Foam Tool Organizers: When it comes to tools, there are two tried and true methods for storage, both of which work wonderfully. One is to use foam tool organizers, or create your own, to keep your tools secure and in a designated place. You can also opt for the classic tagboard-on-the-wall approach so that you can use pegs to hang each tool upon. (Foam organizers that I use)
  • Floor Marking Shapes: You can use these either as permanent organizational installments or much like floor tape to create areas for specific sort piles. (Click here for a variety of floor marking shapes).

Whatever you need to make each space perfect for your needs, acquire it and complete it before putting your items back.

Step 3. Shine

Once our tools were put back in order, we wanted to make the space look as good as it felt now that everything had a predetermined and logical place. This meant that we took the time to dust, vacuum, sweep, and tidy up. In a lumberyard, this meant a lot of time spent on sawdust clean up alone, but it helped sharpen things up a lot in the end. In fact, we even found some old sawdust in seldomly cleaned places that should have been removed months or even years prior, yikes! When engaged in this step, also take the time to look for small maintenance items that can be taken on without putting too much of a hitch in your organizing. This may included things such as small painting re-touches, re-caulking windows, replacing floor tiles, etc. The shine step can help you quickly take care of small projects that may have otherwise been left by the wayside.

Step 4. Standardize

The last two steps of the 5S system focus largely on carrying your organizational efforts into the future and staying consistent. The standardize step specifically has to do with making a plan to keep things in order going forward. Make a plan to replicate the first three steps on a smaller scale whenever your workplace begins to become cluttered again or when new products/inventory are introduced. Without completely tearing everything off of the walls again and starting from scratch, how will you evaluate where new products should go and make space for them? In the lumberyard, we moved less-used products to a new section in the back, which helped to free up several bins in the main warehouse floor. We were then able to utilize these bins when we received new products without having to displace others.

Step 5. Sustain

The final step of the process is all about discipline. There’s not necessarily a written plan here, instead you simply need to ensure that going forward you make it a priority to both management and employees to follow the plan you created in “Standardize.”

Closing Words:

Discipline is a large part of any organizational effort, but you also need to have a blueprint (kind of like the one laid out in this blog post!) to apply that discipline to. Much of this will also come down to making the things you learned here relevant to your own industry. If your business involves smaller amounts of inventory on hand, you may want to focus more on clean and efficient work stations rather than storage areas, for example.

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