How to introduce 5S concept in the work environment?

As a concept, 5S is intended to produce the best results in any given work environment. This includes things like productivity and wasted time, the happiness and safety of employees, and of course the overall profitability of your business. The S’s themselves stand for sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. Unfortunately, 5S and other lean concepts are often implemented in an inefficient manner, which is undeniably a problem when the whole point of lean is to reduce waste and increase efficiency. If you take the time to learn about 5S and work to implement it in a systematic way, however, you should be able to begin to see many improvements in the way work and production are handled in a relatively short window of time. Let’s take a look at how the 5S concept can be introduced into your work environment.

5S and Preparing the Troops

Preparation is key to a successful 5S introduction in any work environment, and this means that you’re going to need to have effective and informative dialogue with your workers before you even begin. Rather than dictating to employees exactly what is going to happen, you should invite them to engage in discussions with you and offer up any suggestions that they feel might make a transition easier. Start by asking your employees what they know about 5S and its associated concepts, and then use what you know to fill in any gaps in general knowledge. Next, move on to the specifics of how 5S might be used to improve work areas in your own business. It is equally important to hear concerns from employees about any ways in which they think that 5S might actually hinder or interrupt operations. Make sure you talk out these concerns and do your best to address them, but also keep in mind that most employees are going to be resistant to change of any kind, at least to some degree. Being able to separate real barriers to 5S implementation and those that are simply rooted in stubbornness is going to be key to the smoothness of your implementation.

In any event, these discussions will help workers feel more connected to your decisions and more likely to accept changes with a positive attitude. A big part of these discussions should be helping your employees see the same end goal or vision that you see. Explain that the overall production process can be streamlined, that working conditions could be improved for all workers, and that safety and efficiency, two positive factors, are the primary driving forces behind any transitions you are going to make.

5S’ing Your First Space

Once you’ve got your employees on board and a plan laid out, it’s time to get to work on your first space. While it can be tempting to overhaul an entire workplace at once, I suggest instead choosing one specific area or process to work on at first. You can use this area as a sort of litmus test that, once successful, can help to show other employees the potential results of accepting some new lean methodology.

As with any 5S job, you’re going to start with a sort. In this step, you need to remove all items from the target cleaning area. As part of your sort, you’re going to be placing these items into piles that correspond to their frequency of use. For example, you’re going to have one pile that is full of items that are used on a daily basis and are essential to have quick and easy access to. On the other hand, you’ll have another pile meant for items that are seldom used, or that are only used when certain situations arise. Finally a third pile will be for items that are never used and have no use in the foreseeable future; these items are really just taking up space and one of the primary functions of the 5S sort is to remove clutter that stops workers from getting to the tools and supplies they more frequently need.

Once you sort your items into their respective bins or piles, it’s time to set things in order. In this step, the only items that are going to be returned to the work area immediately are those that were in the first pile. In another area of your warehouse or workspace, set up a sort of storage area for the items in piles number two and three. Obviously, any blatant garbage or trash items from the third pile should be discarded immediately and should not be moved to your storage area. Set a time limit and monitor the usage of any items in the storage area during that time. This could range from weeks to years, but I suggest somewhere between two and six months depending on the nature of your business. At the end of this period of time, discard any items or tools that employees have not used since the sorting. These items don’t have to be thrown away, but they should be removed from the premises so that they are no longer taking up space – consider donating excess items or materials to charities that could make good use of them. In order to keep track of which items were used, you can either keep a log in which employees write down when they use an item from the storage area or instruct workers to immediately move any tool, material, or item that they utilize from the storage area back to its original place in the sorted area.

At all times after the initial two steps, you should be working to “shine” the space you are conducting 5S on. You want this area to be as clean and easily navigated as possible to facilitate the quick location of items your workers use; this will already be made easier by the fact the you’ve removed your junk and clutter items to the storage area. The final steps, standardize and sustain, are mostly about ensuring that your 5S efforts are rewarded with ongoing benefits. Employees need to be trained to always maintain a 5S’d area and to approach any new projects in the same way.

5S and Visual Workplace

While 5S is all fine and good on its own, utilizing other lean concepts, like that of a visual workplace, can help to multiply the payout of 5S. A visual workplace means that your business has processes and work grounds that are divided up in an easy to understand and visual way. For example, when conducting a 5S project, you might use colored floor tape to mark off the various sorting areas for employees. Another example pertinent to 5S could be creating a large visual wall chart for workers to log their usage of storage items on.

In general, visual workplaces are going to be safer for everyone involved as well. This is because specific lanes for walking, driving, and other activities can be easily partitioned off in a visual manner that helps keep particularly dangerous situations from ever arising in the first place. Human beings in general are visual learners and we respond to visual stimuli the best, this is why you’ll notice that many safety procedures in the business and production world already use brightly colored tags and sorting systems. One such example is the lockout tag system that is used when maintenance workers have shut down machines for repairs. In addition to manually disabling the device, the system involves the placing of bright 5s red tags with repair details on the controls for that machine so that other employees know not to turn it on or tamper with it. In yet another prominent example, OSHA and ANSI requirements often dictate that safety signs must be in a certain color and of a certain size regardless of the textual information that’s on them.

Visual workplaces aren’t only good for safety however, they are also a key lean concept because they can lead to more efficient production. Many of the everyday tasks of assembly and production lines involve sorting items, tracking down materials, following instructions, and ensuring the right units are moved at the right time. Visual indicators attached to these various operations can help make them more quickly recognizable for employees. If workers are trained, for example, on a visual system that lets them know which phases of production need to be operated any given time (such as in a Kanban setup), they can easily see and respond to the needs of their workplace. This not only helps avoid bottlenecking, but ensures that workers won’t be wasting time on phases of production that are already overproducing.

It’s not just production that can be sped up with an effective visual system though. In many cases internal training and boardroom operations can also be expedited through the use of materials like vinyl chart tape. Meetings and training materials can be streamlined by associating various actions and desired outcomes with visual cues or colors. Retention of training lessons can also be increased in this matter, as many popular memorization techniques actually involve the association of an action or item with another object, color, shape, or sound.

5S Charts and Visual Cues

Charts and visual cues can also be used to facilitate quick communication between employees. Visual charts that illustrate shift times or tasks that need to be completed can let workers know what they need to do without wasting time chasing down supervisors or co-workers to inquire as such. This type of passive communication is also a great substitute for more expensive technology, like worrying about office-provided text messaging or email systems, in environments where they aren’t entirely necessary.

Charts can further be used to track and display employee behavior, production, or safety numbers.  They can also be used as a suggestion board as workers find more areas that may be in need of a 5S organization.  Workers can then vote on the areas they agree are in the most need; this simple technique gets employees involved, easily collects data and information for management, and helps pinpoint weak spots in production all at the same time.

Best 5S Concepts to Introduce in Manufacturing

The 5S process and regular business proceedings can learn a lot from each other, and the best implementers of Lean recognize this symbiotic relationship.  In this section, we’re going to look at some great tools, some specific to Lean but many more which are general, that you can use to improve various parts of the 5S process, and in your day to day work as well.  I’ve organized them by which step of 5S they are best suited for.

Sort: Red tagging is one of the first optional techniques used in 5S and it involves placing red tags on your unneeded items so workers can easily distinguish between them while sorting.  This can be done with simple stickers which can be easily placed on items as one walks through a room.  In the end, this saves time and confusion in case a group of items has already been evaluated but another employee is unaware.  If the items haven’t been moved yet, an employee might re-sort them on his or her own and waste time; with a red tag, however, they can easily see a determination has already been made.

In other aspects of your business, colored tags can be used to create a variety of systems.  Stations in need of cleaning or maintenance attention can be easily marked, tools and equipment can easily be assigned to certain teams and workers, etc.

Set in order: Give your freshly cleared areas the best chance you can at staying in order once organized.  This includes painting or taping floor areas, installing cabinets or other organization implements, labeling areas for different items with signage, labels, and placards.

Even if you aren’t 5S’ing an area, or won’t get around to it for a while, these types of organizational tools can be implemented as quick fixes.

Shine: Dust all surfaces, vacuum or sweep the flooring as appropriate, and keep objects clean and debris free before they are returned to the area.  The habits formed during the shine phase are certainly important ones, and you’ll notice that how well your workers adopt them will have a large impact on how well the standardize and sustain phases turn out.

Standardize: When standardizing, consistency is key and any tools to help you achieve consistency should be on your radar.  In addition to visual cues, think about using charts which outline job cycles for your workers.  This can help everyone get involved in an effort equally, and let’s you specifically assign tasks and behaviors that foster continuance of the first three phases of 5S.  During this phase, prevent the accumulation of unneeded items and maintain the work area as you ideally want it.  Quick refresher meetings can also be a way to help people standardize 5S teachings and ensure they are used daily.

Sustain: A natural extension from standardize is sustain. Sustain is all about taking the Lean process and making it into habit.  This way, workers will naturally approach new projects in an efficient manner, and the maintaining of areas that have already been transformed will come as second nature.

It takes a while for new habits to form, but simply surrounding workers with 5S information and reminders if one of the most effective ways to form them quickly.  Use a multitude of media to communicate the messages:  Booklets and pamphlets with information about the 5S system, posters and visual guides that serve as reminders, and check-ins between teams of workers and management are all good ideas here.  Reviews of individual performance are also good ways to have one-on-one time in which you can drop reminders about 5S as well.  This stage can be slightly annoying for workers, so do your best to keep messages varied.

Of course, there are many more Lean principles, ideas, and systems that your business can use in tandem with these workplace techniques. The beauty of Lean is that all systems work toward the common goal of continual improvement. This means that no matter which ideas you use or what order you implement them in you’ll still be able to get benefits in a relatively quick amount of time because all of these systems work together and can boost each others’ effectiveness, much in the same way we’ve seen that a visual workplace can help enhance 5S efforts.

As long as you read and learn everything you can before implementing a Lean system, and are sure to communicate both its process and its benefits to your employees, you really can’t go wrong. Here’s to your finding some killer combinations of Lean tools to take your business to the next level!

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