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5S: The Lean Activities with the Biggest ROI

For many of us the first touch point for lean principles in our journey to lean excellence is going to be 5S. Once a company commits to lean excellence, typically the first action they take is creating a value stream map of their current processes. This allows them to accurately see the state of their facility and identify the first few opportunities for improvement activities like Kaizen events.

As far as front line employees go however, their first and probably most ongoing engagement with lean principles is going to be with 5S and it's variants (we'll get to the variants later). Ideally, all employees will be engaging in 5S activities on a daily basis. We'd love to see all employees engaging in kaizen events as much as they can, but at the beginning of your company's lean journey 5S activities are a great place to get your team involved. In this way 5S becomes a sort of launch pad for getting the rest of your team engaged.

5S is a great place to get your team on board the lean journey. For starters, 5S is easy to conceptualize. We all already do a lot of these things whether that's at home or at work. 5S just systematizes it.

5S has great ROI. For the amount of effort and time that goes into 5S activities, the results are big and immediately visible. Once they've become part of your routine, 5S activities take on average 5-15 minutes per day. Those 5-15 minutes can save hours off of your process times through out the rest of the week.

5S also just feels good. You know how great it feels when you finally get your inbox to zero or clean that closet in your house out. 5S makes your plant floor feel like that every day. Employees feel better. Processes get more efficient. Everything looks nicer. It's just great all around.

So lets go through the S's.

Sort - First we need to go through the work cell and sort out everything that's in there. If it's used there, it stays. If it's not, move it out. If you're not sure, put tag on it and if the operator has to remove it to use it then you know it should stay. The goal of sorting is to make sure the work cell only has what's needed in that work cell. Anything else is just in the way.

Straighten - So now that everything's been sorted it's time to straighten. Sometimes this step is called Set in Order. All of the things in that work cell need a place to be. Tools should have designated places they're returned to when they're not in use. Shadowboards are great here. Materials being used in the cell should have a designated place as well. A label maker and stickers to outline footprints are great places to start. The goal of Straighten is to make sure everything has a place. Ideally at the end of the day a person could look at the work cell and make sure all the tools and materials are ready for the next day.

Shine - Once you've got your 5S activities in place, this is where your team will spend the majority of it's 5S time. Shine simply means making sure things are clean. Sweeping, mopping, wiping off surfaces, and cleaning tools all fall within Shine. The goal of shine is to make sure that the work cell is clean. A clean work cell is easier to work in. Clean tools are easier to check for damage.

Standardize - This means that once you've done the first three steps, you need to create systems to make sure 5S is done the same way across the board. Standard work documents or process documents can be created to implement this standardization across your company.

Sustain - Once you've set the standard, you need to sustain it. This involves making sure that everyone is on board with 5S, from operators to plant managers. This can be done through 5S audits and training. Sustain is about creating a culture of 5S and waste reduction.

There are some extra S's that some company's will throw in. Some include Safety, pointing out that safety should be a part of daily activities. Another source I found showed 10S's. In addition to 5S plus Safety, they had added, Spirit, Security, Strategy, and Superfluous. Those are great additions, in my opinion, but for the company just starting out on the lean path, they might be overwhelming to your team. That's not to say there's not value in them. It's just that for the company just starting out 5S will get you 95% of the way there. Maybe if a company if farther along in the process those extra categories are helpful, but for the majority of us 5S activities applied with consistency will yield massive results.

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