Lean Organisations & 5S

The Questions

What is 5S? Is housekeeping really that important? Is 5S as simple as a clean desk policy?

If it is, then why do so many attempts to introduce it into an organisation fail? Why do many organisations spend hours cleaning up, only to be back where they started three months down the track? Why is 5S the foundation of Lean Manufacturing?

The Answers

On the surface 5S is a systematic five-step approach to housekeeping. In reality it’s a process that needs extensive leadership, discipline and focus to create the mindset to maintain a workplace that reflects quality, ownership, teamwork, discipline and pride.

For those who need a reminder, 5S refers to Sort Out, Set in Order, Shine, Standardise and Sustain.

Very often, after the directive is given to embark on a 5S program, a blitz is implemented and as a result the piece of kit or line looks like a million dollars. But this only lasts for a few months before its back to its previous state, or worse.

What happened? S1, S2 and S3 were probably done well, yet S4 and S5 didn’t get a look-in. The difference? Very simply put, S1 – S3 are all about looking world-class, whereas S4 and S5 are all about behaving world-class. A big difference! One big clean up barely changes inherent behaviours.

Changing behaviour needs consistency in expectations, feedback and consequences, both positive and negative. Most importantly change requires strong role modeling on a daily basis, not just before an audit or customer visit. It is surprising how often managers and supervisors walk past rubbish or spills and seem oblivious to it. Remember, the state of the workplace is a reflection on management, not anyone else.

For an organisation to live 5S, its managers must truly understand their goals and principles on a daily basis. When they see something awry they need to correct it immediately with those responsible. Leading by example means bending down and picking up rubbish, rather than just walking past it. Leading by example means “Walking the Talk”. Then, the team will respond and model management behaviours and priorities.

The 5S mindset is fundamental to becoming a Lean Organisation. We need discipline to follow Kanbans.  We need discipline to follow standardised work patterns. 5S is the best way to introduce the organisation to discipline.

A Lean Organisation does not have the time to waste looking for tools during a change-over, does not waste money on excess inventory, does not waste space on unneeded items and does not waste time re-doing work. 5S eliminates waste.

A Lean Organisation also has a committed and accountable workforce. A workforce that wants to participate in continuous improvement. When we ask operators if they still need this tool or materials, we are asking them to be involved, to make a decision and be accountable. When we ask operators what they need to organise their workplace, we need to respond, take action and invest to and show the operator that they are important, and that we value their input.  As management, we need to be committed.

by Garry Smith, Think Perform Facilitator