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What is 5S?

What is 5S? Isn’t that an old iPhone model? And why do we need to paint so many lines on our floors, anyway?

Hi, I’m Nate Barber. Welcome to the 9th video in our 10-part series celebrating Opgrade’s 10th anniversary. Thanks for watching, and thanks for celebrating with us!

So what is 5S? 5S is a workplace organization and housekeeping technique that involves workers in the ownership of their workspace to create and maintain an effective and productive work area.

When you picture a world-class operation in your mind, what do you see? Now, it doesn't really matter what kind of operation you’re picturing. It could be automotive, or manufacturing, or pharmaceutical, or a bank, or a hospital, or an engineering office. No matter what world-class operation you’re picturing, I can almost guarantee that it’s safe, clean, orderly, and brilliantly lit. As Henderson and Larco put it in their book, Lean Transformation, achieving a world-class operation is almost this simple. Make your operation safe, clean, orderly, and brilliantly lit and you will be much closer to having that world-class operation we imagine.

If these are the things you want, that is making your operation safer, cleaner, more orderly, and better lit, then apply 5S to your operations, all your operations. 5S will improve workplace safety, improve workplace image, improve product quality, reduce wasted time, improve work processes, improve productivity, and create more available space. Who wouldn’t want these things?

So what then is 5S? 5S stands for five “S” words (not swords): Sort, Store, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Originally these came from five Japanese words that all began with the “S” sound: seiri, seiton, , seisō, seiketsu, and shitsuke.

Fortunately for us Americans, there are five English “S” words that approximate the intent of these Japanese words and we don’t, or at least I don’t, have to sound foolish every time I try to pronounce them and fail.

Here are the 5 English “S” Words that makeup 5S:

  • Sort (seiri 整理) Separating the needed from the not-needed

  • Store (seiton 整頓) A place for everything, everything in its place

  • Shine (seisō 清掃) Clean and ready to use, ALWAYS

  • Standardize (seiketsu 清潔) Developing common methods for consistency

  • Sustain (shitsuke しつけ) Holding gains and continuing to improve

Many online resources will use “set in order” instead of “store”. We use store as the single-word shorthand for “store in an organized manner”, which we believe to mean the same as “set in order”. So anytime you hear me say “store”, understand that I am really saying “store in an organized manner”.

Now, let’s go through each of the Five Ss in more detail, one by one, using an example from my home where we 5Sed our kitchen pantry.

S #1. Sort. Separate the needed from the not needed.

When we 5Sed our pantry, we pulled everything out. We did an initial cleaning, and then decided what to put back into the pantry and what to get rid of. Now, for my wife and I this is relatively simple process because it is much less difficult for two people to make a decision than it is for many to make a decision. For people who have difficulty agreeing what to get rid of, there is a process called the red tag process that makes this less adversarial. If you ever have people that are hesitant to throw things away or remove them from an area, simply put a red tag on it that identifies it and where it came from. Also log that information in a spreadsheet or logbook, including the date it was put there. Later, in a month or a quarter or a year when you haven't used that thing that someone was so insistent you’d use, you can then dispose of it. If it turns out you did need it, you know exactly where to find it, because you have it in a logbook. Once my wife and I had a good pile of the things that we intended to put back in our pantry, that brought us to:

S #2. Store. Give everything a place and make sure everything will stay in its place.

For our pantry, this means doing simple things like putting the things we use most closest to the door, and the things we use to least farther into the back. We also kept like things with like, meaning we didn't do things like mix the Ziploc bags with the food items. In general, if you want others in your organization to always put things away in its place, make it easier to put it way than it is to leave it out. In our pantry, once we had things stored, it was time to move on to:

S #3. Shine. Make a way to have things clean and ready to use, ALWAYS.

Shining, or cleaning, is often integrated into Sort and Store, but the point of this S is to create an auditable way to ensure things stay clean and orderly. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take a picture of the space and print it, laminate it, and post it in the area. This way our kids know what the pantry is supposed to look like and can maintain it that way without a lot of explanation. Even better is to label the bejeebers out of everything, but don’t lock yourself into locations for things unless you’re pretty darn sure they’ll stay there for a long, long time. Ok, with Shine done, now it’s time for:

S# 4. Standardize. Develop a common method for consistency.

For many of the items in our pantry, we use Kanban for reordering. You may have heard me talk about our jar of pickles in a previous video, and that is a good example here. There's only one place the pickles go in our pantry, so if there are no pickles in that spot in our pantry, that means we need to put it on the shopping list. Now, in our pantry, we haven’t gone so far as to label where the pickles go, but if it was ever unclear to us, that would be the first thing we did. The point here is to document agreements on how to maintain the space and to make abnormal conditions noticeable. Standardization is important because if we can do the first 4 S’s well, we then have half a chance at:

S# 5. Sustain. Hold the gains and continue to improve.

You’re probably not surprised to hear that sustaining is the hardest part. How many times have you cleaned up your house just to see it back in a state of disorder in just a few weeks? So it is in our organizations, too. Unless we’ve done a good job on the first four S’s, sustaining can be next to impossible. There are a few things that can make sustaining easier, though. First, schedule your shine. It is a lot easier to maintain cleanliness and orderliness if you only have a little bit of cleaning and sorting to do, so make sure you only ever have a little bit to do by scheduling it and doing it frequently.

Also, make sure the people who use the space own the cleanliness of the space and agree they should be held accountable. If you achieve an understood ownership, establish a simple audit with consequences. Audits are useless without both ownership and consequences. Positive consequences if the audit goes well, negative consequences if the audit doesn’t go well. For example, my kids are held accountable for resetting their rooms to a good state every Saturday. If it doesn’t pass muster, then they don’t get to play video games. Nothing major, but if their space isn’t clean and orderly, there are consequences.

Consequences are important because really, an area’s 5S state is a reflection of management. Has management established the vision of what the area could be? Have they set expectations? Have they equipped the team to meet these expectations? If management hasn’t done these things, then we can’t expect clean and orderly work areas, nor can we hold anyone accountable, except management.

To finish up here, let’s talk about a few of the qualities of a good 5S program.

  1. 5S is visual. Are things laid out so well, so visibly, that a 12-year-old could determine what belongs where and what is out of place?

  2. 5S promotes accountability through ownership. Every square foot of the work area should have the name of an employee who owns the space for their shift.

  3. 5S uses predetermined countermeasures. What type of audit system is in place, and what consequences can everyone expect when an abnormality occurs? And lastly,

  4. It’s 5S, not 6S or 7S, or 17S. Safety and Security, often the 6th and 7th S’s, they’re important, but their aims are different from good housekeeping practices, and in my view, they don’t belong with 5S.

Well, that is all I have to say about 5S for now, and next time we’ll talk about Standard Work. If 5S is the most fundamental tool in Lean, Standard Work is the most important. Until then, thanks for watching, and thanks for celebrating with us.

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