5S is just that: five magic words all beginning with the letter “S” and derived from the original Japanese terms, which when put together as a systematic and disciplined approach will immediately start to bring benefits to what you do.
It is a way to create a clean, safe, organised and high-performance workplace with the involvement of everyone.
You can use 5S to kick-start your improvement efforts and whenever you need to inject greater energy into a process or department.
Here’s what they mean and how you can start to use them:
Go through the workplace and get rid of all the unnecessary things that are lying around and seldom if ever used. End up with just the right tools and materials to do the job. Get rid of the things that have been kept for the last 3 years “just in case”, shred the paper that has been sat in your recycling pile for the last 6 months, throw away the magazines that you said you would always read but never have and so on. The first stage is just one big clean up and declutter!
Set in Order:
Now go through what’s left. How often do you need that stapler? Who really needs access to that manual? Could we share that printer? Things that you need frequently to do the job should be at hand. Those needed every so often could be in a drawer or cabinet. Items needed just time to time and perhaps by others could be in a central storage location somewhere else. The idea here is to categorise use and to organise storage – applying general rules for all to follow.
When you only ever put your precious car through an automatic car wash how do you ever notice that the tyres are wearing, or that the bumper is loose, or that a new spot of rust has appeared on the wheel arch? “Cleaning is checking”. If you hand wash your car you will be amazed at all the minor things you notice about your car including that new scratch that some generous soul added for free at the supermarket!
And it’s no different in the Kaizen organisation: cleaning is a regular and individual activity – and we’re not talking about general facility maintenance – we’re talking about your immediate work area whether that’s a desk with a computer and telephone or a maintenance bay at the local garage and your toolbox. When you adopt a regular (daily) routine for even just 5 minutes per day you begin to notice that the printer is starting to run low on paper, when your calculator is missing, when that important customer order has fallen down the back of your PC! Take note that your work area may need a complete deep clean (what Imai calls “scrub”) before you can move to regular shine activities.
We are not advocating zero tolerance to appropriate workspace personalisation such as family photos or certificates of achievement. But if there was a common way of doing things with a standard set of tools (read this also as equipment) and you had to swap desk for the day or work in another bay then nobody would have to learn new software, a new telephone system, a new way of operating that piece of machinery and so on. Standardisation is a word that individuals love to hate because they believe there might be a sub-agenda to turn us into clones and automatons! So spend time with your teams getting them to see the benefits of common process, tools, layouts, desk equipment, procedures etc and you will be surprised at the spin off benefits such as sense of pride, improved housekeeping and the evolution of a “showcase workplace”.
Like anything in life, if you start well but finish poorly then none of the good achieved in the first 4 S’s will continue. I recently met with a company who compared photos of the workplace from before their Kaizen deployment 5 years ago with the photos of just after their “Kaizen Blitz” and then photos of the same area last week. Sadly, the “before” photo looked even better than the “today” photo. Money had been wasted training people and making changes only to let all the improvements quickly disappear because the company and its leaders were not really committed to maintaining the Kaizen way.