Tag Archives: six sigma

Should I begin my lean programme with 5s?

We are asked this type of question by many companies.

The idea of a clean and tidy workplace is very appealing and seems an ideal way to begin the lean programme.

Done poorly, and there is little distinction between the 5s initiative and a good spring clean.

Done well, this can involve many people and make an instant impact.

The essence of 5s is to:

Sort – decide what is required and remove everything else. This can be an enjoyable and empowering experience for the team.

Set in order – ensure that what is required has a designated and suitable storage area. Again, this can give the team a tremendous feeling of taking control of their area.

Shine – regular schedules are defined to clean and maintain all that is required – machinery, tools, work areas & materials. Good schedules assist a TPM (Total Preventative Maintenance) programme and SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die or Quick Changeover).

Standardise – Habits are not formed until a process has been performed many times. Standardising and optimising the new processes takes time. There can be reluctance to move away from old ways which have ‘worked’ for years. Documenting and scheduling the new ways takes time. Setting visual controls takes time and will not be done in one event.

Sustain  – Sustaining 5s in a process requires regular review. How often are schedules checked?. How often are frequencies, limits and quantities re-calculated? How often are visual controls updated?  How often is the system audited and how are results measured and communicated?

Our view is that like any of the lean initiatives, 5s is one of many tools. The lean programme needs to start with clear objectives, a clear definition of value and good understanding of the business processes. In any improvement initiative, we are looking for some measure of success. If 5s clearly impacts our measure of success, then it may be an exercise worth doing early on.

However, if in defining our value stream we realise that our process is unbalanced, carries too much inventory or has poor flow, we may wish to focus on the process first and then apply 5s to the re-designed process.

Some teams decide on 5s as an improvement project. However, the business case and project goals can be very subjective. Ultimately, after the initial enthusiasm, the team can lose motivation as there is no clear measure of where they are going.

What is your experience with 5s? Would you recommend starting a lean programme with 5s? What has and hasn’t worked in your organisation? What are the key challenges and issues?