How to Avoid the Common 5S Mistakes: Business improvement series

As a plant manager who oversaw two distinct and rather successful Lean transformations, I’m almost ashamed to admit that I missed some pretty fundamental issues relative to 5S. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now clearly see that my understanding of this basic tool was remedial at best and detrimental at worst. It is now evident to me that my limited knowledge of 5S certainly impacted the rate of progress and possibly the degree of improvement attained.

After many years and implementations completed, I’d like to provide you with the advantages of the lessons I have learned so that you and your organization can travel to a higher level at a faster rate.

Lesson 1: It's not just about housekeeping; 5S results in immediate visual impact and eliminates the waste and frustration associated with employees searching for required items. It's clean and effective.

Lesson 2: It's simple, but not easy. 5S organization can be learned and successfully applied if the desire exists. It's like cleaning a closet...you decide what to keep and what to throw out. Then you clean it up, reorganize, and standardize it. Keep it clean, organized, and readily available.

Lesson 3: It's a process, not an event. Team members should articulate the expectations of each other and practice holding each person accountable. An agreeable-system has to be established to make satisfying improvements.

Lesson 4: Success depends almost entirely on leadership. A leadership's real work starts when the clean-up is complete, the event has finally started, and things have been set in place. While a basic understanding of Lean principles is important, a clear image of leadership's responsibilities in a Lean environment is absolutely vital.

Lesson 5: Each component has a common pitfall, learn to avoid them. Provide clear expectations of what's desired for Lean improvement. Clear standards should include visual examples of both acceptable and unacceptable levels of adherence. Remember, just because you're excited with the new system, doesn't mean everyone else is on board. If this problem arises, be sure to communicate with the person and audit from day one.

Lesson 6: 5S isn't just important, 5S is essential. Leaders who know or learn to standardize and sustain by instilling discipline are equipped to effectively utilize many other essential tools for continuous improvement. Therefore making the 5S program essential to every company's success.

5S is deceptively simple, appearing to be intuitive and practical on the surface. However, anyone who has tried to implement 5S knows that it brings its fair share of challenges.

Leaders need to understand that 5S is just as much about Standard Work and discipline as it is about housekeeping and organization. Furthermore for 5S to succeed, leaders must accept responsibility to learn and apply new skills and behaviors that help instill Standard Work and discipline in their organization. This is no small task. In fact, failure to adequately utilize Standard Work and create discipline is why the vast majority of 5S initiatives fail.

At Lean Partners, we help our clients continuously improve their operational performance through Lean, Six Sigma, and organizational development. We provide both technical and cultural know-how that allows our clients to achieve substantial and sustained, year over year improvement while they learn to become self sufficient over time. Our 5S portfolio contains virtually everything an organization needs to effectively implement. Contact us for guidance on completing a successful transformation.