With the Fall season now upon us, some may have already begun their checklist to clean up and prepare for winter. We scramble to accomplish everything we can, so our yards are clean and outdoor furniture put away, before the snow starts to fly. Even though this type of Fall clean-up happens every year, and we participate in a similar ritual in the Spring, we think of this activity as a ‘one and done’, at least for the season.

The disconnect we all share when it comes to maintaining cleanliness in our work environments (shop floor, office, warehouse), is that we think of it in the same manner, that it should be done once a year, maybe occasionally or only when a customer is scheduled to tour the facility.

I’ve had the opportunity to lead dozens and dozens of workplace organization events over the years. A few number of those projects were conducted where the company’s main objective was “to perform a thorough cleaning”. Now that’s all well and good, the team in the end accomplished their goal but workplace organization, as a lean tool, is much more than performing a ‘onceover’ in the assembly department.

5S is a methodology which is a system of principles and rules for regulating a given discipline. It’s sits at the opposite end of the spectrum when comparing it to an annual cleanup event. 5S teaches you how to organize a work space for efficiency and effectiveness by identifying and storing the items used, maintaining the area, and sustaining the new order. What follows is critical to a successful 5S event;

Involve the right people
Once you’ve identified a project, give careful consideration to who you include on the project team. It’s important to have representation from people in the area, especially those who work on
off shifts. Excluding them will only diminish your chances for success.

Visualize and understand the process first
Before delving into the S’s at the beginning of an event, walk the process to understand the material flows and worker movements. Remember, the goal in 5S is to improve the productivity and efficiencies as it relates to these two elements. Document the process in detail and have the team identify the wastes (non-value added activities). This exercise lays the groundwork for the group’s Set-To-Order discussion and activities.

Sustainment is the most challenging S
Everyone seems to know this but it still remains the biggest hurdle. It boils down to one factor…commitment. Before embarking upon an initiative ask yourself how far you’re willing to go to make 5S a part of the company’s DNA. It requires longer term project planning, resource planning and consideration for incentivizing employees.

Don’t reference your 5S efforts in the past tense
I hear often from business leaders during plant tours that “we 5S’d that area 2 years ago”. Recall that 5S is a lean or better yet continuous improvement tool. It’s continuous in the sense that we should always be searching for a better way to improve. Otherwise, you can chalk it up to being just another ‘fall cleanup’ exercise.


by Craig Corsi, Lean/Continuous Improvement Specialist

Learn more about NWIRC’s Lean Together, working group for operational excellence.