By Shane Cantrell, Operational Excellence Specialist, NWIRC

It’s hard to believe that spring is here and many have already started their annual spring cleaning to do list. It’s an annual tradition this time of year to begin getting our dwellings prepared for summertime. We’ll hurry between now and early May to complete everything so we feel good about having our households and yards clean and orderly. This is the same mindset that we often share when it comes to sustaining organization in our workplace (manufacturing shop floors, office spaces, stock rooms, etc.) – that it should be done once a year or when a customer is scheduled to visit the facility. But instead, let’s focus on the foundational lean tool, 5S methodology, that aims to create a clean, organized, and efficient workplace- continuously.

Learning how to Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain can transform your workspace, enhance productivity, and promote a culture of continuous improvement. We need to have a different mindset regarding 5S and realize that it’s not a ‘one-and-done’ type of activity. Strong discipline of 5S enables an organization to sustain improvements over the long term. Those misunderstanding this concept can easily fall into the trap of following the next fad rather than truly building consistency and changing behaviors. Often, we find ourselves fighting fires and neglecting the foundational discipline of 5S. True victory and continual wins are achievable through implementing simple daily habits. Here are five conditions to build a successful 5S Program:

  1. Developing new awareness and skills: This can be done through practice, practice, and more practice. Training and documenting examples with photos and video are helpful ways to improve employee awareness. It’s also important to give honest and candid feedback to help sharpen the skills of our team members.
  2. Support from management: Any successful 5S program must have authentic support from upper management and leadership. Without leadership support, 5S will quickly become the next ‘flavor of the month’.
  3. Ongoing communication: Ongoing communication can be achieved through instituting 5S as a common language that goes both ways using things like: 5S communication boards, regular meetings, a 5S newsletter, and rewards or recognition for 5S achievement.
  4. Making 5S part of daily work: To help make this mental shift, consider 5-minute 5S projects in different departments or areas, implement weekly 5S activity, include 5S as part of job descriptions, and measure/display 5S results.
  5. Total employee involvement (TEI): Everyone must be responsible and accountable for maintaining 5S. It’s vital to engage and get buy-in from all team members for
    successful 5S workplace organization and to make it integral to company-culture.

Why does 5S often fail to get long-term traction in organizations? Typically, it’s because of failure to understand “the 5S purpose, teams are not trained and don’t understand objectives, little or no management support, little or no employee involvement, and poorly focused 5S solutions. Management can be part of the solution for 5S success by embedding in company culture, making 5S part of standardized work, rewarding and recognizing good work, providing adequate resources, being visibly interested in the 5S journey together, making frequent visits to the work areas, and allowing time for 5S activities.

Ultimately, employees will benefit from a more pleasant work environment, more satisfying jobs, and a feeling of empowerment. The company will benefit with higher profitability, improved safety, increased standardization,
and ease of training new employees. 5S sounds so simple that many people dismiss its importance. However, the facts remain that an organized workplace has higher productivity, less defects, improves on-time delivery, is safer, and creates a place where employees want to work.


Sidebar: Shane Cantrell, NWIRC Operational Excellence Specialist, will facilitate Lean Basics Training in Corry (April 24), St Marys (May 8), and Hermitage (June 26). Additionally, a Value Stream Mapping (VSM) training is scheduled in Erie (May 15) featuring Max Krug of Future State Engineering. See more details at