Still Can’t Master 5S? Try 1S!

Still Can’t Master 5S? Try 1S!

I mean it!  If your company can’t master 5S, try  “1S”  - and STOP!  If your company can’t sustain the 5S effort, not only should the company just STOP, but also strongly consider stopping its entire Lean transformation until 5S mastery is achieved in at least one process-focused area of the facility. It’s a tremendous waste for a company to spend thousands, if not millions, of dollars on their “lean transformation” only to see the old way of doing business resume because the company couldn’t sustain and build upon the improvements they made. 

By “mastering 5S,” we’re not talking about consistently scoring 80 – 90% on some watered down monthly 5S assessment just to show that a department function is achieving an internal KPI.  We’re talking about living by the true spirit of 5S. Achieving 5S mastery should include:

  • Ensuring all critical items, components, materials, tools, programs, documents, parts, and equipment have clearly identified homes and quantities (as applicable) that are located where they should be, at the point of use, which will result in minimum levels of inventory, waiting, transportation, and motion
  • Ensuring all components, materials, etc.  are in excellent working order and maintained and cleaned per a visual standard
  • Maintaining nothing in the area (including dirt, grime, and sources of contamination) that isn’t used frequently per a defined standard
  • Adherence to company global and local standards that are prevalent and visible
  • Active involvement by all levels of management in challenging the current state
  • Established preventive  actions to eliminate miscues in sorting, setting in order, and shining
  • At least daily checks of adherence to standards … but preferably continuous checking that is as natural as breathing
  • A transition from “management by results” (i.e. focusing primarily on achieving a target  5S assessment rating ) to “management by means” (organizational routines for improvement in the spirit of kata)
  • An understanding that sustainment includes the visible display of problems and a visible display of actions to address those problems.
  • A focus on coaching, not policing

5s is a foundational practice that isn’t appreciated in the Western world as much as it should be. It’s considered a foundational practice for good reason because so many of the other practices and KAIZEN™ tools are built upon the ability to sustain through the continuous improvement of the workplace.  Some of the early sensei would mandate proving sustainment for a year or two before they would proceed to the next process or area.  If an organization can’t sustain its workplace organization, how can it possibly sustain and improve on KANBAN quantities and practices, water spider routes, quick changeover practices, standard work, single piece flow, etc?

Like the game of golf, 5S is easy to understand and yet difficult to master.  It requires discipline, it requires adherence to standards, and it requires the ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances.

In his landmark book Good to Great (HarperCollins Publishers, 2011) Jim Collins encouraged us to create a “Stop Doing List”.  Organizationally, we can think of this as “sorting out” (the first S) of common and traditional business practices that are thwarting efforts to master 5S.  For this sorting out we need to ask, “What practices or behaviors within our organization are preventing us from achieving 5S mastery?”  Long held managerial and organizational behaviors and practices must be challenged!  Root causes as to why 5S hasn’t been mastered in order to drive further improvement need to be analyzed. These might include:

  • The sole focus of a 5S KPI,
  • Ramifications of not achieving the 5S KPI,
  • Addiction to pursuing 5S in too many areas before proving the ability to sustain in even one area, 
  • Lack of management involvement, 
  • The batch mindset in performing spot checks instead of checking continuously,
  • The department focus that kills the ability to sustain and improve shared areas,
  • Lack of coaching

Whatever the causes may be for your lack of 5S mastery, put them on your “Stop Doing List” today .Stop doing them so that a culture of true continuous improvement can be sustained..   

To summarize … so you can’t seem to truly master 5S?

  1. Try “1S” – STOP
  2. Determine root causes by challenging traditional practices and behaviors
  3. Create a “stop doing” list and put the root causes on it
  4. Choose one focus area to achieve a working sustainment and continuous improvement process as quickly as possible
  5. Begin PDCA all over again

5S is an incredibly important element of any Lean transformation but rarely is it giventhe importance it deserves.  If you can’t truly master 5S as it is meant to be mastered, sometimes the best approach is to just STOP!

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