Involvement is the key - how to implement 5S

Even if most of your employees want to adopt the principles of 5 S, active participation and total involvement in the program is the key to its successful implementation.

If you do it right, you will not just benefit from smooth-running business operations, but also having highly-motivated employees eager to continue on with the change process.

So how could 5S be effectively implemented?

Based on my experience, the following steps are the key treads that would best guarantee the successful 5S program:

1. Choose a department to start with. As 5 S will use resources, you should begin somewhere where the payback time is shortest. Do it right so that you have a good example to set for the next. Duplicate. Replicate.

2. Conduct 5S training workshops. In a production plant, the training involves all production personnel, maintenance, managers and staff.

3. Treat seiri (sort/organization) as a ‘waste reduction' activity. The goal is to release time for housekeeping and to make housekeeping as easy as possible. The best way to do this is to go out in the facility in cross-functional teams and search for everything that creates unnecessary effort. Sort out unnecessary objects; mark all known problems, find leakages, and remove hazards. Red-tag every problem and make an action plan that you carry out within 30 days.

Five steps for 5S

4. Seiton is setting everything in order. Seiton focuses on arranging/fixing everything starting from the easiest and most efficient access. It is the efficient placement and arrangement of equipment and materials. In practice, you might integrate seiton in the action plan from seiri, or it could be a task for empowered work teams.

5. Seiso means shiny clean. Cleanliness is crucial for the acceptance of 5S. There are two goals with seiso: the first is to agree on what cleaning standard you mutually think is right. The second goal is to document what you need to do to get there. Just like seiri, everybody working in the area, including managers and staff, should perform the seiso activity. Split the area into small parts and appoint teams to take care of each. Let the teams note down what "spring cleaning job" they want to do, and ask them to estimate how often this cleaning should be repeated in the future. Finally, take a photo of the new standard. Remember that seiso is a one-time activity the next ‘S's will keep up the new standard.

6. Seiketsu means standardized cleanup. If you fail here, all other steps are worthless. When you come to seiketsu, you will be happy if you have a good documentation of seiso. If so, you already know what the necessary housekeeping tasks are, and you have an estimation of their intervals. The good news is that the new habits are not something that you have invented. Instead, they were proposed and introduced by the people doing seiso. You just have to decide which system you will use to schedule the proposed activities.

7. Shitsuke is discipline and discipline should be sustained. Discipline is what will change the future. Even if your schedules are world class, it is useless if you do not follow them. Agree on a top management policy on cleaning. Place the photos from seiso on the walls; appoint people responsible for all systems that you introduced; and use audits to prevent the level to drop.

Be consistent, and you can expect impressive and long-term results.

By Oskar Olofsson, author of the book "Succeeding with 5S"

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