Have you ever walked into a place of business and been affected negatively by the lack of cleanliness and disorganization? It doesn't matter if that company or organization has the most competitive prices and selection of goods, if the environment is in disarray then the customer may decide not to do business with that company. Likewise, have you ever been in a high end grocery store, Five Star hotel, or a corporate headquarters where the environment was so clean and orderly that it instantly made a positive impression on you about the culture of that organization. Those environments were not established by chance. These organizations more than likely adopted a 5S Visual Management program or similar effort to reinforce their culture or brand.

It's often said that companies who implement a 5S program will see benefits relating to higher product quality, better productivity, increased customer satisfaction and continued company growth. The benefits to individuals within that company are a more pleasant workplace, greater job satisfaction and the potential for improved quality of work. So what is 5S?

5S is a Japanese concept originated by Hiroyuki Hirano in his book "5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace". The philosophy focuses on effective work place organization and standardized work procedures. 5S simplifies your work environment, reduces waste and non-value activity while improving quality, efficiency, and safety. 5S includes:

Sort – (Seiri):

This first step focuses on eliminating unnecessary items from the workplace. The old saying "When in doubt, throw it out" definitely applies here. Once this step is completed, the workplace is left with only what is needed and only in the amounts that's needed. Some examples of clutter can be seen as unlabeled boxes, tooling with dust, materials hidden under desks, outdated signage, or materials labeled "defective". Proper sorting frees up valuable floor space once all of the obsolete items have been removed. Occasionally used items are moved to a more organized storage location outside of the work area while unneeded items are discarded.

Set In Order - (Seiton):

This step focuses on establishing efficient and effective storage methods for correct number of items that are needed to do the job and storing them in the correct location for easy retrieval. "A place for everything and everything in its place" definitely applies here. The goal is to find appropriate storage locations and minimize motion waste. Outlining is simple & effective way of showing where an item is stored. It also allows you to visualize if anything is missing. Another technique is to eliminate the use of different tools and go for multipurpose if available. Finally, if an item is used frequently, store it close to the work area to eliminate wasted motion to retrieve the item. If the item is used infrequently, store it in a cabinet or area that is away from the primary work area.

Shine - (Seiso):

Once the clutter has been eliminated, the next step is to thoroughly clean the work area. Daily follow-up cleaning is necessary in order to sustain this improvement. Company members take pride in a clean and clutter-free work area and this step will help create ownership in the facility. Haven't we all heard that a clean car seems to drive better than a dirty one? A successful implementation of the shine step will include a schedule, checklist, assignments of responsibilities and tasks, and adequate tools and supplies to complete the tasks. Cleaning should be done daily and not require a lot of effort or time. If cleaning is done as small scheduled activities, it is easy to achieve and does not become a burden on production.

Standardize - (Seiketsu):

The 4th step in the process is different from the first three as it acts as a controlling method and is not a "doing" activity. Detailed standards and best practices should be put in place to ensure the first three activities are continued and the workplace does not slip back into its old state. Allowing employees to participate in the development of such standards will ensure adequate buy-in and commitment. Everyone knows what they are responsible for at this stage. Integrate the first three activities into daily roles. If problems keep happening, remember the 5-why's and put in a permanent corrective action.

Sustain - (Shitsuke):

This is by far the most difficult step to implement and achieve. Human nature is to resist change and more than a few organizations have found themselves with a dirty cluttered shop a few months following their attempt to implement 5S. There has to be a commitment to sustain all of the previous efforts. If not, all previous actions will soon fall into disarray. Don't allow a return to status quo and the comfort zone of the "old way" of doing things. What good are standards and procedures if you do not follow them?

In the end, 5S ensures that there is a better place to work in, improved job morale, and more efficient communications. Don't let it disappear !