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Maximizing Your Success When Implementing a Basic 5 S Program


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5-S is a popular Lean Six Sigma tool that is designed to instill a sense of responsibility in employees and promote a disciplined approached. 5-S was originally used by Toyota in Japanese factories, primarily at the shop-floor level. It is an approach designed to organize the workplace and decrease cycle time and general flow.

The original Japanese terms Seri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketu, and Shitsuke, used to describe the 5-S model, are frequently replaced by a myriad of English words. The attempt to develop English equivalents, starting with first letter “S" has sometimes caused translation confusion for those trying to implement the model.

For example, almost all English translations of the 5-S model will use the word “Sort" as the first S, rather than the Japanese word Seri. Seri is translated as “the identification of the best physical organization of the work place". Seri (or Sort) is often accomplished by discarding all unnecessary items. In English, however, the word “Sort" is often used to mean “to place in different piles". But the activity of placing items in different groups happens in the second S, known as Seiso.

Seiso is technically intended to arrange things in various piles or bins. In some models Seiso, once again in keeping with the S theme, is referred to as “Systemic Arrangements". In other models it is called “Set in Order". In this article the terms Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain will be used to represent the 5s model. However, keep in mind that there are several word variations using S, all intended to represent the original Japanese terms. For instance, Shine the third S, is referred to as Spic and Span, in other models which is a more accurate translation of the Japanese word, Seiso.

Therefore the first opportunity to maximize success when implementing a basic 5-S program is for the facilitator to clearly explain the definitions and use words that resonate with the employees. Some companies have decided to use the 5C model (clear out, configure, clean and check, conformity, custom and practice) which is very similar to 5S but has an easier vocabulary for English speakers to digest.

The next step in maximizing a basic 5-S program is to study the company's infrastructure and decide how 5-S can best fit in the existing improvement structure. This should be followed with constant, but brief, communications to the workforce explaining the 5-S initiative. Several formats should be considered such as email, electronic bulletin boards and articles in the company newsletter.

The leadership team should be trained in the overall concept and employees directly involved should be trained on each area of 5s. For example in the first phase, Sort, one of the main objectives is to discard un-necessary items. Employees should understand the criteria for making this decision. In the next phase, one of the main objectives is Set In Order, which means to place things in the right places. Will a color coding system be used or will a system be used where the items most frequently accessed will be place in the most convenient area? In the Shine stage, piles are revisited, re-examined and often cleaned or re-furbished. Once again, what are the requirements? For example, art items may have a certain way they should be handled. Chemicals may have certain safety criteria.

Educating employees in the standardization and sustain phase may be facilitated by a series of workshops but may also be satisfied with solid, easy-to-understand documentation. For example, in standardization, employees could be introduced to a schematic showing visual controls and be invited to discuss areas of risk. In the sustain stage, employee training may consist of frequent updates of the success of the system through the company newsletter or targeted emails.
Clearly one way to maximize the success of a 5-S program is to ensure each employee has the appropriate amount of education. This would also include those facilitating the project. Facilitators and leaders of the 5-S effort should have a strong understanding of project management and deployment plans.

The best way to gain buy-in to a 5-S program is to start with a pilot that actually shows results. Select a small area or a neglected area that can show benefits within one week of implementation. All companies have a supply room or filing systems that could use a quick facelift. It is important to show quick visual benefits.

Before embarking on an enterprise-wide implementation, develop a full roll-out plan and discuss with all parties involved. Once the roll-out begins be sure to collect best practices along the way for future projects.

Terra Vanzant-Stern, PhD. , PMP, is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and lead facilitator at SSD Global, Inc. Ms. Vanzant-Stern specializes in consulting and teaching for Lean Thinking, Six Sigma, and Lean Six Sigma. She is the Chair-Elect for American Society of Quality - Denver and also teaches classes in Statistical Process Control and Design of Experiments. Dr. Vanzant-Stern may be reached at Terra. Visit the SSD Global website for more information about programs that are taught at


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