5S: Getting Standardize Right

By Paul Todd, Project Manager, Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech

Whether a project involves cleaning out a storeroom or organizing an office or work space, the 5S process of Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain is typically the same. The initial effort of sorting, cleaning, and organizing yields the greatest visible results, as well as the satisfaction of seeing improvements. After the flurry of this “3S” activity, however, many organizations falter in their improvement efforts. It is after the tour or audit has come and gone, and after the boss has moved on to another priority that the real test of 5S comes.

To succeed in the long term, 5S must move beyond the project stage to become the way an organization operates, that is, to be part of the culture of the workplace. For that to happen, the users of the system must understand the reasoning behind the process and agree with its usefulness. Simply demanding compliance will yield short-term results at best, with an eventual return to the original state.

Addressing questions like these in the Standardize phase of a 5S effort should drive your team to implement lasting changes in the target environment.

  • Why are we changing? Discuss the benefits of the effort in practical terms of safety, inventory costs, searching time, space, etc. Making the place look nice is a great benefit, but it’s unlikely to be a strong motivator.
  • What is the new standard? A clear definition of the new expectations will be helpful, especially in the form of pictures and checklists of the ideal state.
  • What new procedures do we expect people to understand and follow? Think specifically about what people are expected to do differently, and make sure they have the necessary training and coaching to do it.
  • How will we communicate these procedures? Don’t assume that everyone will know what to do – think about how they will know and plan appropriate team meetings or other methods of communication and follow-up discussions.
  • Is the new standard condition obvious? If the proper visual controls have been installed, it should be clear to users and managers if a non-standard condition exists in the target area. Problem recognition should be immediate.
  • Have we made it easy to do the right thing? If the new process places a burden on employees, it is unlikely to be followed for long. The design of the work should facilitate the process, not obstruct it.

Put yourself in the position of a person who works in the 5S target area. At the end of this process, could you answer these questions: What am I supposed to do differently? How am I supposed to do these things? Why is this important?

Thinking through these people issues during the Standardize phase can make all the difference in whether the 5th S – Sustain – is successful. Considering how people understand and respond to the 5S changes establishes the foundation for further success in the organization, and that starts with people.

This is part of a series of articles for manufacturing improvement. Download a pdf of 5S: Getting Standardize Right.