The 5S methodology enjoys a lot of popularity nowadays and is commonly mentioned in various contexts related to production and manufacturing. Its origins are somewhat difficult to trace, as multiple people and organizations have contributed to the ideology over time. And in the end, some companies tend to face certain difficulties when trying to implement 5S into their own workflow. Understanding what 5S is really about, and putting it to proper use, takes some time and research – but once you’ve covered the groundwork, you’ll find that the methodology can work wonders for improving the productivity in your organization.
The name of 5S comes from five “S-words” – their original Japanese names started with S when transliterated, and modern English translations have followed that style as well.
- Sort (Seiri) – this refers to ensuring that the workplace is properly structured and everything is exactly where it should be. This doesn’t only refer to the tools and materials you use in your work, but for the opposite too – anything that doesn’t belong on the work floor should be regularly removed and stored away appropriately. Waste disposal also falls in this category.
- Set in order (Seiton) – similar to the first point, but not quite the same, this one is concerned with ensuring that everything needed for the regular workflow is easily accessible and is always in a regular place. Reducing the time needed to seek out specific materials and tools can work wonders on ensuring that your employees don’t need to waste any unnecessary time in their tasks.
- Shine (Seiso) – putting sufficient emphasis on the cleanliness and hygiene of the workplace is just as important as keeping things in order, but this aspect of workplace maintenance tends to get ignored by certain companies nowadays. It’s worth pointing out that the importance of workplace cleanliness will have different degrees of importance from one business to another, but maintaining some baseline standard is always crucial.
- Standardize (Seiketsu) – when your company works in a standardized manner, your employees will spend far less time in unnecessary communication. Companies that don’t follow this principle tend to generate a lot of waste in constant repetition of the same questions, and the problems get even worse as the size of the organization grows. A large company that doesn’t follow standardized principles can quickly find itself in a situation where different departments aren’t aligned on their input/output relationships.
- Sustain (Shitsuke) – building companies in a sustainable manner is becoming more and more prominent in organizational discussions these days, and for a good reason. We’ve only recently started to realize the huge amounts of waste that are generated by companies that don’t maintain a proper outlook for the future, and it’s not rare to see companies operating in a way that suits their current situation, but ultimately leads to their destruction. Or worse, they end up harming the environment around them.
How Do These Ideas Translate to Increased Productivity?
Looking at each separate point of 5S alone can make it somewhat difficult to figure out how each of them will work towards realizing great improvements in the productivity of your company. Sure, the basic benefit of each point is obvious, but what most leaders miss when considering the potential implications of 5S is how it all comes together when the entire system is applied correctly.
The point of 5S are grouped together for a reason. Each of them adds a piece to the puzzle, but alone they won’t come anywhere close to the potential that can be realized with the methodology. And this is the exact point of failure for many company leaders which you must strive to avoid – if you’re going to implement 5S in your organization, you have to make sure that the methodology is followed down to the last point, and maintain that status quo for a good while until the situation in your company has stabilized.
5S can do a lot for a modern organization, and the benefits of the methodology are huge. However, it’s crucial that the separate principles are applied together in a sensible manner, and that the organization pays sufficient attention to each separate point during the implementation of the project. Otherwise, implementing each point on its own will bring you diminishing returns and will most likely even discourage you from moving forward with the project.