Monday, January 26, 2009

5S, Not Just a Cleaning Program

When I first heard of 5S many years ago, the company leadership positioned this as a cleaning project and keeping the building “tour ready”.  Unfortunately, this misconception is not all that unusual. Many times when a 5S program is launched, business leaders and the implementation team focus exclusively on the first three S’s (Sort, Set in order, and Shine).  Often times the implementation teams tend to overlook Standardize and Sustain, only to see the implementation become a short-lived housekeeping program, rather than laying the foundation for a much broader lean implementation.


One thing is certain, by overlooking the final two S’s the company “cleaning” program will quickly fall by the wayside and they will be right back where they started within 3 – 6 months.  To maintain the culture change necessary to make the improvements “stick”, it is necessary to develop and document the new standards for the area. For example, take a photo of the area when in compliance, then post the photo. The more visual controls the better, employees need to be able to quickly and easily see if areas are not in compliance. 


In addition, some companies have met with success by not only posting photos of the area while in compliance, but they go so far as to post the photo of the employee responsible to ensure that the area is in compliance.  This practice quickly creates individual ownership and pride for the area.  In larger companies there is a side benefit, enabling employees to “match the faces to the names” of everyone in the organization.


Shadow boards are great simplistic examples of a visual control.  For instance, when using a shadow board for tools, simply paint an outline of the tool(s) on the pegboard and hang the tool back in its location when the task is complete.  Doing so will keep employees from wasting time searching for something that should be readily available.


Once you have established, documented, and posted the new standards, you will need to create a management system and culture to sustain these improvements.  The leadership should do daily (or more frequent) Gemba walks.  Take the opportunity to educate the staff on what is important to you and why it is important.  For lean to be successful, a company will need a “teach down” approach.  Install measures as and where appropriate.  If an area is out of compliance with the standard, emphasize the importance and obtain a commitment on when the area will be back in compliance.  Lead by example, demonstrate that the standard is important, and follow up to ensure adherence.


5S programs can either build a solid foundation for the remainder of your lean implementation or they can be a “flavor of the month” cleaning program, the choice is yours.  Choose wisely.

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Post author: Royce Williard


Copyright 2009 The Williard Group


  1. You are certainly right, lean is not about cleaning. It is a whole lot more.

    Despite how long it's been around, people still screw up 5S repeatedly. I think the main reason is that they do 5S because 5S is a lean tool. They do it because it is easy. They aren't doing it because it's solving a problem that they have. 5S should organize the work so that problems become visible. That's its purpose. Consider a NASCAR garage. How does the floor look? It's spotless. Why? Because if there is a single drop of oil, you know about the problem right away. You don't want to wait to find out you have a problem 100 laps into a race.

    Here's a simple tool, 5S, but starts off on the wrong foot. It's applied without people knowing why they are doing it.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  2. Jamie, thank you for your comment. I could not agree more, it is amazing how many people fail to truly understand this concept and turn their lean journey into a flavor of the month.

    Thanks again for your comment

  3. Hi.

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