Create a High-Functioning Work Space with the 5S Methodology

In Business Process Management, Lean methodology is centered on the idea of eliminating waste. This process sounds simple in theory – “Get rid of defects, cut out steps that add no value” – but actually implementing these ideas requires strategic planning. The 5S methodology presents an organized way of eliminating physical waste and standardizing the use of equipment and processes across an entire functional unit. 5S stresses that cleanliness, organization, and standardization are key in creating the most efficient and effective work processes. The method originated from five Japanese words which have been translated into English.

Here’s how you can implement the steps:

1. Sort

The first S, “Sort,” focuses on removing the “stuff” from a work area. Unnecessary trash and clutter creates inefficiencies in work processes as it requires the employee to sift through materials in order to find what they are looking for.

How to Sort: Act like you’re on the show “Hoarders.” Your project group should separate the necessary objects in their workspace from the unnecessary. Ask the question: “What is absolutely necessary to perform this job function?” This is often done via a “red-tagging” exercise. Red-tagging requires the team to tag all of the items that are deemed unnecessary for the workspace and move them to a central repository for removal or re-categorization.

2. Straighten

The second S, “Straighten,” requires all leftover items from the Sort phase be organized in the work area in a logical manner.

How to Straighten: Your project group should organize the remaining equipment and supplies based on frequency of use. Every item should be labeled and/or color-coded and the final result should be documented for future reference. The goal of this phase is to lay out the workspace so that anyone can find what they are looking for at any time.

3. Shine

The third S, “Shine,” requires the workspace to be clean and orderly at all times.

How to Shine: The first step in the Shine phase is to throw away or recycle all trash from the area. Next, the group should perform a deep clean of all surfaces to remove all dirt, dust, and other waste. This phase is crucial because the cleaner an area is, the easier it is to identify new waste and variation.

4. Standardize

The fourth S, “Standardize,” requires that all employees and/or facilities prescribe to a standard level of performance for a process or environment.

How to Standardize: This is perhaps the most difficult phase to implement within the 5S methodology and arguably the most important. Each worker (or team, division, branch, etc.) must work together to outline the agreed-upon Best Practice and must implement this practice in their area. This phase will eliminate variation between workers and ensures that everyone is using the most efficient and effective process. These new methods should be documented and reinforced via routine checks, audits, and/or reports.

5. Sustain

The fifth S, “Sustain,” reinforces the importance of maintaining the work completed in the previous 4 steps and creating an environment focused on continuous improvement.

How to Sustain: Once the first 4 S’s have been complete, your project team should create and implement a control plan to keep up the new standards of performance. This plan should include regular updates to management on the audits created in the Standardize phase as well as any other metrics that have been impacted due to a process change. If any of these reports finds that the group has deviated from the agreed standard, a remediation plan should be enacted immediately. The group should also implement a forum whereby the workers can continue to communicate with each other and offer new ideas for further improvement.