5s methodologyMore and More Companies Adopt 5S as Component of Continuous Improvement

5S follows in the footsteps of kaizen as another popular Japanese business improvement system that is taking the western world by storm.

Over the past 70 years, Japan has led the way in improving organisational practices in terms of greater efficiency, less waste and a better working environment. Perhaps the best known are the “kaizen” system of continuous improvement and the “Just in Time” manufacturing process that was made famous by the Toyota Motor Corporation. Both have since become staples of business schools and MBA courses the world over.

The 5S method of work is another technique that was developed in Japan. Labelnet, a label printing company, is one of a growing number of UK organisations that has recently adopted 5S – you can read their case study here.

The methodology is based around five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. The beauty of 5S is that while it is an ideal technique to adopt in a manufacturing business, it is also valuable in service organisations and just about any other business.

The underlying principle of 5S is that everyone in the organisation respects the overall workplace and plays an important role in maintaining it.

Each of the five components represents a sequential step:

Seiri (Sort)

The first step in 5S is to identify what is and what is not needed in the working area, and to remove anything and everything that is superfluous. By eliminating obstacles, clutter and distractions, the workplace is safer and employees can better focus on what they are doing.

The sorting process also allows managers to re-examine what they really need and invariably leads to more efficient practices and cost savings too.

Seiton (Straighten)

Seiton has some aspects of “Just in Time” about it, as it revolves around making working processes as streamlined and efficient as possible. It means positioning people, processes and tools in the best possible way to ensure everything is close to hand and that nobody wastes time searching, fetching and putting away.

Seiso (Shine)

Put simply, the third step means keeping things clean. However, the thinking behind it goes beyond basic thoughts of cleanliness and hygiene.

When equipment is kept clean, it is likely to last longer and work more efficiently. Also, any damage or wear can be identified much more quickly on a clean piece of kit, potentially saving downtime or accidents.

In addition, it is far more pleasant, not to mention safer, to work in an environment that is kept clean and fresh.

Seiketsu (Standardise)

The seiketsu stage draws the previous three steps together and constantly reiterates them to identify and standardise best practice. This is where parallels can be drawn with kaizen.

Once best practice is identified, it is important to proceduralise it into a set of standards for every activity. Otherwise, such practices will never become fully adopted, and there is a real risk of backsliding.

Shitsuke (Sustain)

The final stage is aimed at making sure the lessons learned through seiso are permanently embedded, through a variety of control measures.

Key to these is making sure everyone in the organisation receives training and education not only on what they have to do, but on the benefits that it brings to the workplace as a whole.

When 5S is implemented properly, staff will follow the right procedures because it makes more sense than not following them, and not because they have been pulled up in an inspection or audit!