The Cycle of 5S in LEAN Process Improvement

The philosophy of 5S is a cyclical, common-sense, and highly effective method of organizing and maintaining orderliness essential to an efficient flow of activities in any public entity.

The chronological steps of 5S are: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

5S can significantly reduce the square footage needed for operations by organizing and disposing of unused equipment and supplies.

Understanding these steps is crucial for a more efficient and waste-free operation in your government agency.

  1. Sort – This step focuses on the elimination of any unnecessary workplace clutter. All workplace items are sorted through, with a red tag placed on any that are not absolutely necessary for completing a task. Once tools, supplies, materials and equipment have been tagged, they are then relocated to a holding area for a follow-up evaluation. Items that are only seldom used can be stored closer in proximity to the work environment, while obsolete clutter should be discarded. A more effective use of space, simplified tasks, a reduction in hazards, and a significant decrease in clutter will benefit your department.
  2. Set in Order – The goal of this step is to examine methods of storage that are effective and efficient, and then create a work environment that is organized, ergonomic, uncluttered and easily navigable. Some questions to ask during this step might be: Which specific items are needed to perform a task? How many items need to be readily accessible and where should they be located? The methodical storage of materials means that every item has a predetermined location where it will remain until it used, and then it will be returned immediately following its use. Visual management through the use of labels and color-coding are helpful techniques to use in this step. With an organized use of storage, everyone is easily able to locate important items and not waste time looking for them.
  3. Shine – With the clutter gone and the storage organized, the next step is to properly and thoroughly clean the work area every day. This step is critical as a way of sustaining the improvements begun in the Sort and Set phases. All storage areas, machines, equipment, tools and work surfaces must be cleaned and checked regularly. Employees will feel more comfortable in this clean and uncluttered environment, which could also lead to increased ownership of a LEAN environment.
  4. Standardize – Now is the time to standardize these new practices! All employees need to be included in the creation of a set of standards that will become the new norm for the workspace. When these new standards and best practices are implemented, the old habits will soon die out and be replaced by the more efficient behaviors. New standards, however, will require oversight and enforcement until they are habitual; reminders such as visuals and emails are effective tools to help these new standards become set in stone.
  5. Sustain – The final step of 5S is certainly the most challenging: remaining disciplined enough to sustain the positive changes made in the first three steps. It is critical that the new system be maintained or the efforts and costs put into developing the new system will be pointless. By implementing a formal system that includes regular training and communication, employees will be able to comfortably conform to the company’s 5S procedures.

Charles Lewing is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. A Louisiana native, he graduated from McNeese State University in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Finance. He later earned his MBA in 2001. He relocated to Houston, Texas and worked in various finance and accounting roles for number of healthcare organizations. In 2016, he relocated to West Texas to pursue a career in public financial leadership. He currently serves as the Reeves County Auditor. Charles is very passionate about inclusive management, LEAN six sigma, and improving operational efficiency through leveraging technology. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time in the outdoors and reading spy novels. You can read his posts here.

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