Streamline Processes and Improve Productivity With 5S

In the first installment of this lean implementation series (O&P Business News, Fall 2013) I discussed what is lean and how to start building the lean culture within your business. Hopefully the initial segment got you thinking about defining what your business does and developing the standard work to guide the way.

Scott Wimberley

Starting the culture built around standard work can create as many questions as answers. Don’t be worried; this is normal. Once you start examining and monitoring something, questions and concerns are bound to arise. These questions and concerns are the opportunities to make improvements in what you do. Their presence isn’t new, you are just seeing them now.

This second installment will focus on developing practical tools for keeping things orderly and a process for developing the standards that guide the business.

Simply looking around a business, any business, gives you a fast and clear indicator of how well the business is operating. When you see clutter and filth you can be certain there is a lot of waste. This waste must be removed. The process we use for removing the waste and clutter is “5S.”

Organize with 5S

5S is a workplace organization tool/process that maximizes cleanliness, organization and safety. 5S is built on five principles.

Sort: Remove all unneeded items from the workplace. It is all too common to see so many things jammed into a workspace that there is no place to work on the item at hand. This surplus of items in the work space also creates distraction and slows throughput.

Set In Order: Make a place for everything and put everything in its place. Imagine if you had to go find a file in a full file cabinet that wasn’t in alphabetical order. This example holds true for every tangible object we need to do our jobs. In situations where we have multiple objects of the same type in different locations we label or color code these items so it is clear to all where it should be returned.

Shine: Thoroughly clean and inspect everything in the work area. A dirty work environment has many adverse effects. First and foremost, a dirty unkempt working environment is damaging to the morale of everyone who has to experience it. This creates a space nobody enjoys being in and a space no one cares to take care of. An unclean work space may also contribute to lesser quality output and safety hazards.

Standardize: Once the first three steps have been implemented, standardize the best practices for the work area. The standard work charts we use (see page 10, O&P Business News Fall 2013) all have 5S procedures to be done every day to ensure the programs stays on track. The easiest way to ensure something gets done is to make it a responsibility. Maintain the improvements through discipline and structure.

Sustain: Continue to support 5S efforts through routine inspection and daily process. We do several routine inspections. Management does a routine walk of the business daily checking standard work boards and verifying the 5S is being done. The best way to bust through the status quo is engaging someone in the process who has the involvement in a specific capacity to develop it. For us we use a rotating member of the staff on a weekly basis to do interdepartmental inspections using an inspection form. When an employee from a different department does the inspections, they tend to scrutinize and question more closely. The inspection form we use asks questions pertaining to organization, cleanliness, maintenance and safety. Questions generated on these inspections always help us to discover new means of doing what we do in a better fashion.

Image: Wimberley S.

Once you set out to define standards and stick to them, you may discover little of the daily responsibilities are standardized. This undefined standard is even greater when multiple employees are involved. By that I mean, when an undefined “standard” process is done by four people, four different perceptions emerge of what is involved and most likely four different outcomes. For some of the daily processes this may be no big deal; however, anything needing refinement must be standardized. We employ a few simple tools to develop these defined standards and maintain them.

When we discuss implementation of lean and its defined standards within an O&P facility, typically the first response toward standardizing is, “it really won’t work for O&P because everything is custom and one-off.” In all honesty, this was my initial response too. The reality is the more entrenched you become in lean the more you start to see through this perception barrier. All successful companies, people and processes revolve around standards, whether that is openly acknowledged or not. As an implementer you will need to learn to spot these unacknowledged standards (best practices), document and develop them for repeatable results.


A few points on standards

Considering the difficulty in establishing consistent quality and timely output unless you standardize work processes and write standardized work instructions, and given that most workers tend to do things their own way, how do you settle upon standards?

The methods we apply to address the creation of a new standard always start with determining important aspects of value to the customer and then to the company. For example, in the case of a manufactured item, the customer’s primary concern may be the item’s weight and the company’s interest is fast turnaround. These will be the two most important aspects of the standard created.

When establishing the standards of the routine products or process, start by evaluating what you are already doing and document it. Because we already know most workers like to do things their own way, all the different ways are evaluated. It bears repeating from the first installment: lean leadership is about enabling and empowering people. There is a lot of empowerment in being able to create the standards by which the business operates. Everyone is encouraged to give input to help create the best way to do something.

The assessment of the different methods is built on similar criteria most people using when deciding where to eat during lunch hour.

1. Which place has good food? While we don’t sell food we do sell products people must find appealing. If you want business you have to deliver what the customer wants. The best part of getting to know what the customer wants is you also discover many unimportant things you no longer need to include. Only the things that the customer holds of value must be in the finished product.

2. How long will it take? Striving to build a lean company is striving for efficiency. The time it takes to complete the task is how we measure that efficiency. Successfully completing each task in the least amount of time is the goal. This means working efficiently and not frantically.

3. What is it going to cost? Every dollar saved is one that can be used for new opportunities. Remember if you save money and make bad food you lose customers and nobody will spend lunch hour at a place that takes an hour to serve it.

Now to break away from all the food analogies: Decide what the finished product needs to be. Have the team use a clock or stopwatch to accurately time and evaluate the different methods used to create that product. During these evaluations also record the costs. The method that performs the best for you is now your real standard.

Standard benefits

Once a standard has been adopted everyone must stick to it. Sometimes workers will want to challenge the standard; that is acceptable and even appreciated. If there is a need for refinement, it should be for the better. Until it is re-evaluated and changed everyone should still be completing whatever task is in the current “best way.”

The immediate rewards of having now created standards are:

1. A clear definition of the intended process/product so everyone doing the job knows what is involved and all will have a repeatable process for achieving the result;

2. The educational tools to systematically train the process the customer wants;

3. The tool to maintain a process by process measure of performance to accurately monitor efficiencies and implement future improvements.

This has been the second part of the introduction to 5S and a simple how-to for writing standards. In the third and final segment of this discussion on lean, we will detail a practical quality system for the current operations and a system for future refinement. If you want to learn more, which I hope is the case, the books detailed below offer more information.

For more information:
Hiroyki H. 5S for Operators. 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace. Portland, Ore: Productivity Press; 1996.
Liker J. The Toyota Way Fieldbook. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2006.
Masaaki I. Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin; 1986.

Scott Wimberley, CPA, COO, CTPO, is chief operating officer and lean implementation officer at Fabtech Systems LLC, a P&O central fabricator and manufacturing product distributor located in the Pacific Northwest. He has been involved with the O&P industry since his right leg was amputated in his early childhood. Since 2001, he has been participating in intensive lean manufacturing training working with Gemba Research, a lean consulting company, training both in the United States and Japan with multiple companies including Omron, Denso, Ricoh and Toyota Motor Corporation.

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