Sep 242009

There is a lot of talk regarding Lean improvements for business.  Removing waste, improving efficiencies and increasing profitability has become the battle cry of businesses around the country and the world.  But this is untested ground.  Where does one take the first step?  How does a company begin to head down this road to continual improvement?  Some will say Value Stream Mapping is the first thing you should do, but in order to properly create a current state VSM you need to bring your house in order.  I have seen VSMs rendered inaccurate only because the physical layout wasn’t maintained resulting in a changing process with changing process times and material queues.  The first step down the Lean highway is implementing 5S.  5S is nothing more than an organization and maintenance of your facility.  Some will consider it a bit anal in its approach but 5S is a proven method of organization and visual controls that will improve your company’s productivity and efficiencies by itself.

In the podcast I gave as an example of 5S the Batcave from the old Batman TV series starring Adam West.  Here are some photos to show you what I meant.  Notice the signs depicting each gadgets function:

5S stands for Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.  If you take a current look around your facility I think you’ll find that you’re already using 5S, but it’s a different form of 5S.  You’re probably using Sponge, Steal, Store, Scramble and Seek.  This means that currently if an employee is looking for something like a tool or another process necessary item they will sponge it off another employee leaving that employee to wait for its return, steal it from another work station or employee, store or hide items at their work station so others won’t be able to inconvenience them, scramble around wasting time and using that as a plausible cause for low productivity and endlessly seek for what they need sometimes getting others to join in the search.  All of these S’s are unproductive and frustrating for management and employee alike.  The 5S’s you need to use are:

  1. Sort – This is the first S to work on.  Sorting means going through the materials and tools of a work area and removing the unneeded and leaving the needed.  By properly communicating what is needed at each work station employees become more productive and quality improves through the use of the proper tools and materials.
  2. Set in order – This S means to organize the tools and materials of a work station so they are easily accessible to everyone who works at that particular station.  It also makes it obvious what tool belongs where.
  3. Shine – This S means just what it sounds like… clean!  This means more than clean it once it means to clean it and maintain that cleanliness.  Shine means putting in place processes and procedures that maintain a clean work area.
  4. Standardize – This S means to incorporate 5S into your daily processes or adding them to your SOPs.  This could involve using shadow boards, painted lines outlining functional areas or tools and labeling.
  5. Sustain – This is the guard dog of the S’s.  This S will take discipline.  If you don’t put in place the safeguards to maintain your efforts they will be in vain.  You will need empower and hold accountable your employees to maintain and improve the first 4 S’s.

If properly and attentively implemented 5S can not only set you on the right road to Lean it can show you the benefits of Lean even before you begin the more detailed aspects of Lean.  Your productivity and efficiencies will improve and you’ll be excited to continue.  Now you can start your Value Stream Mapping.

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