Lean ManufacturingThe 5S

Three Keys to Sustaining 5S

By Jon Miller Updated on February 25th, 2021

Visiting a plant tour at a Midwestern cold rolled steel mill today, I had the chance to reflect on what makes a 5S effort sustained and successful. The owner took me through the mill and showed me a line at the start of the tour that was clean and well organized. The 5S deteriorated rapidly from there. He was quick to point out to me cabinets that needed organizing, items that needed to be thrown out, and machines that needed to be cleaned. I only had to walk and nod.

What Keeps Us from Sustaining 5S?

The workforce had been through JIT training in the past which included 5S and workplace organization. Due to turnover, a tight job market, and rapid growth there had been a lot of change in personnel. Many of the newer workers were not aware of 5S. The owner recognized that the Lean effort needed to be re-energized and 5S was a good place to start.

During a question and answer session with the management team we talked about why just the one area had sustained good 5S and the rest of the shop had not. We needed to understand what the success factors were before launching 5S training. What kept us from sustaining 5S? All of the usual suspects were raised, from lack of training to differences in personality to the grimy nature of the process to the location in the plant (out of sight, out of mind).

I could not tell them which of these (all? none?) were the specific reasons why they only had one area that had good 5S and the other areas all needed help. Based on our experience, I was able to share with them what we have learned are the 3 key factors to sustaining 5S successfully

To Sustain 5S, Make It Meaningful

First, people have to be motivated to change. As many Lean Champions have learned, human beings resist change when it is done to them. Human beings accept change when they are involved and the change is meaningful to them. This is no different with 5S.

Imagine if someone else did 5S for you in your area, throwing things out you have been saving ‘just in case’ and putting your tools in new locations. That would be an unwelcome change. On the other hand, if you were able to take the time to clear out what you did not need, make space to properly locate the items you need, fix the machines so they don’t leak oil, etc. you might feel a lot better about your work space.

I gave the example of a wrench that kept migrating from the “correct” position on a shadow board to laying flat on a small workbench near the machine. When asked why the operator did not return it to the shadow board, the answer was “That’s not where I use it.” This is basic stuff, but too often forgotten in the eagerness to do 5S according to pictures in the text book. Let the machine operators decide where the wrench goes and it will stay there.

Link 5S to the Team’s Goals

Second, clearly link 5S activity to the team’s performance goals. Help everyone see how good 5S reduces set up time and increases pounds produced per labor hour. When people see that a simple thing like 5S contributes to meeting their performance goals, they are more likely to value and sustain it. Lack of proper performance goals or a low level interest in them in them are separate organizational issues that must be addressed prior to rolling out Lean or 5S.

You Get What You Inspect

Third, audit. For some of us the natural state of our desk or workstation is clutter. The universe tends towards entropy (disorder). It’s human nature to let a little bit of clutter go unnoticed, especially if productivity numbers are good. Many leaders only emphasize cleaning up and looking sharp when customers or execs come through.

Toyota did not get to be the number 2 automobile manufacturer and the most profitable automobile company by leaving details like 5S to chance. Use the 5S check list to go through each area at least monthly and post scores with recommendations for improvement. Have managers take an interest in this and recognize the top performers. Take 5S seriously, and show that you do, in other words.

Back to the Basics

The 5S activities are the basics. They are not hard to do. But they are hard to do every single day. Teams win championships by sticking to the fundamentals and executing flawlessly. As the saying goes in football, winning teams are those who “Do right longer.” The same is true in manufacturing. 5S is just as important as making sure you run onto the field with your shoelaces tied. Each day that the tools find their way back to their place on the shadow board is a day when it didn’t contribute to a safety or quality problem. Every day that the leaders audit the 5S process is one when they can reinforce its importance, recognize effort and motivate.

  1. John Pakpahan

    August 30, 2007 - 11:48 pm

    This article reminds me what I almost forget.

  2. nathan smith

    September 28, 2007 - 7:26 am

    this article is exactly what i needed. we have increased production and 5s was brushed aside. as i was walking through the plant i seen 5 stained pieces of paper tacked onto our visual board. they were tore up and barely readable- it read the 5 steps of 5s…..i recently got this job and i thought it was ironic that not only did 5s get brushed aside on the floor but also by management. So i took the time to make nice new fancy laminated graphics of the 5s steps and replaced them. then took smaller graphics and placed them in the areas 5s was lacking badly. i will update in a week with our improvements. i think we will have some.

  3. John Harvan

    February 8, 2008 - 6:45 am

    I am currently working on shadow boards for tools. I work in BioPharma so its in a clean room so material can not be porous. Does anyone have a suggestion on what or where material can be found? I’m currently looking in using PTFE and having it Lazer cut. Its a bit pricey so I’m trying to find an alternative. Any suggestions?

  4. Jon Miller

    February 8, 2008 - 9:42 am

    Hi John,
    I can suggest three options.
    1) If it’s not a problem to have magnetic items in your clean room, a sheet of steel works well. Glue or attach magnets onto your tools and voila.
    2) If magnets are not good, there is velcro tape. You may need to use more velcro for heavier items, and it will not be sufficient for the heaviest of items but it is OK for hand tools or light measuring instruments. Again, a sheet of metal, plexiglass or other non-porous material that the velcro tape adheres to well can do the job.
    3) Try point of use rather than shadow boards. The shadow board implies that tools are either placed in a visible, common area but not within inches of where the tool is actually used. This requires duplicating tools that may be used infrequently to several points of use in the shop. You may also have similar issues of mounting the tools to the point of use (needing magnets, velcro or other) but it does get you away form needing a board that is cut, drilled, and itself mounted up or put on a frame.
    Good luck!

  5. Joel

    July 12, 2008 - 3:32 pm

    Would you recommend point of use even if you have multiple sites that require the same tool? Ie., 7 allen wrenches in seven POU areas. When it gets to a $50 tool (for the sake of argument), I suppose ‘motion’ increases while POUsage declines…? Other factors I’m not taking into consideration/suggestions on how to simplify determining ROI/efficacy quickly w/o having to ‘spaghetti’ everything?

  6. Jon Miller

    July 13, 2008 - 2:51 am

    Yes Joel.
    The idea is not to optimize the use of the asset (machine or tool) but to speed up the flow of creating value through the system end-to-end. If you save money on Allen wrenches but end up searching for them or waiting for them, this increases set up times for the job, which increases batch sizes, lead times, and worsens on-time delivery.
    There is a point at which certain rarely-used or highly expensive tools are shared and prepared for the job in advance.
    But the short answer is to “spaghetti” everything.

  7. Aris

    August 3, 2008 - 6:56 am

    I have known about 5S for a quite number of years and my experience is not different from what has been said in this article.The reason for not sustaining 5S comes from indifference ,lack of management support to culture difference and a lot other reasons.
    My opinion is that you have to start small and make a role model.If that is impossible I cannot see how the 5S will be sustainable even if a big ceremonial kick off is done.What is importtant is to solve the problem as it arise.It is much easy to solve when the problem is small and more people can solve it too.
    This is of course more easy to say than done as I have seen big companies do not appreciate the beauty of 5S..These are the companies that will fall down when the market take a different turn.As it should be,any stage of 5S should be treated as important as the next or final stage.It does not matter which stage you are in as long as everybody believe that as a long term strategy,5S is the most common sense approach as the first S (Seiri) means you have to remove what is unnecessary to your work..Isn’t that a smack of Toyota production system there?
    Rome isn’t built in a day.It took years and determination.

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