5S—The foundation for lean and safe

August 26, 2008
By: Michael Taubitz

Lean, a popular term in manufacturing, most often is associated with organizing and eliminating waste on the shop floor. However, lean is also very effective in the office environment. Having a lean operation across the board improves efficiency, productivity, and safety. This article discusses the benefits of 5S and how to implement it.

Leanis the term coined to describe the Toyota Production System. A simple definition is that lean is the identification and elimination of waste. That applies to all forms of waste in any part of the organization. Herein lies the first challenge in integrating lean and safe.

Many in manufacturing are capable of identifying hazards and risk, but few can identify waste. There are seven forms of waste, none of which is time or money. (Note: Wasted time and money are the results of waste in the system.) Ask yourself, Can I name all seven forms of waste? The next question is, Do I know the five repeatable steps used to eliminate waste? If you answered no, you may wish to keep reading. 5S is a five-step process that is used to eliminate the seven forms of waste (Figure 1).

7 Forms of Waste


1. Correction

2. Overproduction

3. Motion

4. Material Movement

5. Waiting

6. Inventory

7. Process

1. Sort

2. Straighten

3. Shine

4. Standardize

5. Sustain

Figure 1

A 5S kaizen (continuous improvement) workshop is a great way to learn how to identify and eliminate waste. Usually implemented on the factory floor, 5S works equally well in the office. Many sources suggest that we have more waste in our office and management systems than on the shop floor.

Once you understand waste, you can link it to hazard identification and risk mitigation. That said, let's further explore how 5S is a cornerstone for lean and safe.

Today's World

We've recognized for many years that good housekeeping is fundamental to a safe working environment. An organized workplace using 5S takes this foundation to a higher level, and this article explores how it can help you in the office. Imagine having what you need – where you need it – when you need it.

Many believe they cannot devote the extra effort to be organized. Additionally, we have computer systems and information technology to help us organize our daily lives. The problem is that in today's information society, we get far more information than is needed, and it often accumulates in our offices, files, and storage rooms. Information overload combined with a hectic pace stresses employees and causes performance to deteriorate.

Examples of waste (Figure 2) are all around us – we just take them for granted.

7 Forms of Waste


1. Correction

Redoing a report, repairing a part, or redoing a service

2. Overproduction

Making unneeded copies

3. Motion

Taking more steps than necessary to complete a task

4. Material Movement

Routing material through many steps

5. Waiting

Waiting to do work, waiting for parts to be worked on

6. Inventory

Storing old office or business supplies that no longer have value

7. Procedure or Process

Redoing things because of a cumbersome procedure

Figure 2

These typical examples are the very reasons that moving toward an organized workplace is so critical in today's competitive business world. Wasteful conditions don't improve automatically, and organization helps to reduce stress.

5S, like other tools and processes in the lean toolkit (e.g., process mapping, knowledge folders, and one-page reports) standardizes nonstandard work. This is a difficult concept to grasp, especially in the office, where almost everything is nonstandard. Embarking on a journey to lean and safe with 5S enables employees to gain the experiential, hands-on learning that helps turn on the light bulbs for standardizing work. These quick and simple standards create the foundation for continuous improvement.

The 5S System at Work

5S is an ideal process to promote teamwork. Assuming you want to proceed with the effort, choose teams for specific projects. Each team (usually three to five people) is assigned to organize one problem area—for example, a supply cabinet, copy machine, production operation, or an office. Make sure the teams take a few moments to jot down the area's purpose.

Step 1 – Sort. By sorting, you eliminate anything that does not add value. If the item is trash, dispose of it immediately. If the item has value, but not for the area undergoing 5S, move it to temporary storage. Refer to the purpose to decide value.

Steps 2 and 3 – Straighten and Shine. In these steps you place things in order and clean them. Your vision is to have things looking like the silverware drawer in your home, where everything is clean and easy to get because the utensils are separated.

Straighten and shine may or may not happen concurrently. If it makes more sense to separate and straighten all items before cleaning, do so. If it seems to make sense to clean as you straighten, that's OK too.

Separate items logically and arrange them for orderly appearance. Frequently used items should be the most accessible.

Step 4 – Standardize and Make Visual. A vision control is anything that helps maintain order in the workplace and aids employees or visitors. Signs, tape, posted procedures, and directional arrows are examples of visual controls

Write a standard that includes all elements of what is to be inspected in the newly organized area and the frequency of inspection. Inspections should take 60 to 90 seconds maximum. The document should be inserted in a plastic jacket and affixed to a wall easily accessible by the person who will perform the first-level inspection. Standardizing what was previously nonstandard is the foundation for continuous improvement.

Step 5 – Sustain. The first part of this two-part step is a measure you put in place the day you complete your five steps. The second is the on-going process to sustain and improve your new standard.

Sustain: Workshop

Complete a 5S Maintenance Card with 31 spaces to initial the date of inspection. Place it in a sheet protector and use Velcro to hang it adjacent to the posted standard. Use Velcro to attach a felt-tip pen.

Sustain: Ongoing

On-going Sustain is the most difficult step, because it takes discipline.

The individual performing the inspection must exercise discipline in faithfully carrying out his/her assigned task. If the inspection reveals that something is missing or requires replacement, this person is responsible for corrective action, thus saving others the hassle of wasted time, motion, and effort.

Fill in the inspection date on the outside of the protector with the felt-tip pen and initial. At the end of the month, use cleaner to wipe the clear protective jacket clean.

A teammate or higher-level manager should check periodically to confirm that the standard is being followed.

The Starting Point of Your Journey to Lean and Safe

When employees have problems or are stressed, they often take short cuts to get a job done. Probability eventually catches up with those who do not take the time to do things correctly. When an injury or problem occurs, we typically ask why Jane or Joe didn't follow prescribed operating procedures. Factors like the stress of getting the job done, not finding the right tool, having to walk too far to do something properly, or having to wait are easily overlooked causes of mishaps.

It also is common to find that the person was unaware of the proper way to perform the task. In these cases, management often resorts to more training, warnings, and use of personal protective equipment, almost always with a focus on the factory floor.

Most employers overlook the office system. When senior management, engineers, and office workers better understand waste in their own daily lives, they will do a better job of leading the entire organization to becoming lean and safe.

5S is the starting point for your journey. Each kaizen event produces a clean, organized workplace. More important, it develops skills to identify and eliminate waste in all forms. It teaches respect for people and the environment and highlights that people really are a company's most valuable resource.

5S also is ideal for those who wish to move to the concept of "operator-owner," in which a machine operator is responsible for basic maintenance. This concept also works in the office, where salaried process or task owners take responsibility for maintaining and improving the standards developed using 5S or other lean tools.

5S Benefits

It's common to see more than 50 percent improvements in inventory with 5S, but the application also produces other benefits:

  • Improves organizational efficiency
  • Reduces waste in all forms
  • Cuts hidden and direct costs
  • Cuts down employee frustration when the system doesn't work
  • Improves speed and quality of work performance
  • Improves safety
  • Creates a visually attractive environment

Last, you'll find that one of the great stressors in today's world is the waste of waiting. Waiting for a meeting to start, waiting for approval, waiting for a report … you name it, and we're all wasting tons of precious time waiting for something.

5S and the lean journey eliminate and reduce wait time, along with the other forms of waste.

Michael Taubitz

Contributing Writer
General Motors Corp.
Phone: 248-753-5771
He is the global regulatory liaison for General Motors Corp., and the company's representative to the Automotive Industry Action Group and the ANSII B11 Accredited Standards Committee. Most recently he established the company's process for emerging global health and safety issues. A member of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA) International Safety Council..