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5S, Not Only Important for the Shop Floor

Before we get started to review content, a bit of background. The definition of 5S is derived from a Japanese “lean” method. The terms are as follows;
seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke and refer to a workplace organization method.

To translate into English; sorting (eliminate all unnecessary tools keeping the important ones in specific places, straightening (arranging the remaining tools in a fashion for ease of access and uses), sweeping (cleaning the equipment and providing methods and procedures to keep all in order, standardizing (standardizing the process so all associates perform tasks the same way), and sustaining (maintain and implement a process to review so there is no return to the old way. This method was a traditional starting point on the shop (manufacturing) floor to drive “lean” within the organization. What better way to start a process than to evaluate the current state of the “process” and expose the waste using housekeeping! As I hope, the reader can see it is a methodical process to drive improvements in methods and drive productivity and quality.

I would like to share a personal example. I have a close friend who is also a mechanic. Requiring a rather large portfolio of tools he has them arranged on a large “shadow board” along the wall. There are silhouettes of all his tools painted on this board. If there was one tool missing he would know it! In addition, he arranged his tools related to usage. High usage tools were close to him, tools of a specialized nature further away. His bay area had various cleaning materials he used throughout the day. All receptacles for waste were clearly marked. Fluid collection drums were labeled as well as cans for paper waste. In addition, he had reference instructions for various procedures he would perform in the event he needed them. At the end of every day, he would perform a quick audit to determine if everything was in its place ready for the next day. He would also complete an “end of day” cleaning of the area. This entrepreneurs approach to business helped him meet his productivity (cars per day) and quality (first time fix) goals.

So what does this have to with an aspiring MBA in domestic or international business? Why would I have to worry about this process if in the “service” industry? This concept with its founding roots deeply entrenched in manufacturing methods is equally important in services. This practical tool is basic for the student whether in a traditional setting or online. Let me share using an example. If any business were to delve into their order management folder, they would find a list of customers. That sounds pretty easy. But as we, all know a folder continues to grow as we continue to add new files! So if one were to review that folder there will be data that is “expired” for lack of a better term. If one was to follow the 5S process, this folder could be kept current with active files. Others could be discarded or analyzed to determine why there was no activity. To further explore this process, sort (eliminate all files that displayed no activity), straighten (arrange your customer profiles to define the vital few from the useful many, sweep (review the customer files to ensure all the data within was useful and relevant), standardize (this one is a bit tricky, ensure all order management associates manage customer files in the same fashion including remarks), and finally sustain (use a process to audit and review on a periodic basis for conformance). Why is this so important? In this context, the managers may use the 5S process to ensure productivity and quality increase due to standardization. How easy would it be for others in the organization to react to a customer order if she knew exactly where to look for those “pesky” special instructions? In addition, the internet or traditional marketing teams could easily decipher customer activity and drive either additional sales or customer regain.

In conclusion I realize this process sounds fundamental but the “devil is in the details.” The key to ensuring conformity to 5S is a rigorous audit process. A review conducted by management on a regular basis. This is a critical step. If not the process will revert back to the old ways!

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About the Author

Pete Papantos is an operations director at a Fortune 500 company. He is responsible for the global execution of their strategic plan and driving operational excellence using lean methods. In addition, Pete is a graduate instructor with emphasis in operations and strategic management — both in traditional and online settings.