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5S as an integral part of Six Sigma

WHITE PAPER 5S as an integral part of Six Sigma

5S as an integral part of Six Sigma


Is There a Payoff or is This Just Another Boondoggle?

By Ron Crabtree, CPIM, CIRM


Based on the Japanese words Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke, the 5S philosophy focuses on effective workplace organization and standardized work procedures. 5S simplifies your work environment, reduces waste and non-value activity while improving quality efficiency and safety.

Once fully implemented, the 5S process can increase morale, create positive impressions on customers, and increase efficiency and organization. Not only will employees feel better about where they work, but the continuous improvement of 5S leads to less waste, better quality and faster lead times.


After suggesting 5S as an initial step in business transformation, I often get questions such as, “Why should we care about 5S?” or “Well, that’s nice, but why take the time to ask everyone to do 5S and then actually audit each other for compliance to make it part of our culture?” and “What, exactly, is the PAYOFF for doing this?”

This white paper will explain 5S, how it is implemented and how it pays off in easy-to-follow terms. We’ll also cover what you can expect your learning curve to be and the importance of celebrating success.


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5S as an integral part of Six Sigma

The 5S framework was originally devel- oped by just-in-time expert Hiroyuki Hi- rano. According to Hirano, without the organization and discipline provided by successfully implementing the 5Ss, other tools and methods are likely to fail.

the 5Ss, other tools and methods are likely to fail. 3 What is 5S? 5S is
the 5Ss, other tools and methods are likely to fail. 3 What is 5S? 5S is


the 5Ss, other tools and methods are likely to fail. 3 What is 5S? 5S is

What is 5S?

5S is the methodology based on five Japanese terms to create a workplace suited for visual control and lean production. Table 1.0 displays a concise description of each of the 5S’s:








Separate needed items from unneeded ones and remove the latter.




Neatly arrange items for use.




Clean up the work area




Sort, simplify and scrub daily.




Always follow the first four S’s

5S is…

• One tool that supports the principle of waste elimination by organizing the workplace

• An integral part of the Lean process

• The difference between ordinary and extraordinary companies

While simple in concept, 5S takes dedication and hard work to really happen.

How is 5S Implemented?

While every company is different, generally if every employee contributes about 40 hours over the first year to help implement and make 5S a habit success will soon follow. This includes initial training and implementation, team meetings to work out details, ongoing improvement implementation, auditing, and time to stop and celebrate at key achievement points.

If 40 hours seems like a lot of effort, consider the next section below before passing final judgment.

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5S as an integral part of Six Sigma

How Does 5S Pay Off?

Lack of organization creates waste that is not always visible in our processes. Take a look at Figure 1.0. In this photo you can see a rack containing the forms and flyers common in most HR departments. What is wrong in this picture?

in most HR departments. What is wrong in this picture? Figure 1.0 - Human Resources Forms

Figure 1.0 - Human Resources Forms for Employees

How many people do you suppose need to come here several times a year to retrieve one or more of these documents? Everyone? In your company, what are the chances you will end up asking someone nearby for help to find what you need, only to discover it was already there? Likely, more often than we would care to admit! Now we have tied up two people for up to 15 minutes or the employee may even have to come back later.

Let us assume 600 employees need to go to this rack from time to time, and say on average, everyone does this about three times a year. That is 1,800 visits. If each person takes 15 minutes to look through the rack, it comes to 450 hours of search

time, when, if 5S’d it could easily be a minute or less per visit – or 1,800 minutes a year, or just 30 hours. That is a possible productivity increase of about 93% on this task alone. Now, let us assume there are 600 different locations in the company

that deal with this kind of problem every day

This is a perfect example of how the 5S approach can save a company many lost hours of productivity. Using just this example, hidden waste is reduced by more than 400 hours a year!

and, well

you do the math.

5S not only streamlines manufacturing, but it’s effective in service organiza- tions, too. Six Sigma programs like those offered through Villanova University online can pay for themselves in the time and money you’ll save hunting for neces- sary supplies, tools, files and equipment.


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5S as an integral part of Six Sigma


Table 2.0 - Productivity Increase with 5S Implementation

Present Situation


After Implementing 5S

Increase in




Time Spent

Total Time


Time Spent

Total Time


Each Visit

for 600

Each Visit

for 600

5S not only helps to ensure that time




will be spent doing more productive activities, but it also reduces the chance of error, rework and injury, saving time and money.



15 minutes

450 hours


1 minute

30 hours

Properly scaled and applied, 5S can make a tremendous difference in the ability



execute quickly, with better quality, and at a lower cost. If you have read even

one book on time management, you know that time is a precious commodity that can never be recovered. By being selective about what we spend our time on and

prioritizing, we can become much more effective in our outcomes and results. 5S


a structured approach that teaches us how to apply excellent time management

skills to workplace organization and cleanliness.



natural extension of making 5S a part of your culture ultimately involves

everyone learning better personal time management skills. That is a completely separate story, but let me say this: Never accept your current state as good enough! There are companies out there right now working diligently to take your business away by being better than you are. If you do your part to embrace continuous improvement, together we can be the ‘them’ – the ones who always win, the best at what we do.

5S Saves Time and Money


“Alright,” you might be thinking, “but how does saving time really make a difference?” Consider that if your 5S implementation does not have the ultimate

objective of converting saved time into better customer satisfaction and bottom line results, you are losing potential earnings and profits! Recently I had the privilege


assisting a large nonprofit medical and retirement benefits provider to become

more effective at delivering high levels of customer satisfaction and quality. The

company has chosen NOT to use the word Lean, but rather is calling the initiative Customer Service First. The union and management team have united around two specific measured outcomes: Increase customer satisfaction by 50% and quality by 50% by the end of 2006.

Assigning more people to solve our problems is not always an option. This is where 5S helps to improve the bottom line. If we build a culture that consciously converts time saved into higher customer satisfaction and improved quality, we can convert wasted time into more value-added time for our customers. Remember, without satisfied customers, we ultimately do not have a business!



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5S as an integral part of Six Sigma


Case Study #1: Time = Money = Higher Profitability!


few years back I was involved with Lean implementation work at a well

managed, $10 million printing company. This company’s steering committee was very effective and the top managers supported the 5S plan, including rigorous auditing. Remember, this was a class act company long before I met them. They were already cleaner than most print shops. They practice a profit sharing program which provides an incentive for all employees to share in the company’s growth

Apply 5S to office procedures for in- creased savings and improved customer service, eliminating unnecessary steps from administrative functions.

and profits. Everyone is extremely conscious of what time is spent on, because in a real way, every employee’s paycheck is affected by poor use of time. By beginning


implement 5S, this company quickly realized improvement.

The president confided to me the last fiscal year they enjoyed a nearly 20% boost in company-wide productivity – and profit sharing. She explained it like this: “Ron, I know we did not make many of the changes that you wanted us to, but we did use 5S to communicate better visually in the workplace. That’s the only difference for us that has been implemented since last year. That said, last year we had higher sales in December than this year – and lost money. With lower sales this year, we MADE money.”

Case Study #2: 5S Improves Customer Service, Increases Delivery Speed and Improves Quality in All Business Processes

Applying 5S in production areas is easy to justify and to see a dramatic difference quickly. In office and service processes, it is much more difficult to measure the difference. Think about a call center where for the most part work is performed independently and in an electronic setting. What are the 5S benefits to look for?

The key here is to get folks thinking about what customers care about and then finding creative ways to provide those things. In the nonprofit insurance and retirement benefits company I mentioned earlier, what customers want is pretty basic: “Pay my claims correctly and quickly, and if I have a question, don’t make me wait, and always answer my questions correctly the first time.”

One of the logical extensions of 5S, is “What tools are needed to do the job?” and

“Make it easy to find or put tools away in 30 seconds or less.” If we are working in


call center answering questions, what serves our customer better: making them

wait while we hunt for the information, or even worse, telling them someone will call them back later? How would our customers feel if we were able to swiftly handle at least 80% of the requests in bench-marked time and near-perfect quality? Well, I think we all can agree that that this is the right kind of goal to set for customer service, since that is how we would like to be treated when we need help.



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Think about our workspace and the systems we use to serve our customers. Since it is unlikely that one person can know everything to handle any possible call, we need to focus on the 80% of the call volumes that represent 20% of the needed answers. Knowing all the vitals for these vital “repeat” questions is critical. What we need to do is make sure we have changed our workspaces, reference materials and systems to uniformly handle these requests first, then work on the other 80% of questions that represent only 20% of the call volume. This means our working materials and systems must be error-proofed – and the work setting is made as visual as possible.

There are two main reasons to accomplish this: you cannot remember everything, and humans operate most effectively when there is uniformity. If a common incoming question has more than two possible answers, it is a clear signal that our process will have defective results. Since call center work is by definition fraught with misunderstandings and errors, why wouldn’t we be willing to do whatever it takes to get it right the first time? The time spent to develop visuals on the system and how-to guides (as part of the bigger 5S strategy) makes perfect sense.

Not only can an effective 5S strategy be very helpful in increasing customer service and quality, it also enables increased flexibility for our workforce. If we have error proofed and made more than 80% of the work in the call center visual, we can now adjust our resources more quickly. Utilizing temporary helpers or visitors from another department or area will be more effective in handling routine call center workload fluctuation quickly and flawlessly. Now it is possible to have a team approach where experts can help screen incoming calls and route less complicated calls to those who can handle them, with the less frequent, but more problematic requests being handled by the experts.

This challenges the traditional thinking in call center management around measuring and driving calls-per-person-per-hour. Clearly, all incoming calls are not equal, so our system must adapt to recognize that call volumes will fluctuate. I believe that it is possible to improve call center speed and quality by 50% or more while holding the line on resources. However, this can only be accomplished if there is a dedicated effort to work as a team to flawlessly execute and leverage the tools at our disposal, such as 5S. The printing company I mentioned earlier has a very active call center where sales people call customers and take calls to process orders for new print jobs. The call center experienced many problems including long wait times, inaccurate handling of questions, long delays to “hand-off” people on hold with questions, and many mistakes in order instructions that resulted in reprints (rework). In fact, the number one profit drain on the company at the start of the process was reprints due to office-generated errors in taking orders.

By aggressively applying a 5S team approach, they created visual training aids, introduced visual error-proofing measures, restructured who does what

The intent of 5S is to eliminate defects,

trim waste, reduce delays, incur fewer injuries, and decrease breakdowns. These outcomes translate to lower cost and higher quality.


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(for example, re-introducing order entry experts instead of expecting sales people to do data entry), and aggressively measured performance improvement . Happily, this company now reports a 50% reduction in reprints overall and customer satisfaction has never been higher. So, without additional staff resources they have steadily increased their output in this area of the company.

5S Implementation Phases and Time Horizon – How Much 5S is Enough?

The most common mistake companies make when implementing 5S is the failure to train adequately at the outset. Upper management and other mem- bers of the steering group must have 5S training like that provided in Villanova University’s Six Sigma programs.


Another frequent question I hear is, “How long will we be doing 5S, and when will we be done?” Let me walk you through a typical implementation horizon, help you understand how the auditing process works, and discuss how you can tell if you are “done” with 5S.

The 5S steps and typical horizon I have seen in average companies follows: S1


Sort, S2, Set in Order - (Straighten), S3 – Scrub, S4 – Standardize, and S5 – Sustain (by scheduling audits to provide evidence of continuous improvement).

Kicking Off – Initiating S1

First we communicate with everyone and describe 5S and share our desire to roll

it out. S1 starts with initial training to get through the first three of the steps. S1

Sorting work usually involves setting up some red-tag “parking lots” to hold

items for scheduled disposition. Initial cleaning can be done at the same time as sorting. For the average company, S1 sorting starts on day one and continues for 3 to 6 months to complete in all areas.

Moving on to S2 and S3

Before making a place for everything and putting everything in its place you need to locate everything or have everything you need on hand. This is a subtle point. After initial sorting to remove unneeded items, sometimes it is possible to jump to S2 and S3 without first properly identifying and accounting for the needed missing items. This makes a good case for a team effort; it is hard for one person to think of everything that should be there. Only after you have a complete inventory of what is needed, can you finish S2 and S3 and begin the S4 step (Standardizing).

Standardizing is the step where we make everything look like a showcase, everything has a clearly identifiable home. Once this step is completed, it is easy to see how much is needed, and a system is in place to maintain supply

visual storage techniques are in place that meet or beat the 30 second rule: If

you can’t find it or put it away in 30 seconds, you are not done with 5S. I take it one step further in office situations where we need to find items when someone is unavailable. If anyone can’t find it in your workspace in 30 seconds or less, you are not done with 5S. This makes a strong case for groups of people (who do similar work) to standardize their workspaces together (this contributes to increased customer satisfaction immediately). When working as a team, we sometimes need



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to flex our resources to meet customer demand, and standardized workspaces enhance the group’s ability to support customers. How does this affect the customer? Here is a list of potential benefits of 5S for customers of companies who decide to implement the program:

• Customers spend less time waiting for an answer to a question because information is easy to find now that it is properly organized

The last “S,” sustain, requires that the 5S program becomes both a discipline and a set of shared values. Without employee buy-in, it is impossible to maintain con- sistent standards of quality, safety, clean production, and process operation.


• A customer does not have to talk to the same person every time he or she calls because there is uniformity in the department and another team member can serve them almost as well

• The customer will not hesitate to call back because of previous excellent results, which mean better overall satisfaction

• Customers do not feel that they are being rushed because employees have more time to devote to customer issues as a result of less time being wasted elsewhere


• Fewer hand-offs (referring a caller to another person because we cannot quickly and correctly answer the question) are required because more of us can handle the call the first time – this can be a huge factor that increases customer satisfaction

After standardizing your work and making 5S a habit, you are not done. The old maxim is true – if you do the same thing over and over but expect different results, you are on the verge of insanity. The corollary is true, too. If you want consistent, high quality, fast results for your customers, everyone must agree to do it the same way. If you expect this to happen without reaching consensus on the one best method, then you are also practicing a form of insanity, right?

Completion of S3 is signaled when the area is uniform and visual, surfaces are “good as new” in appearance, appropriate lighting and equipment is in place, and we can now take our “after” photos demonstrating the minimally acceptable standard for auditing the area. S2 and S3 start almost immediately after S1 is underway and may continue for 5 to 8 months as we make our way through all areas.

Kicking Off the Scheduling of Audits – S5 - Sustain

Once your teams have “photo-ready” spaces, it is time to establish the S5 – Sustain. This includes creating and using cleaning checklists and requires everyone’s participation for ongoing maintenance. The trick with scheduling is to provide adequate time on a frequency that keeps the subject area clean while the task is very small. This ensures that it gets done, and is not rationalized away if something else comes up. In the S3 step, implement measures to make it easy to keep the area clean. For example wires are neatly bundled and off the floor, desktops are cleared so that dusting and sweeping is easy, and displayed items are easy to remove and put back exactly as intended. This makes it possible for members of a team to help one other so that we are ALL done at the same time,



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5S as an integral part of Six Sigma


and can easily arrange rotating cleaning assignments.

A couple of subtleties often missed in setting up cleaning schedules include defining “How clean is clean?” and providing sufficiently detailed instructions so that anyone on the team can properly perform the cleaning or maintenance.

People should be motivated to par- ticipate in 5S implementation through coaching and team participation, not by orders and penalties. The best way to get them on board is through Six Sigma Green Belt training like that provided through Villanova University online.


NOTE: This is also a great time to incorporate your total productive maintenance strategy into your checklists. For example, changing air filters, cleaning out copier cabinets, and backing up critical files can all be added as part of the 5S cleaning checklist strategy. This makes sense – if these things are neglected, they can break down unexpectedly – causing us to ignore our all-important customers while we scramble to fix them.

S5 – Sustain starts after areas have completed S3 and S4 and continues for 6 to 9 months as we make our way through all areas.


S5 auditing can start at any time, but as a practical matter, we usually do not start formal audits until most areas have made good progress – usually after 3 or 4 months. Auditing is the most challenging part of implementing 5S. At first, it is hard to understand what the standards should be. Then, it is getting over the fear and hurt feelings that someone is looking critically at your work space – after all, during the week most of us spend more time at work than any other place!

Later, it is often difficult to give clear feedback to areas audited on what to do next. What is amazing to me is that time after time when I do initial audits my scores are fundamentally in agreement with what the team sees. Assigning a numerical score from a 1 to 5 (1 = no evidence of 5S to 5 = perfection) is rarely a big problem. The challenge is in figuring out what needs to be different – and how to proactively and professionally share this feedback with the areas audited. After two or three successive audits in all areas have been completed with aggregated numeric results posted (hopefully showing steady progress), you are probably beginning to master the process. After each audit, the score is posted and graphed for team reference.

What Implementation Curve Should I Expect Before Achieving Success?

Assuming you are doing the auditing on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 = perfection, the easiest way to visualize your implementation curve is in a graph over a one-year period. Imagine we are auditing every area and rolling up our aggregated score on 5S to a company or location-wide measure. When audits start we are usually already running at about a 2.0 on our scale of 1 to 5. Like most things, the effort and focus required to move up the point scale is relatively easy at first. As we get into more difficult and time-consuming tasks, such as repairing broken items, installing better organization systems, and putting visual standardized work in place, the rate of improvement slows down. In addition, as we move further along



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5S as an integral part of Six Sigma

the spectrum, it takes more focus and progressively more critical judgment.

Getting to a 5 overall in my mind is like going for zero defects; we are emotionally committed to it, but may not get there in our lifetime. Therefore, I suggest that if your company can achieve between a 4.0 or 4.5 ranking in all areas over the first year of auditing, you have been very successful. In the graph below is the typical progress in scores I might expect to see over the first year:

in scores I might expect to see over the first year: Figure 2.0 - Typical Score

Figure 2.0 - Typical Score Achievement Curve - One Year after S5 Begins

What is the Best Time Frame and Frequency for Auditing?

Since adopting 5S is all about adapting new habits and standards, I recommend that you start the audit process with frequent reviews and reduce the frequency as the average scores improve. This is different in every company and is a matter of personal choice; however, I suggest you start by planning to the schedule displayed in Figure 3.0.

start by planning to the schedule displayed in Figure 3.0. Figure 3.0 - Audit Frequency Based

Figure 3.0 - Audit Frequency Based on Audit Score

5S is best implemented very gradually over time. Because implementing 5S can be such an overwhelming task, some companies decide to institute it depart- ment-by-department.


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5S as an integral part of Six Sigma

People want to feel appreciated. When your employees hit a milestone, recog-

The point of the whole effort is to use the audits to help the team continually improve and perfect their implementation. My experience has been that after a 4.5 or better has been achieved, 5S is becoming a habit. Now that 5S is a habit, the intensity of audits becomes more of a surveillance audit, much like that to maintain an ISO registration, except a third party is not required to perform the audits. It is a good idea during and after 5S implementation to benchmark your progress by visiting other companies who have adopted this method of workplace organization to see and learn about new techniques that are being used.

Do Not Forget to Celebrate Your Success!

nize their achievement. When you re- ward your workers, they perform better.

The biggest mistake you can make in 5S is to forget about celebrating success each step of the way! I’m not a believer in monetary rewards or unfavorably comparing one area to another. If we do a big hoopla and monetary reward only for the first area that hits a milestone, say hitting a 4.0, how does this affect all the other areas that have also worked hard? It makes them feel like they don’t deserve recognition

only the first group does. Don’t get caught up in this trap.

suggest deciding on some recognition and celebration that takes place when all areas reach a minimum threshold of implementation. For example, I suggest the following scenario:


When the first area achieves a 3.0 there is a small sign or award to signify the achievement on a team’s communication board, and it is reported in the company newsletter. When ALL areas hit the 3.0 level or better there is special recognition in the next all-hands meeting. Maybe everyone’s name goes into a raffle for some gift certificates or other gift items.

Then, up the ante with a celebration point of 4.0 or better in all areas audited. This one is a big deal, with a special all-hands event just to celebrate the achievement. Have each area share their best “before and after” picture story. Everyone gets a shopping or dining gift certificate in a nominal amount and the next objective, a 4.5 audit score, is discussed. Depending on your culture, hitting a 4.5 audit score can include another round of nicer gift certificates and perhaps a raffle for something really nice, like a large plasma TV.

A celebration system is set up so that we all win together by achieving our goals. After making 5S a habit, we need to channel our energies to other things that bring value to our customers and improve our competitiveness. Semi-annual audits and reporting helps to keep you honest, and will help you know together if it is time to reemphasize 5S.



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5S as an integral part of Six Sigma



The master on 5S is Hiroyuki Hirano. His book, Pillars of the Visual Workplace, is considered by many to be the 5S bible.

To recap, here are key takeaways:

1. 5S is a relatively simple methodology that is hygienic in nature – a solid foundation of discipline and organization upon which to build a world-class enterprise.

2. Initially 5S requires a significant investment of time. After startup the incre mental time saved more than compensates for the time spent to maintain 5S every day.

3. Properly implemented 5S will have a measurable impact on organizational performance in:

• Improved quality

• Increase in available workspace

• Improved employee morale

• Increased customer satisfaction

• Increased bottom line

4. 5S is uniformly implemented everywhere in the business – including shared office process areas!

5. 5S ties nicely to a visual workplace and error-proofing strategies that simplify training and job rotation efforts. It does not stop there. In addition, I always strongly recommend integrating the 5S mentality with a Total Productive Maintenance, or Autonomous Maintenance Program. Cleaning is a form of inspection, and inspection leads to early detection. Why not have every one involved with keeping things working right?

6. Implementation of 5S follows logical stages, progressing from S1 though S5, though the phases may overlap significantly. Starting from a “zero state,” most companies allow about a full year of focus to make it a habit and be able to scale back surveillance audits.


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5S as an integral part of Six Sigma



Celebrating 5S success throughout the process is very important. If rewards or incentives will be given, these must be on the basis that everyone celebrates and participates in success together because all parts of the organization have achieved a shared target. Setting up individual area rewards is dangerous, as it pits groups against one another and destroys a team approach to enterprise-wide commitment to excellence.

Ron Crabtree, CPIM, CIRM Adjunct Faulty for Lean, Six Sigma and Business Analysis Villanova University Online


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