For companies that are looking to reduce waste, increase productivity and ultimately improve their bottom line, the 5S method is a smart and viable solution.

The 5S method is a way to make things run smoother, eliminate time-wasters and keep team members safe by making certain actions and practices standard in the workplace. While it was most popular among manufacturing and production plants for many years, the 5S method is one that any company, in any industry, can use. It’s already been implemented in healthcare, education, government and many other industries. Let’s take a look at what it is and what it can do to help you improve your company:

The 5 Ss of Work Safety

Originating in Japan and adopted in the United States, the 5S method is separated into 5 words that begin with the letter S:

  • Sort
  • Set in order
  • Shine
  • Standardize
  • Sustain

Each word is a step in a process that organizes and maintains the workplace environment for improved efficiency, productivity and safety.

 1. Sort: What’s working, what’s not working

Think about the last time you were working on a project and either you got the wrong direction from a manager or you gave the wrong information to a team member. Immediately, there was a snag in the process. One or more of you had to seek out the correct information—it could take five minutes; it could take five days.

In each case, the time spent trying to resolve the issue is wasted, which slows production and impedes progress. Now think about how many times these miscommunications occur during a work day. If you calculated all the time your employees spent hunting down the information or tools they need, you’d probably be shocked by the number.

With the 5S method, everything that a worker needs—whether it’s information, tools, supplies or anything else necessary for them to do their jobs—is easily accessible, in their workstation or within reach, so there’s no lost time, no waste.

So the first S, which stands for sort, means that each workstation is assessed and the items needed are identified. Then, clutter is cleared of items that would only get in the way or slow the process down.

2. Set in place: Make everything easily accessible

After sorting through the clutter and identifying what is needed in the workspace, the items are then set in place. But not just in any place; they’re set in specific, predetermined areas within the workstation. Assigning a place for everything not only keeps things organized, it ensures that no one has to waste time searching for items they need. The calculator, the printer, thumb drives, outgoing and incoming paperwork, whatever your team uses and needs, is in its assigned spot. This translates to zero time needed to try and find items, which equals less time wasted and more time being productive.

3. Shine: A clean space is a productive space

Once the workplace is sorted and all the necessary tools or items are set in place, it’s time to make things shine. A clean workplace is not only safer and more organized, it also boosts morale and ensures that everything stays in good working condition and will function properly when it’s needed most.

Workstations should be cleaned and organized every day; the factory floor should be swept and mopped; the conference room should be clear of all papers and coffee cups; printers should be turned off, etc. Whatever kind of work environment you have, it should be kept neat and clean.

4. Standardize: Uniformity eliminates confusion

This step of the process brings the first three parts of the 5S method together, making them standard across the board for your organization. Everyone on the team will know where everything goes, how to keep things organized and neat and what to expect when they enter the workplace every day. By doing this, you’ll maintain orderliness, increase productivity, and strengthen the method to keep it effective.

Consider an operating room in a hospital. All nurses, doctors, technicians and staff know and adhere to a standardized method for everything they do. Medications go in a certain place and can always be found there. Oxygen, defibrillators, and other emergency equipment are stored in a specified location and maintained to ensure they will work properly.

5. Sustain: You can’t set it and forget it

The other pillars of the 5S method mean nothing if you do not make a commitment to adhere to them. So sustaining your method is key to ensuring that it continues to work. An important facet of this is to implement regular assessments to ensure everyone is following procedure and to train new employees as they come on board.

It’s also a good idea to evaluate the process after it’s been in place for a while to ensure that it is being used in the most effective way. Do you need to switch out items? Are certain things not being used as often as before? Is everything running as smoothly as it can or do adjustments need to be made?

Once you’ve got a strong system in place, continual checks and training are necessary to sustain higher levels of organization, safety and ultimately, performance.

6. Safety: The Sixth S

While it’s not technically one of the 5S methods, safety is a critical facet to your workplace environment. When you adopt 5S, you’ll see that the level of safety in your organization naturally increases. That’s a result of keeping everything organized, clean and clutter free. Without it, many companies find themselves struggling with things like boxes and equipment blocking exits, tools being used for the wrong tasks, inaccessible safety equipment and other safety hindrances.

The 5S method is a proven way to increase productivity, boost employee morale and ultimately improve your bottom line. From the workers to the customers, 5S has a positive impact that any company, in any industry, can realize.

The Dorsey Group’s high-performance framework focuses on continuous improvement utilizing Lean and Six Sigma, high-performance work teams, assessments, training and workshops. When you’re ready to implement the 5S method and reach peak performance in your organization, contact us and ask about our Continuous Performance Consulting services.