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Streamline Operations with the 5 S's

There are thousands of companies throughout the world that all have one thing in common, to operate efficiently. Without a goal to keep work organized and producing quality goods and services—eventually the company could face closing its doors forever. Luckily, there is a popular and simple technique that originated in Japan and has become a way to help streamline operations called the 5S’s. The 5S’s in Japanese mean: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke. In English they translate to: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain, respectively.

Believed to be created by Toyota representatives, Sakichi Toyoda, Kiichiro, and Taiichi Ohno in the 1970s, more and more manufacturing and other companies implemented the 5S’s to help streamline operations, reduce waste and costs, and become more efficient. This lean method to help operations become more efficient was based on observations that the three Toyota representatives observed at Ford Motor Company and the Piggly Wiggly. The three men analyzed Ford workers waiting for one step to be completed before the next step could be started which resulted in a great deal of wasted time on the job and eventually layoffs. At the Piggly Wiggly supermarkets, the inventory system used to order goods was based on need and demand which helped the Toyota reps understand the Just-In-Time (JIT) process which they later incorporated into the 5S methodology. And like they say, the rest is history.

The methodology behind the use of the 5S’s focuses on developing long-term behavioral changes for all workers at all levels in the workplace. In the 1960s, Japan faced a time when their economy was in a slump after World War II. Through the implementation and use of the 5S’s, companies were able to improve the organization and motivate employees—increasing the quality of life and productivity within the organization. With the success of the 5S’s in Japan, other companies in other industries and in other countries copied the model and began using the 5S’s to increase productivity.

Here is a breakdown of each word: 

  • Sort (Seiri): sort and separate items needed and not needed in your work space, only leaving what is absolutely necessary to complete your job.

  • Straighten (Seiton): arrange items in a way that are easy to use when needed and clearly mark locations for all items so you can easily return them when you finish your task.

  • Shine (Seiso): keep your workplace and equipment clean and in order to recognize defects and maintain standards. By doing this, you help prevent deterioration of machinery and keep a workplace pleasing to work in.

  • Standardize (Seiketsu): maintain high standards and best practices in your work area. Review the first three S’s on a regular basis to ensure standards are being met.

  • Sustain (Shitsuke): perform regular audits to maintain order and ensure all standards are being implemented.

Most recently, other well-known companies have implemented the 5S’s to create a better functioning work environment. For example, Hewlett-Packard, Boeing, and Harley-Davidson Motor Company are three top names of companies using the 5S method. Hewlett-Packard began using the 5S’s to help keep storage areas of parts needed stacked and organized for easy access. Boeing utilized the 5S’s on their factory floor and inside offices to add simple and secure measures. And, Harley-Davidson used the 5S’s to simplify their warehouse locations by operating lean. Ultimately, the change in operating lean using the 5S’s saved Harley-Davidson and the other two companies a great deal of costs in time and safety measures.

Whether you are looking to make improvements within your own company or want to improve the way you do things in your everyday life, consider implementing the use of the 5S’s and see where it takes you.

Share how you would use the 5S's to help make your work or personal life more efficient in the comments below.  

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Karen McGee

Karen McGee, Sr. HR Generalist, joined SWBC PEO in 2014 bringing with her a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Wayland Baptist. Karen comes to SWBC PEO with over 25 years of human resources management experience. Prior to joining SWBC PEO, Karen worked as a Human Resources Business Partner for a large utility company in San Antonio.

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