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Jared Evans


Finding Success With 6S

A people-first approach to a classic tool

Published: Monday, August 20, 2018 - 11:02

Implementing 6S, the lean strategy for reducing waste and optimizing efficiency in a manufacturing environment, is more than just creating work protocols that people must follow. Because that’s the thing about people: If they don’t know the “why,” they are less likely to buy in to any initiative, especially one that requires significant changes in the way they work and think, simply because they “must.”

Building a culture around 6S is the key to preventing it from becoming the latest flavor-of-the-month workplace initiative. But the question is, how? It turns out, the answer is right in front of you.

What is 6S?

Don’t be fooled by the new name. Like 5S, 6S is a system of workplace standardization and organization that originated in Japan. Its purpose is to create a clean and well-ordered workplace in order to minimize error and reduce waste. But, of course, there’s more to it than that.

6S is composed of the following elements:
1S: Sort. Determine what equipment is needed and what is not. Recycle, sell, or otherwise dispose of unneeded items by way of a red tag system.
2S: Set in order. After sorting, organize what’s left to minimize wasted mental and physical energy and potential error. Use shadow boards and tape-outs to give visual cues where tools and equipment belong, or where activities must take place.
3S: Shine and inspect. Cleaning the remaining equipment, tools, and spaces provides the opportunity to assess and benchmark their current state, easily identify future maintenance needs, and prevent the chance of contamination or failure. A root cause analysis as part of a corrective and preventive action (CAPA) process can help identify and solve cleanliness issues. Set expectations by determining cleaning assignments, schedules, and methods.
4S: Standardize. Develop and apply clear, simple, and visual standards for doing work, including procedures for how to maintain the first three elements of 6S. Similar to the previous element, this creates a benchmark of the current state of work procedures, and allows for easily identifying when something is amiss or needs attention. Common standardization tools include a standardized work chart, standardized work combination table, and production capacity sheet.
5S: Sustain. Promote, communicate, and train on the ideas of 6S to support continued commitment to the program. Report boards, establishing a group of champions from various areas, conducting internal audits, and fun contests are all ways to encourage participation.
6S: Safety. Create an environment that promotes the physical and mental safety of employees, from providing personal protective equipment and following lockout/tagout protocols, to fostering teamwork and building trust through mentorship programs, quality circles, and more.

Safety: The missing link to lean success

Perhaps it’s a happy coincidence that 6S and success sound exactly alike, or perhaps it’s no coincidence at all. Regardless, it’s an easy way to remember that the sixth S itself is the key to successfully implementing a lean 6S program: 5S + safety = 6S or “success.”

Inherently, and in contrast to the other five elements, safety is about people. In fact, it’s the second most basic human need, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after life-sustaining physiological needs like food, water, and shelter.

Safety as the sixth S sends a strong and immediate signal to workers that they are at the center of the initiative. This emphasis on the human element is largely missing from traditional 5S, at least as it is typically perceived by workers, often due to poor communication and follow-through on the part of those responsible for the program.

It turns out, safety is the glue that holds the 6S program together.

What is safety?

Most manufacturers know and enforce basic physical safety measures, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), job hazard analysis (JHA), reviewed and current standard operating procedures (SOPs), lockout/tagout (LOTO), safety data sheets (SDSs), and safety signs and symbols.

But in the context of lean 6S, safety refers to both physical and mental well-being. Workers who are empowered with the knowledge and equipment to perform their jobs safely will subconsciously feel safer, leading to increased engagement in their work and attentiveness to their tasks.

A sense of mental safety is created and strengthened by:
• Exhibiting good leadership characteristics, such as calmness, happiness, confidence, and courage, and encouraging those characteristics in others
• Implementing mentorship programs
• Building friendships
• Facilitating teamwork
• Engendering trust

The relationship between safety and quality

It might not seem obvious, but there is a direct correlation between safety and quality.

A physical safety program prevents at-risk behaviors, injuries, missed workdays, and even fatalities. A mental safety program prevents decreased motivation, morale, creativity, and confidence; frustration, disengagement, and reduced productivity; performance and attendance issues; and negative attrition.

Implementing a safety program according to 6S frees up employees’ time and energy to focus on their work, resulting in a more motivated and attentive workforce, less human error, fewer human-caused defects, and less overall scrap.

Leading safety in your organization

Keep these guiding principles in mind when implementing and sustaining a successful 6S program:
• Leaders set the tone; they drive safety.
• Anyone, in any position, can be a leader.
• Expertise in a discipline or business area does not automatically make someone a leader.
• When people feel safe, they are more likely to work together to overcome a challenge or reach a goal.
• The natural reaction of people who feel safe is to trust and cooperate.
• There is a direct link between safety and quality.

Safety managers, lean coaches, and quality managers alike should take a vested interest in implementing and sustaining a 6S program in their organizations. While it’s easy to think of 6S as boxes that need to be checked, a closer look reveals it can have meaningful effects beyond the obvious. When executed properly—with people in mind—the 6S initiative can be an instrument for real cultural change, leading to increased employee morale and performance, a reduction in human-caused defects, and a sustained improvement in quality.

1. Achor, Shawn. “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” TEDxBloomington, May 2011.
Dennis, Pascal. Lean Production Simplified: A Plain-Language Guide to the World’s Most Powerful Production System. Productivity Press, third edition, 2015.
2. Fogler, H. Scott; LeBlanc, Steven; and Rizzo, Benjamin. Strategies for Creative Problem Solving. Prentice Hall, third edition, 2013.
3. Foster, S. Thomas. Managing Quality: Integrating the Supply Chain. Pearson, sixth edition, 2016.
4. García Herrero, Susan; et. al. “From the Traditional Concept of Safety Management to Safety Integrated With Quality.” Journal of Safety Research, vol. 33, no. 1, 2002.
5. Liker, Jeffrey, and Meier, David. The Toyota Way Fieldbook: A Practical Guide for Implementing Toyota’s 4Ps. McGraw-Hill Education, 2005.
6. Sinek, Simon. “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe.” TED 2014.


About The Author

Jared Evans’s picture

Jared Evans

Jared Evans is a professional instructor and lean process coach at MasterControl. Evans has over two decades of experience with quality engineering, training and internal auditing in the high-volume semiconductor industry, and in retail sales and management.

Evans has served as a consultant for Fortune 500 companies such as Intel, Micron, Target and Macy’s. He has conducted thousands of training sessions and over 550 internal audits—many involving ISO 14000 and ISO 9001—and safety audits. Evans also has extensive experience as an auditee in factory audits evaluating safety, performance, and equipment processes covering manufacturing metrics and benchmarking. Throughout his career, Evans has successfully facilitated innovation and change in technology-intensive environments using quality management, lean manufacturing and project management principles. Evans holds an associate degree in information systems and a bachelor’s degree in technology management. He is a member of ASQ, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the Institute of Industrial and System Engineers (IISE), and the Association for Talent Development (ATD).