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Mike Micklewright


Still Can’t Master 5S? Try ‘1S.’

Stop wasting time trying to stop wasting

Published: Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - 16:50

I mean it! If your company can’t master 5S, try “1S” and stop! Stop the entire lean transformation until 5S is mastered in at least one process-focused area of the facility.

It’s a tremendous waste for a company to spend thousands, if not millions, of dollars on a “lean transformation” only to see the old way of doing business resume because the company couldn’t sustain and build on the improvements it made.

By “mastering 5S,” we’re not talking about consistently scoring 80–90 percent on some watered-down monthly 5S assessment just to show that a department function is achieving an internal key performance indicator (KPI). We’re talking about living by the true spirit of 5S. Achieving 5S mastery should include:
• Ensuring all critical items, components, materials, tools, programs, documents, parts, and equipment have clearly identified homes and quantities (as applicable) that are located where they should be, at the point of use, which will result in minimum levels of inventory, waiting, transportation, and motion
• Ensuring all components, materials, etc. are in excellent working order and maintained and cleaned per a visual standard
• Maintaining nothing in the area (including dirt, grime, and sources of contamination) that isn’t used frequently per a defined standard
• Adherence to company global and local standards that are prevalent and visible
• Active involvement by all levels of management in challenging the current state
• Established preventive actions to eliminate miscues in sorting, setting in order, and shining
• At least daily checks of adherence to standards... but preferably continuous checking that is as natural as breathing
• A transition from “management by results” (i.e., focusing primarily on achieving a target 5S assessment rating ) to “management by means” (organizational routines for improvement in the spirit of kata)
• An understanding that sustainment includes the visible display of problems and a visible display of actions to address those problems
• A focus on coaching, not policing

5s is a foundational practice that isn’t appreciated in the Western world as much as it should be. It’s considered a foundational practice for good reason because so many of the other practices and kaizen tools are built upon the ability to sustain through the continuous improvement of the workplace. Some of the early sensei would mandate proving sustainment for a year or two before they would proceed to the next process or area. If an organization can’t sustain its workplace organization, how can it possibly sustain and improve on other issues such as kanban quantities and practices, water spider routes, quick changeover practices, standard work, and single-piece flow?

Like the game of golf, 5S is easy to understand and yet difficult to master. It requires discipline, it requires adherence to standards, and it requires the ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances.

In his landmark book Good to Great (HarperBusiness, 2011) Jim Collins encouraged us to create a “Stop Doing List.” Organizationally, we can think of this as the first S—sorting out  common and traditional business practices that are thwarting efforts to master 5S. For this sorting out we need to ask, “What practices or behaviors within our organization are preventing us from achieving 5S mastery?” Long-held managerial and organizational behaviors and practices must be challenged! Root causes as to why 5S hasn’t been mastered in order to drive further improvement need to be analyzed. These might include:
• The sole focus of a 5S KPI
• Ramifications of not achieving the 5S KPI
• Addiction to pursuing 5S in too many areas before proving the ability to sustain it in even one area
• Lack of management involvement
• The batch mindset in performing spot checks instead of checking continuously
• The departmental focus that kills the ability to sustain and improve shared areas
• Lack of coaching

Whatever the causes may be for your lack of 5S mastery, put them on your “Stop Doing List” today. Stop doing them so that a culture of true continuous improvement can be sustained. To summarize:

So you can’t seem to truly master 5S?
1. Try “1S” and STOP
2. Determine root causes by challenging traditional practices and behaviors
3. Create a “stop doing” list and put the root causes on it
4. Choose one focus area to achieve a working sustainment and continuous improvement process as quickly as possible
5. Begin PDCA all over again

5S is an incredibly important element of any lean transformation, but rarely is it given the importance it deserves. If you can’t truly master 5S as it is meant to be mastered, sometimes the best approach is to just... stop!

First published Sept. 21, 2015 on the Kaizen Institute blog.


About The Author

Mike Micklewright’s picture

Mike Micklewright

Mike Micklewright has been teaching and facilitating quality and lean principles worldwide for more than 25 years. He specializes in creating lean and continuous improvement cultures, and has implemented continuous improvement systems and facilitated kaizen/Six Sigma events in hundreds of organizations in the aerospace, automotive, entertainment, manufacturing, food, healthcare, and warehousing industries. Micklewright is the U.S. director and senior consultant for Kaizen Institute. He has an engineering degree from the University of Illinois, and he is ASQ-certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, quality auditor, quality engineer, manager of quality/operational excellence, and supply chain analyst.

Micklewright hosts a video training series by Kaizen Institute on integrating lean and quality management systems in order to reduce waste.


Right ON!


Right on!  I have seen more "transformations" than I care to count fail because of lack of "Leadership" (i.e., management) understanding, skills, and resources applied.  Everyopne is still looking for "instant pudding" of which, I was told many years ago, there is none!