Is Your 5S Process Missing This Critical Step?

StrategyDriven Managing Your Business Article |5S Process|Is Your 5S Process Missing This Critical Step?5S, also known as workplace organization, is a method that’s used in practically every company that implements lean systems. Consisting of a five-step process for organizing work, 5S’s first order of business is called “sort” and entails removing unnecessary items from work areas. For example, obsolete supplies and equipment will be removed to free up space and leave fewer things to organize.

While sorting is a vital first step, there’s a critical issue that often gets overlooked in the process: ensuring a workforce is left with everything it needs to do its job.

Although lean principles imply that a workforce should be provided with the right materials, tools, and information, this step is not formally part of 5S. While some might think this measure goes without saying, assumptions should always be avoided.

To ensure that employees are properly outfitted, ask these questions when assessing a work area:

Are all necessary materials available:

  • When needed?
  • In the right quantity?
  • At the right quality?

Are all required tools available:

  • When needed?
  • In the right quantity?
  • In working condition?

Is all necessary information:

  • Easily available?
  • Accurate?
  • Complete?
  • Understandable?

Obviously, every answer to these questions should be “yes,” or lean efforts will be compromised. While these questions are all important, pay special attention to tool and equipment function. Check whether tools work at all, and be sure to verify:

  • Accuracy: Can the tool maintain its required precision?
  • Safety: Are all safeguards present and functional?
  • Markings: Are tool markings easily accessed and legible?

In addition to equipment function, information is generally a weak link in many operations. Two common examples of information problems include:

  • Blueprints: Are blueprints inaccurate or difficult, if not impossible, to interpret?
  • Work instructions: Are employee directives riddled with incomplete information? Do employees often ask supervisors for clarifications?

Clearly, none of the aforementioned situations are good for productivity, and they’re likely just two of many areas where information might need improvement.

While 5S is powerful, explicitly ensuring that your workforce has everything it needs will take your lean performance to the next level. Provisioning your employees is just one of many overlooked measures that will amp up your business’s performance. With continual improvement of continuous improvement, much can be accomplished!

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Sean FieldsStrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Michael SandersSean Fields and Michael Sanders are co-authors of Quantum Lean: Taking Lean Systems to the Next Level. They are a network member and the co-founder, respectively, of BeehiveFund, a nonprofit organization that assists small to medium-sized manufacturing and service businesses in areas such as production scheduling, inventory control, and quality-management systems. Learn more at

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