Don’t Make These Three 5S Mistakes

Rick Bohan

people cleaning

I’ve noticed that I get a lot of hits whenever I post about 5S.  (“Lot of hits” being relative when ten hits a day for the blog as a whole is a lot.)  I confess that I’m a bit surprised about this; 5S is the most straightforward of the lean tools.  I sometimes tell clients, jokingly, that my 5S training takes about ten seconds:

“First, you Sort out everything you don’t need.  Then Straighten up and Shine what’s left.  Standardize where you put things and how you check if they’re still there.  Then Sustain all this next week.  There.  Now, go do it.”


That said, I’ve found that 5S can, in fact, be difficult to implement.  I’ve made my share of mistakes and I’ve seen the bad results of others’ errors. Here are some of those mistakes.

1.  Use “5S” and “housekeeping” in the same sentence.  

I’ve learned that housekeeping efforts have a bad history in most organizations.  Somebody gets fed up with the mess on the shop floor and pushes a housekeeping effort for about a week, after which everything goes back to “normal”.  5S isn’t housekeeping.  Don’t confuse the two and don’t let your associates confuse the two.  Housekeeping is about tidiness and cleanliness and both are good things.  But 5S is about process control.  Good housekeeping is a happy by-product of 5S but it’s not the primary goal.

2.  Make a bunch of shadowboards and put them up

I wish a had $5 for every empty shadowboard I’ve seen.

I was at a client plant several years back, talking with the plant manager, out on the shop floor, next to a large, empty shadowboard.  He was telling me that the empty shadowboard was evidence that his 5S program wasn’t working.  I asked him, “Did you think the shadowboard was going to gather up the tools for you?”

Don’t mistake the tools you use to make 5S easier for the 5S initiative itself.

3. Hold a 5S class, send everyone to it…then don’t hold them accountable for results

I went on a sales call once where the potential client was asking for 5S re-training.  It seems they sent all their supervisors to a two-hour workshop on 5S but were disappointed to find that none of them were actually doing anything with what they had “learned”.  Mind you, nobody had followed up with the supervisors, or had them set 5S goals, or included progress of 5S in supervisor’s performance evaluations.  The company just figured that a quick class was all that was needed to implement 5S.  It didn’t work for them and it won’t work for you.

Few things will test your ability to promulgate lasting culture change like a 5S implementation.  You can make it a bit easier on yourself by avoiding these all-too-common mistakes.


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