How to Implement Lean Manufacturing – Sort and Shine (5S): Part 1

Rick Bohan

In my next several posts, I’m going to be talking about good ol’ 5S.

I did a keyword search this morning on “lean manufacturing”.  I got a list of terms with data that told me how many times each term is searched for on Google.  Which term do you suppose has more Google searches, “5S” or “Lean manufacturing”?  Well, the winner is…5S.  Yep, I was surprised, too.  I think it says that, while folks are still eager to learn about lean manufacturing in general, they’re even more eager to learn how to implement the tools.

Workplace organization is fundamental to any lean manufacturing implementation.

I’ll tell you now, I approach 5S differently from the way it’s usually presented.  I’ve found that supervisors and managers have a difficult time wrapping their heads and hands around 5S all at once.  I’ve also found that it’s hard to teach 5S all at once.  Yeah, it’s easy enough to go through each of the S’s and give a quick definition and a bit of overview but…then what?

So, I’ve broken it up into two phases: Sort and Shine, then Straighten and See.  What about Standardize and Sustain, you ask?  Well, as you’ll see they are embedded into those two phases.

The goal of the Sort and Shine phase is to…well, sort and shine.  It’s pretty straightforward and doesn’t take much training.  That said, given how long I’ve seen the phase take some clients to complete, the Sort and Shine phase can be difficult to implement effectively.

Planning the Sort and Shine Phase

5S Planning
Planning the Sort and Shine Phase.

As straightforward as this phase is, it takes a bit of planning.  Here are the planning steps you’re going to need to
carry out:

  1. Get a map of the plant or facility and divide the area into Sort and Shine Areas.
  2. Assign responsibility for each area to a Sort and Shine Team.  Assign a Leader to each team.
  3. Direct each team to develop a Sort and Shine Implementation Schedule.
  4. Have the teams conduct a Sort and Shine Self Review regularly.

I’m going to spending some time on each of these components in upcoming posts so I won’t go into lots of detail here.  I will say that your planning needs to include some discussion as to just how you as leaders will assure that all this actually gets done.

At this point, you would be forgiven for thinking, “How hard can that be?  It’s sorting.  It’s shining.  What’s the big deal.  Of course, my supervisors and employees will follow through!”

My experience is that Sort and Shine highlights the very worst of typical manufacturing organizational cultures.  Let me give some examples..

One client did a good job of planning the Sort and Shine phase as per the steps above.  Each area had a team and a 5S team leader.  Each area had an implementation schedule clearly posted.  The owners were adamant that the schedules be followed.  And yet…whenever I went out to an area when its schedule said the team would be engaged in 5S, the machinery would be running.  I brought this up at Steering Committee meetings.  One of the owners said, “The only person who can keep an area running rather than doing its Sort and Shine is ME!”  I figured this would solve the problem.  It continued.  No kidding, even with this level of support, the areas would keep running product when scheduled to be conducting Sort and Shine.  It took a change of plant managers (the first one retired), the firing of an an off-shift supervisor and several months to get the teams to actually carry out their schedules.

I’ve never had a case where Sort and Shine took less than several months and it usually takes a year or more.  Mind you, it’s not because Sort and Shine is difficult to do or difficult to track.  But most manufacturers (the smaller ones especially, I think) have strong cultures of what I call “manufacturing heroism”.  They don’t have strong cultures of planning, problem solving, or follow-through.  Sort and Shine calls for LOTS of follow through.

What’s the answer then?  It starts with the assumption that, bless their busy hearts, the supervisors and workers will continue to do what they’ve always been rewarded for doing:  running product or figuring out why the product wasn’t running at the moment.  Any activity that isn’t closely related to one or another of these efforts will be put WAY down the “to do” list.  This means that leadership will need to help them bring it way UP the to do list.

They do that by taking the trouble themselves to have the Sort and Shine schedules posted in their office, then walking out onto the plant floor to see if it’s actually being adhered to.  They do that by walking out on the plant floor to give feedback on the progress they see (or don’t see) in each area.  They do that by talking with the Sort and Shine leaders about their roles and the joys and trials of carrying them out.  They do that by actively rewarding the supervisors, team leaders, and teams that show energy and commitment to the Sort and Shine phase.  Attention to these sorts of activities and behaviors need to be part of the Planning for Sort and Shine.


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