How to Easily Apply 5S to Your Work Station

By Dewey Dorsett | Posted on March 21, 2012

Applying 5S to Your Work Station

5S is a fundamental pillar of a Lean deployment. The 5S exercise captures core principles of the Lean philosophy that facilitate the extension and development of a lasting lean implementation. Think of it as the foundation upon which a house is built upon. While some think of it as a spring cleaning, and position it as such, it is much more. Rather than think of it as a onetime event or something that is done once a year, think of it as the beginning of a culture and process that enables the pursuit and elimination of waste from your organization.


What exactly is 5S?

Simply stated, a 5S is the structured method to organize the work place. As evidenced by its name, there are 5 steps in a 5S. These steps are:

  1. Sort: Separate those things needed for the job from those that are not needed. Examples include obsolete and expired procedures, damaged and expired inventory, defunct/old equipment, etc. At the end of sort, unneeded items are disposed of (as in gotten rid of).
  2. Set in order: For the things needed to do the job, put them in a logical order or logical placement to enhance the work process and reduce the chance of defects. The order should contribute to the reduction in excess movement, excess transportation, over processing, over production, excess inventory, excess delays and defects. These are the 7 wastes lean methods eliminate in an organization.
  3. Shine: The work area is cleaned and equipment and systems are calibrated to optimal settings such that the process is in its ideal state. At this point, measurement of the system may begin and the measurements will capture the variation of the process rather than that of the environment or the measurement system. This allows better understanding of process variation.
  4. Standardize: While there may be “many ways” to do the work, there is “one best way” to do the work. Collaboration with those in the work place and with process engineers can identify the best way to achieve the work. This should become the standard. This includes how to do the work and how to replenish the work such as thresholds to reorder and manage inventory.
  5. Systematize: Put into place the system to maintain the organization of the workplace, the upkeep of the equipment and system and the measurement, monitoring and visual control of the process. Visual control allows everyone to understand how the process is performing. This implies a ‘feedback and response’ mechanism enabling the individual to exercise more control and accountability for his/her work.

Where can I apply 5S?

The 5S begins the laying of the foundation to continuously apply lean concepts and techniques to root out waste and streamline processes.

A 5S can be applied to any work environment. It could be a supply/store in a hospital, a repair truck for a telecom company, a CSR desk/work area in a call center, the baggage claim area of an airline or a laptop computer anyone. The 5S begins the laying of the foundation to continuously apply lean concepts and techniques to root out waste and streamline processes.

An example of 5S

Let’s take the example of a hospital floor cart. The cart connects the nurse on the hospital floor to the supply/store of the hospital for common patient care supplies and special medical care supplies. The objective of a 5S exercise applied to the hospital cart would produce an end result of on time delivery of such supplies to the nursing stations. Nurses are notorious hoarders. They want to make sure they have needed supplies for their patients and inconsistent supply from the cart, whether it be the frequency of visits or the lack of supply on the cart, cause a behavior to create a ‘stash’ of supply. This hidden inventory is excess inventory. Multiplied across a hospital and network, the inventory impact can be significant. Hidden stashes of inventory lead to ‘lost’ inventory, obsolescence of inventory and damaged inventory. This further compounds the inventory problem.

Example: Applying 5S in a Healthcare Environment

A 5S of the floor cart begins with a collaboration of the nurse with the supply attendant. The two stakeholders identify what belongs and doesn’t belong on the cart. The attendant can then organize the placement of supplies on the cart by use and volume and other considerations based on procedures and good clinical practices. Shapes, separators, signs and colors may be used to keep the supplies organized on the cart. Initial inventory on the cart can be determined by expected usage and then updated after monitoring for an extended period of time. The nurse and supply attendant can set the frequency of supply and design the process and the visual control for resupply.

This collaboration assures the nurse of patient supply and reduces the need to hoard supplies. The supply attendant, in turn, coordinates with the supply store allowing the store to 5S its store space and inventory adjusting its organization and supply to floor usage. The impact can be significant from a patient care delivery proposition to the inventory control and working capital proposition.

By Dewey Dorsett
Dewey is an Executive Consultant at OT Consulting Group and has consulted and delivered outstanding results to clients in manufacturing and service industries for 16 years using Lean, and Six Sigma Supply Chain deployments in both domestic and international environments. Prior to consulting, he worked in manufacturing industries in quality, productivity and sales capacities.
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