The Journey Starts with 5s

If you’re anything like me, you might enjoy the attribute of mild OCD and relate to the idea of everything has a place and everything in its place. This is 5s in a nutshell. Although I’m making it sound simple, googling the term “5s” results in roughly 345 million hits. Understanding this valuable workplace concept that everyone has an opinion about is easier said than done. But let me offer what I know about the topic and you can decide for yourself what 5s really means.


Diving into the discussion of 5s begins with the “5” itself. There are differing opinions on whether the definition should include safety; meaning that some say it should be 6s instead of 5s. The frameworks and the models for both arguments are out there, but the traditional definition is what I hold to: sort, set, shine, standardize, sustain. In every workplace endeavor there should be an underpinning of safety already – that must happen before, during, and after 5s.


Once the foundation of safety is understood, the basic principles of 5s slowly unravel into every area of the workplace. At its core, 5s is an effort to improve the quality of what we do, and an opportunity to observe incremental improvements in efficiency. That having been said, a fundamental piece of understanding is missing if the reasoning and importance of 5s is lost.


5s is the attention to detail that becomes a way of ensuring efficiency. It is knowing where things are, what’s missing, why that happened. Lean manufacturing is a common sense thought process, a fresh approach to what you already do with added efficiency. There are tools to help you do it, but it all comes down to the most effective and efficient manner in which to perform a task, otherwise known as common sense.


A decade or so ago I was onsite with a customer who was telling me that our products weren’t working. Over three shifts in the next three days I worked with this client to see if we could figure out the problem. In the end, all that was needed to increase their margin, without increasing overhead or anything else, was duct tape, a cart, and a sharpie.


It came down to application of training and consistency in following the guidelines. They started bringing a cart to their workstation every day with everything they needed on it for that day. But another problem arose when the sharpie that was used to mark the job number and color kept getting lost. I calculated that thirty-nine hours a year would be lost in the thirteen seconds it took to find the sharpie! We taped the sharpie lid right where it needed to be used every time so that all they had to do was pull the marker out, write the numbers, and put it back. That’s common sense.


And while thirty-nine hours might not be a business-killing amount of time, it is an incremental improvement. It takes quite a few gold flakes to make a nugget, but isn’t it worth the time when the flakes are free and easy changes that only require observation to discover?


When training people on 5s over the years, I’ve seen that learning to think differently about what we do every day is fundamental but also a challenge. We tend to do things how we’ve always done them unless something alters our course. 5s makes us ask why we do what we do and whether it’s the best way to do it. It is an employer asking, “does everyone do it the same way?” and if the answer is “no” then asking “why not?” and “how can we change this?”.


My favorite two books on this subject are, “Getting the Right Things Done” by Pascal Dennis and “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. The most recent editions are the best because they really do make it relevant for today.


After reading these books and coming to know the principles, I am now able to help my clients reduce their costs while improving the possibility of growth in the future. My first suggestions are to look at a work center and a process map, and document the current state in that work center. This creates a step-by-step visual map of what the company does and every variation of it. In other words, the information found in all of our work centers begin with “read the work order.” It isn’t enough to think that you know what to do, be sure that you know and that you’re doing it the same way every time.


It is a bit of dissection, this process of breaking down your days down into smaller pieces. But it ensures that you aren’t making assumptions about what you do versus what you think you do, leaving things out, or working inefficiently. It means learning the intricacies of each step. If you follow this advice and dig into these details, I recommend putting post-it notes on the wall while observing because it invariably ends with moving things around. After this temporary phase, the best solution is permanently documented and becomes standard operating procedure. The hardest part about changing a process in this manner is that there can be no dissention. In other words, you can’t agree to disagree or have some doing it one way and others doing it differently. Everyone has to be on board with it or it won’t work.


The reasoning behind requiring everyone to be on exactly the same page is a practical, well-documented thought process. It’s quite simple: once the change has been implemented, inconsistency in procedure is almost always the cause for failure. Occasionally it can be human error, but that’s a rare case. It’s a startling eighty to eighty-five percent of all failures that occur as a direct result of gaps in the process. So if you look at the four fundamentals of any failure – man, method, material, and machinery – that percentage is based on incorrect or inefficient methods taking place. Do you have a detailed process laid out? If so, inconsistency in those procedures is likely your culprit.


That inconsistency is often noticed when a product failure has gone or is going to a customer and the problem becomes more immediate – what can you do right now to get a better product to the customer? But really the recurrence of the issue is what we need to avoid. How can we prevent this from happening in the future? Identifying, assessing, and analyzing root causes through data gathering should be the initiative. In most instances, you will have one underlying cause with six to ten corrective actions. A full root cause analysis gives you the opportunity to change procedures and take error-improving action.


The list of examples is endless, but some common solutions include adding or removing paperwork, documentation for customer service, quality checks a step prior to the workstation, an additional quality check at the midway or end point, or it could be as simple as the data that you write down. To press home the point: Pamarco had 9 failures in 2013. We had 3 in 2015. In 2016, we had 0. Then we hired new people and went back up to 9 before we reconfigured.


Pamarco would like to help our clients find their stride. We want to go beyond products. Instead of stopping there, let Pamarco build your confidence and help your company grow through the same concepts that have helped us improve. Contact me at jeffrey.hemme@pamarco.com with any questions or thoughts.


Author : Jeffrey Hemme

Questions or comments?
404.691.1700 ext 105 or katie.graham@pamarco.com.

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