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Special Series: Growing Lean #5

November 2, 2011  By Dale Schattenkirk

To increase efficiency, inspire your staff with the old saying – ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’

Tools organized, labelled and shadowed for easy use.


Have you ever completed a spring cleanup or organized your work space in an effort to increase productivity? Remember the pride felt by knowing where everything was and how nice it looked? This cleaned-up environment would hold steady until a mild crisis came up or you were too busy to put something in its rightful place. This is usually the start of the slow degradation of your efforts back to the original state that prompted the original cleanup!


The Lean tool used to help us not only cleans things up, but also organize them in a manner that creates a sustainable system, is called “5S.” As the name implies, there are five stages that begin with the letter “S” that we must move through. They are Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

All five steps of 5S must be completed to prevent your efforts from becoming just another spring cleanup. Additionally, 5S is a solution to a problem, not an activity unto itself. What this means is that, like any Lean initiative, it should have a meaningful purpose to the people who will be affected by it. If it is not purposeful, then creating general buy-in, engagement, and ultimately sustainability, will be very difficult.

Before you begin 5S-ing, there is some preliminary work to complete. Create a team of people who work in the area that is applying the 5S activity. Have some garbage and recycling bins available. Have the maintenance staff available to help move larger items, take down unneeded shelving, and/or remove cupboard doors, etc. As well, have a pre-designated area not far from the activity site that can be used as a “Red Tag Area.”

The first “S,” or Sort, is where the team goes through everything in the work area and decides what should stay and what goes. To be successful in the sort step, the team will need to come up with an operational definition for what should stay. The definition would be something like “anything that is used in this area at least once in the last month” would stay. This will help curtail discussion about every item.

If something is used in that area but outside the designated time frame, then the group can decide if it stays or whether there is a more appropriate location for it. This step can be very emotional for people who have been with the organization a long time, or who may be hoarders. This is why the Red Tag Area (RTA) is important. The RTA is a sort of holding area for items until it’s determined where they are going. If the team cannot decide what to do with an item, it is placed in the RTA with a tag on it identifying when it was put there and whether it works or not. If it’s not placed back in service by a certain date, it can be appropriately discarded.

The next step is Set in order, this is where the team decides the most appropriate place for each item or creates the best spot for it. The team should think of ergonomics, safety and natural work groupings as they complete this stage. Create a feedback channel, leave the items in their new locations for one to two weeks, and see what the other people in the work area think. Make any suggested improvements and then move to the Shine stage.

Shine is about creating pride in the work environment. The team would wash walls, sweep, clean up grease, paint, etc. It’s all about pride as well as an important part of creating ownership of the work area and sustainability of the change.

Once the team is satisfied with what and where everything has been placed, it’s then time to create a visual management system to make it so “anyone” will know where something is and where to put it away. The key is anyone! Visual management is achieved by placing lines on the shelf to identify where something belongs, labels to tell you what goes there, bins to hold items (labelled of course), markings on the floor for items such as pallets or auction carts, overhead signage to tell you where larger items go, or shadowing on the wall for tools. The key is anyone could walk into the area and know where to put the item away or identify that it’s missing.

The final stage – Sustain – is a validation that everything completed will be maintained and not slip back into the old mess.

Additionally, you should implement a team-based, five-minute 5S audit.

How does this work? For the first three weeks after the completion of the 5S activity, have a different team member complete the audit. The audit is simply comparison of what the area looks like on the audited day in relation to a posted picture in the area. If it matches, the audit sheet gets a “check” for that day. If something is found out of place the audit sheet is identified with an “X” and the item(s) that were out of place are replaced by the auditor. Once the area achieves a 95 per cent success rating for at least two weeks, it can then move to weekly audits.

This method of auditing creates team buy-in and understanding of the system, and the audit sheet is a great measurement system. The measures tell you that if something is consistently out of place it may not be in the right place to begin with.

It’s clear 5S is a powerful tool that any organization can benefit from when implemented consistently and with the team’s help.

Until next month, keep improving.

Dale Schattenkirk, president/CEO of LTS Consulting, has over 12 years of experience in consulting, training, development and implementation of Lean Six Sigma methodology. He is an expert in transformational change and works with all levels of the organization from frontline staff to CEOs to teach them how to apply Lean Six Sigma in their settings and what it takes to be a leader in a Lean Six Sigma organization.

He and his team were awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Award of the Saskatchewan Regional group by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC), for their success in the implementation of Lean Six Sigma within the Five Hills Health Region. He is also a recipient of Industry Week’s Top 10 Plant Award (team).

Schattenkirk began his Lean Six Sigma Journey as a trainer with a local cable making company where he was selected and trained as the LSS facilitator for the organization and travelled around North America training employees and working with teams to implement organizational change.

LTS Consulting began as a part-time venture for him. However, as demand has grown for a process improvement model successful in building an organization’s internal capacity for LSS improvement and producing quantitative results, the company expanded and was incorporated in 2006. LTS currently holds provincial contracts in six Canadian provinces.

Schattenkirk is a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, an ISO Auditor and a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP).

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