Sustaining 5S


March 31, 2003
By Darren Dolcemascolo

Many organizations make some early 5S improvements and then slide back into their old ways of doing things. Other organizations continue to maintain their 5S programs for many years. What separates a successful 5S program from one that is headed for failure? An unsuccessful implementation of 5S was never a complete 5S implementation. The fifth “S” stands for “sustain;” if implemented completely, a 5S program will have longevity. There are three keys to successfully sustaining 5S: commitment, top management support, and performance measurement.

Key #1: Commitment. The first key is to commit to all five S’s. While this may appear to be obvious, I once had a conversation with a well-meaning executive who told me: “We are just going to implement 3S for now. We aren’t ready for all five.” The fifth “S,” “Shitsuke” in Japanese, actually translates more closely to “commitment” than “sustain.” According to Tomo Sugiyama (author of The Improvement Book), “’shitsuke’ is a typical teaching and attitude towards any undertaking to inspire pride and adherence to the standards established.” If your entire organization is not committed to 5S, your organization’s 5S program will be short-lived.

Key #2: Top Management Support. The first and second keys go hand-in-hand. Commitment is not possible without top management’s visible support for the program. All employees must believe that the organization has committed to the program. One way that we encourage top management to get involved on a continuing basis is for them to conduct quarterly 5S visits in which executives inspect each work area to 5S conditions and offer advice and support to the employees. Another effective method for demonstrating top management support is for executives to mandate and participate in visible promotion of 5S. Some ways to promote 5S include:

  • Designated 5S days: Select a day per month or per quarter to emphasize 5S throughout the plant.
  • Slogans: Select a 5S related slogan, post it in public areas throughout the plant, pass out shirts made up with the slogan to successful 5S teams, etc.

  • Public Announcements: In monthly or quarterly announcements/all-employee meetings, take some time to emphasize the importance of 5S.
  • Seminars: Have employees participate in seminars throughout the year. Some of these should be 5S related.
  • Key #3: Performance Measurement and Reward System. The third key is to measure 5S performance in each work area and set up a reward system to reward teams that achieve 5S success. Organizations that have successful 5S programs measure their performance through weekly audits using checklists and score sheets. Results of the audits are posted in public areas. This creates an atmosphere of friendly competition and will help to instill pride in the teams you’ve set up. This measurement and competition should be combined with a reward system; most successful organizations offer monthly or quarterly rewards for their teams in various 5S categories. The rewards can range from movie tickets to cash bonuses.

    These three keys are simple but powerful. Your organization must commit to all 5 of the 5 pillars. Top management must show visible support for the program. And your organization must set up a 5S performance measurement and reward system.

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