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How 5S’s Spell Success in the Warehouse

Dec. 6, 2013
A 5S program can engage and motivate people to make themselves and their organization more efficient.
If parents would take the time to break down the 5S process for their kids it might be easier to get them to clean their rooms. 5S provides an easy way to get over the biggest hurdle to a project: getting started. It brings organization to the sometimes intimidating tasks inherent in a job:

Sift – Keep only what you need, get rid of what you don’t!

Sort – Get organized, put things in order!

Shine – Clean, clean, clean!

Standardize – Create a system, do things the same; make things make sense!

Sustain – It only works if you keep it going!

With this structure you can 5S almost anything, from just a drawer to an entire warehouse. But let’s take a room, for example. You would likely start by clearing out trash or things you don’t need (Sift).  Then you would put things away in some fashion (Sort) and that should lead to cleaning (Shine).  It would be best if we were then able to standardize (4th S) and sustain (5th S), but even if we did not do those last two, we have hit 3 of the 5 S’s.

If you find you are having trouble and just cannot seem to get your warehouse reorganization project going, obstacles must be getting in the way of progress.  Here are some tips that you might find helpful to remove those obstacles:

Start Small – If you were told to oversee a project to 5S an entire warehouse, you might feel a sense of dread, being overwhelmed, or both.  That is a clear barrier to getting started.  Start small, 5 S an area first; you can even start with just a shelf.  Small is also easier to learn to sustain.  Big projects tend to get completed, and then slide back to the condition they were in before the project.

Before and After - Take pictures and keep records.  We tend to make more progress in 5 S than we remember.  By taking pictures you and others can see the impact of what you have done.  Pictures also help keep you motivated as losing motivation means losing project momentum.  Keeping records of what project you are doing and why can also help lead to standardization.

Involve Other People – If those around you do not understand what you are doing, they cannot help you improve or maintain it.  They may inadvertently disrupt your 5S area by putting things in that do not belong.  People often do this not realizing they have pushed back your progress.  Clean spaces can fill with new clutter so by involving people and helping everyone understand your project they may help you or even take on 5S projects of their own.

More visual, more better! – Grammar aside, making projects very visual can aid others in helping them understand the intent.  You can do this by using tape outlines for where things go or by labeling areas with words and/or pictures.  If people understand your 5 S because it is visual, they will help sustain it.

Keep It Simple and Easy – If it is simple and easy, more people will follow the 5S process.  Complicated techniques usually create unnecessary frustration.  Not only are they more difficult to follow but they are also more difficult to standardize and sustain.  Without the 4th and 5th S, we just cleaned something that will need all the work done again shortly.

Limit Your Number of Starting Projects – Getting one or two projects going successfully feels great.  It may create so much excitement that you take on too many new projects in order for you to keep making progress on all of them.  A good rule of thumb is limit start up projects to no more than 3 new at a time (until you reach “Sustain”).  You have limited capacity, so be aware of limits and aim to maintain effectiveness.

Perfect is NOT the objective, IMPROVEMENT is. – If the goal somehow becomes a race for perfection, frustration is a more likely outcome than a successful project.  Aim for consistent progress, that’s good 5 S.  Congratulate yourself and others periodically for moving forward; it helps keep up energy around the project.

5 S Fridays – Create a habit.  Pick a specific time and day every week to dedicate to 5 S.  Try one hour every Friday, 5 S Fridays, for example.  5 S is a lot about discipline to the process, this is a great way to instill that discipline.  Build the habits that lead to the routine of sustaining what you achieve through 5 S.

Keep it FUN! – 5 S is a process that works best when it becomes part of your everyday life.  Although it is work, you should keep it fun.  Make games out of improvements, share wins with others on 5 S projects.  How about a “Who has the cleanest area?” challenge or a “Best 5S action of the week” contest?  Fun makes people want to do and continue to do it.  Continuing to do it is sustaining, the 5th and most important S!

Like most tools, 5S is only effective when you start using it.  The concept is easy so people take it for granted.  5S is easy as you learn to build it in small steps, but it is only helpful if you use it.  Failure to use the tool does not get you anywhere.  Follow these tips to help get and keep you going.

Get small projects started and facilitate growth of using the tool.  Focus on attaining small, consistent wins in establishing 5S in your areas and processes.  Continue to focus on expanding your 5S horizons.  Keep those pictures and records because if you keep rolling out 5S, you will be amazed at what you accomplish.

Keith Ingels is service manager in the service department of  Carolina Handling, LLC (, an authorized Raymond dealer.