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5 Simple Steps to Lean 5S Implementation

By Admin

If you’ve been thinking about starting your company on the lean 5S journey, these initial steps will help you get your show on the road.

At R.W. Lyall, we’re about 15 years into our lean 5S journey. As you can imagine, we’ve learned a few things along the way. Probably the most important of these things has also been the simplest—you’ve got to follow a plan. 5S implementation can feel a bit like standing in front of the garage you’ve procrastinated organizing for 10 years. But never fear, the 5-step plan below is sure to get you that strong start you need.

Quick Note: In this guide, we’ve assumed you already have a basic understanding of what 5S means. If not, check out this link. Then head back here, where the following steps will give you a simple framework for process implementation.

Step 1 – Make a map

Imagine your existing processes are the starting point, and a finely tuned, smoothly run lean facility is your destination; then, draw it out—literally. A large white board works great, but so does a few pieces of printer paper taped together if that’s all you’ve got. Include your baseline productivity and other measures as part of this map.

There’s no right or wrong way to take this step. Use circles, boxes, an outline or whatever helps you start to formulate the barriers your company will face on its 5S journey. This first iteration will probably be a bit of a mess, but that’s okay. Once you feel like you’ve got a strong start, create a clean working document you and your team can refer to (and revise, if needed).

Step 2 – Create your pilot team

Put together a list of your core employees. Then schedule a meeting to give them the lowdown all at once. It’s important that you deliver your plan to the whole team at once because communication is critical in lean implementation and maintenance. Everyone should get used to working as a team.

At the meeting, make sure everyone has access to the map you created, so they can refer to it as you explain your thoughts. Be sure to allow plenty of discussion, and welcome questions. 

Step 3 – Pick your initial target

This is where the messy garage metaphor is highly illustrative. Just as you would approach the goal of an organized garage by tackling a manageable area first, so you approach lean implementation.

You’ll eventually need to sell the lean approach to your team company-wide. That said, it’s a good idea to select an area infamous for inefficiency and inconvenience—that part of the facility everyone hates to use but has to use. Get this area running lean first, and chances are you’ll be amazed by the magnitude of motivation. Of course, be sure to engage your pilot team in the selection process.

Step 4 – Train the team

Once you’ve got your best people on board and your target area selected, it’s time to get started with training. If you can swing it, it is absolutely best to hire a lean training consultant to conduct in-house training. Granted, any training will include an introduction to the basics of 5S, with an emphasis on how implementation should be applied based on your company’s goals. But the practical knowledge your team will gain through action-based, on-site training is unmatched.

Step 5 – Review

Once your target area is up and running, the team should take a step back and engage in some analysis, making sure to reference the plan map. Consider questions such as:

  • Have we achieved improvement over the baseline measures?
  • If so, how great?
  • Could the improvements be greater?
  • If so, how?
  • What do the workers in the target area think about the system?

This analysis could reveal a need to make a few adjustments to the plan map. If so, simply make the adjustments, watch and wait for a period of time and re-review. Your team may need to repeat the review process a couple of times, but that’s not a bad thing at all! It’s just part of lean implementation (and it will give you a strong understanding of the importance of tackling the target area first).

Forward march!

Piece by piece, repeat the target-area process above throughout your facility. While you’ll continually uncover the need for additional employee training along the way, your pilot team will likely be effective lean coaches early in the implementation process.

And remember, anything is do-able if approached one step at a time. So dive in with confidence and know your business has a great chance at lean success. 

Happy travels!


Want to learn more about lean 5s? Check out these blog posts:

Lean Manufacturing Cheat Sheet—Lean Lingo Explained

Shattering the Myths of Lean Manufacturing

How to Maintain Your Lean 6S Action Plan

Lean Production Brings Profits & Hope To African SMEs