5S: A process for your business

Friday, February 19, 2016

by Rebecca Morgan, Fulcrum Consulting & AME Author

Have you ever considered taking your 5S broom to your entire business?

Most people consider 5S an entry-level lean tool for the shop floor.  They can tell you what each of the five S’s is and too often suggest that the bottom line is “a place for everything and everything in its place.” They lay down yellow tape to outline where the trash can goes, create shadow boards for tools, and issue monthly trophies.  None of that is inherently bad, but the concept behind 5S is so much more than that.  

Why settle for 5 percent of the power of 5S thinking?

Like most lean tools, 5S is a concept designed to eliminate waste. Costly clutter exists far beyond the shop floor; in fact, it exists in every aspect of even the best organizations.  

Have you 5S’d your customer base?  What about your products, and the components that go into your products?  Over time those things get just as cluttered as the shop floor, and they can certainly benefit by applying 5S thinking to them as well.

Just as some people want to hang on to tools that haven’t been used in years, so too do many companies hang on to customers that simply do not make sense for the business any longer.  Get rid of them.  They sap valuable resources better used elsewhere.

The same is true for product offerings.  It takes resources to support products that long ago lost their market luster.  Additionally, too many choices can make it hard for your customer to find just what they’re looking for.  For many companies Life Cycle Management is about birthing products, failing to ever kill them.

One client had over 50 different switches in use to accomplish the same function in very similar products.  They have reduced that to less than 10 now, and haven’t given up. Modular design can improve this problems immensely, but so can applying 5S thinking to your existing designs and part numbers.

Some of your suppliers are partners, focused on mutual benefit with you.  A quick look at your supplier lists will undoubtedly reveal companies you shouldn’t be doing business with any longer.  They can’t help you succeed and aren’t interested in your help in improving their capabilities.  Why are they still on your list?

And just as on the shop floor, 5S thinking for your business has to become a way of being – not an annual event.

5S is a thought process designed to resolve a type of problem that occurs throughout your business.  I challenge you to apply that seemingly simple tool accordingly.  You’ll be surprised by all the costly clutter that you can eliminate.