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  • Writer's pictureBill Greider

5S: Spring Cleaning Lean-style

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

Before I start, I would like to remind everyone that 5S (or 6S for those who like to include safety) is probably one of the very most difficult of all of the lean "tools" to master. It is not about housekeeping; it is about gaining agreement (the hard part) for standard work.

OK, having said that, there is something energizing about throwing open the windows in the house after a long hard winter. Opening them, and then cleaning them inside and out. Turn off the heat in the house and open every window and let the entire house smell like a sunny Spring day. Nothing like taking the rugs out and beating them clean, and going through all of the winter clothing to donate anything we didn't actually wear. The garage, the lawn, the basement, the attic....anything that doesn't belong gets picked up and taken to the curb, the dump, or the new compost pile.

Most people do 3S in the Spring. Sort, when in doubt, throw it out. Set, anything left has it's own place, and Shine, with a broom, glass cleaner, some paint maybe. 5S is so very hard because it is really about gaining agreement. Imagine doing Sort at home without gaining agreement? One time I did Sort without gaining agreement with my wife, Seems I Sorted my wife's grandmother's rocking chair along with a few antique dolls, and somehow found myself fishing in a dumpster in the middle of the night to de-Sort them.

What if we use the rest of the Spring season to focus on doing 5S at work? Can we apply heijunka (load levelling-the tortoise vs. the hare) to this? Many of my clients use their A3 board to do 5S "1S at a time". For example, an A3 may be called "Sort Tool Room". The A3 team consists of the people in the Tool Room, and they meet for 20 minutes per day for as long as it takes to do Sort. A3 is all about gaining agreement anyway, so why not engage the team in a little red tagging?

Doing 5S one S at a time is also a good way to give A3 leaders a bit of a break. I know in my own company we would ride our best A3 leaders like a rented pony. Complaints, defects, overburdens....lots of fastballs high and tight to hit out of the park. Nothing like a softball once in awhile. I know I said 5S is one of the most difficult of the lean tools, but not with an A3 team with a leader good at leading teams, because they've done it dozens of times.

A3 makes 5S very visible, and also creates urgency. Once 1S is done, simply move onto 2S, 3S, etc. When you get to standardize and sustain, another perfectly good A3 is "4S: Develop Walk Around Checklist for the Toolroom." Even the checklists should be developed by gaining agreement with the people who work in the area.

Take it from me, gaining agreement will keep you from dumpster diving!

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