5S: The Unsung Hero of Operational Excellence

At Milliken plants, 5S has become a foundational pillar within the company's operating system. However, the key to success for a change of process like 5S is a deep regard and respect for the people involved. When this value has substance among the leadership and flows through the organization, the following "Absolutes of 5S Implementation" will greatly improve your chances of sustaining the process.

Stephen Jarman, a practitioner at Performance Solutions by MillikenBy now, most people in industry can describe the technical aspects of 5S. However, a vast majority of implementations end in a vicious DO cycle without ever getting it to "stick" because they never make it past the first three Ss -— Sorting, Straightening, and Shining. Without the last two Ss, companies lose the benefit of the process.

For instance, Milliken identified opportunities for improvements in safety and waste elimination as we were completing activities surrounding Standardization and Sustainment. Working through 5S increased morale, led to higher associate engagement, and was a trust-building activity that solidified the credibility of those leading the change. In the end, everyone at the plant had responsibility for the process and was able to acknowledge its success.

So how do you go about either starting or correcting your 5S journey? Here are five ways to ensure success:

1. Provide education and communications that offers a clear WIIFM message delivered from leadership.
Direct and honest communication is necessary to address people’s uncertainty or negative impressions of 5S. It's important to acknowledge any past implementation mistakes and to endeavor to empower process owners to define their own solutions. Find a few bright spots to use as education materials and identify a savvy 5S champion who has a passion for helping associates relate the "What's In It For Me" (WIIFM) in terms of safety, ergonomics, and wasted motions.

2. Start with standards on which the entire group agrees.
People will strive to achieve their own expectations. Include time and direction during the 5S Kaizen for associates to document their new standard and determine what is needed to maintain it.

3. Devote both time and tools for 5S.
There will always be pressure to turn labor and burden into productivity, so leadership must be clear about a daily standard time and a budget for 5S including the expectation for a Layered "Check" process as an intregral part of the leadership team's Daily Management System. The Layered Check process provides the improvement in accountability as it assigns a role for everyone in support of the 5S process.

4. Be visible; provide repeated, purposeful presence.
It's normal to be in a rush, and the practice of Managing-By-Walking-Around often takes a back seat to production. While product must get out the door, it's good to question what percentage of your work is routinely managing production activities and what percentage is harried, stressful firefighting. Many companies benchmark Milliken, a company that reduced the amount of time management was spending firefighting from 58 percent to less than half that percentage of time through a strict adherence to its performance system. Our challenge to others is to put a halt to rewarding good firefighting. Managers must model the desired behaviors for everyone, including observing and asking how 5S is, or is not, working. It's the classic "Go To Gemba" approach -– of course, keeping in mind the first principle of respect for people.

5. Position 5S as Continuous Improvement to assign it the proper value among associates.
The continuous improvement approach occurs when associates are valued, engaged, and empowered, and 5S is a foundation for so many other process improvements. If associates aren't truly involved in 5S as a culture change on a daily recurring basis, the company most likely will fail on other fronts, as well.

Posted by Stephen Jarman on Jan 27, 2012