Introduction to Lean 3S

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Lean 5S is a productivity tool that dates back to Henry Ford and Toyota in the early 1900s. It primarily accomplishes two things:

  1. It makes work “flow” easily due to thoughtful organization, cleanliness, and standardization.
  2. It makes problems and abnormalities immediately visible.

The five practices of 5S come from five Japanese words that when translated into English all start with the letter “S.” These practices are summarized in the table below.

Activity*
Description
Sort
Keep only the essential tools and items on-hand; remove everything else.
Straighten
Make sure all items are organized and have a designated home.
Sweep
Regularly clean and tidy-up the workplace so that work is unambiguous and unhindered. Inspect for problems as you go.
Standardize
Set standards throughout the organization for how to accomplish the first three S’s
Sustain
Sustain the first four S’s and conduct audits to maintain discipline.

*The equivalent five Japanese words are seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.

Note: a variant of lean 5S is 3S, which is often popularized among organizations following the model of Paul Akers and 2 Second Lean. This is discussed at the end.

Our Best 5s Training Videos (Below)

An Introduction to Lean 5S

Practicing 5S is not difficult but it does require consistent action and dedication. It’s wasteful and even damaging to run 5S like a project. Instead, it must become a part of everyday life in an organization.

10 Reasons Why You Need 5S Training (Comedy)

In simple terms, we need lean 5S because without it life is frustrating! It’s difficult to get anything done when you can’t find what you need, when something is buried under a bunch of junk, or when things are endlessly getting dirty.

Sort, and Get Rid of the Crap!

Sort is very straight-forward: get rid of all the junk that you don’t need to do your work. It gets in the way, hides problems, and jeopardizes quality and efficiency. Use a red tag system if you need to, or consider implementing a “question box” or “junkyard” to aid your ongoing efforts.

Straighten, and Organize Your Stuff!

Straighten is about placing every needed item in the optimal place for work and “flow.” This is why some people call this S “set in order.” You will also hear the saying, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” When that is the case, work is easy. You can find exactly what you need, when you need it.

Sweep, and Clean Things Up!

The obvious message of sweep is to clean and tidy things up. This serves to promote safety and efficiency in the workplace. But there’s something else about sweep that is equally important: inspecting for problems. One of the major goals of lean 5S is to find problems so that they can be addressed and solved. This only happens when we pay attention to our workplace, ask the question “why,” and focus on improvement.

Standardize, and Make Practices Clear!

Standardization is an underappreciated practice. It is absolutely essential to become lean. People who are just starting off on their lean journey could focus on standardizing practices for months before worrying about trying making things better. The clarity alone is critical and brings tons of benefits. If you want to do well with lean, create the habit of standardizing everything. Make it so simple and easy that a child could do it! And then learn to do it rapidly.

Sustain, and Don’t Give Up!

“Sustain” is exactly what you’d think it’d be—it’s about being consistent and not giving up. Don’t treat the disciplines of 5S as a project or once-a-year activity. Even if you do it every day, don’t get lazy and let it decay. You’ve got to keep it up if you’re going to see results that stick in the long term.

Some organizations sustain their efforts by adding periodic audits of 5S practices. This is commonly done with a simple and flexible checklist. Gemba walks and leader standard work can also assist in sustaining elements of lean culture.

A Simplification of Lean 5S

3S is a simplified version of 5S containing only sort, sweep, and standardize. It is popular among proponents of Paul Akers’ 2 Second Lean. If you’re interested in an introductory video specific to lean 3S, watch it here on YouTube.

Which one is better? 3S or 5S? That’s really up to you and how you use it. However, we have observed that some companies embracing 3S are still doing the remaining two S’s of straighten and sustain–they are just silent. For example, straighten occurs in some companies practicing 2 Second Lean during their daily “lean and clean” or “improvement period.” And sustain occurs via the daily meeting.

To learn more about 2 Second Lean, click here.

You can also view each of these training videos from our YouTube playlist.

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