Negative Impact of a 5S First Approach?

5S Safety Poster
5S Safety Poster

The common start to a lean transformation for most companies begins with the implementation of 5S. The Japanese methodology to minimize errors and mistake proof the workplace through seiri (sort), seiton (set in order), seiso (shine), seiketsu (standardization), and shitsuke (sustain) has been the ultimate starting point for any lean journey. But is there a negative impact of a 5S first approach?

A Bump in the Road

There is no arguing that the 5S process is one of the most valuable assets to lean. From the outside looking in it’s hard to see another way to make significant improvements to an operation without clean, organized, safe and standardized operations in the workplace. 5S has the ability to allow an employer to create a clean orderly environment where everything has a place and is in its place, while exposing waste and establishing a clear process to continuous improvement initiatives. Sounds like a clear starting point right?

Negative Impact of a 5S First Approach?

Maybe, but in order to truly be lean and believe in the idea of continuous improvement it would be foolish not to address some negative impacts a 5S first approach can have.

  • It can become a program instead of an on going process- 5S is not a stand alone program or should ever be seen as an end goal. It’s apart of a bigger picture that if left alone as a separate program or end result, will hinder your continuous improvement effort. The 5S role in the system should be to help drive the lean culture, taking the learned techniques and using them to improve the overall function of an operation.
  • 5S is perceived as a tool- This can be extremely detrimental to the long term goals of your lean transformation. A tool is a finished product that is subject to the purpose it was built for. 5S is an ongoing process that requires continuous thinking and learning of different ways to use the process. Labeling your 5S program as simply a tool is essentially like putting handcuffs on your ability to adapt and limiting your ability to improve.
  • Over emphasis scores instead of signs of improvement- 5S is not a race, nor a competition. Introducing a new way of doing things and backing it up with a score based performance measurement can turn a lot of employees off. Within a lean culture it only takes one employee to disengage themselves to make a negative impact on the culture. Scores represent an end game with a number, not the actual improvement being made.
  • Becomes a copycat procedure- 5S is the most popular lean method used and as a result organizations try to copy what others have done, most notable Toyota. Every organization is unique with their own problems to fix. Almost every lean method can be traced back to the Toyota Production System, but that doesn’t mean you can simply copy off their test and pass. Copying creates a narrow minded operation that lacks creativity, critical thinking and learning abilities while assuming you have the same issues as everyone else out there.

Believe in the System

It’s a delicate process anytime change is introduced into an organization’s culture. Most of these negative impacts are avoidable with the right training and management. Everyone has to understand why and how changes are going to be made and maybe more importantly, how it will benefit them. Time and time again 5S is mistaken as simply an organizational process for keeping things clean and in order. It is much more though, the big picture behind 5S is to reduce waste and create operational efficiency, allowing for an ongoing process of improvement that everyone can take part in.

A few negatives will never outweigh the positives 5S brings to the table. It’s all about how you implement it. The negatives I point out can all be overcome with proper training and implementation. Good upper management should be able to overcome any obstacle or challenges that come with a new system, as long as they believe in the system itself.

Sometimes we get caught up in only the positives of something we forget to look at the negatives. It’s hard to learn from your mistakes or improve upon something if you only listen to the people patting you on the back. We can learn a lot from our mistakes and our critics in lean and in life, just ask Benjamin Franklin.

Critics are our friends, they show us our faults

-Benjamin Franklin

Additional Resources