So…What’s Your Problem with 5S?

Photo by Jake Nebov on Unsplash

I was just responding to a post on LinkedIn that included a poll one was to respond to after reading the following question:

Picture that an exhaustive, scientific study was conducted at your company. It conclusively showed that 5S/Workplace Organization efforts require significantly more time, money, and effort than just letting people wing it. Furthermore, the study demonstrated that the cost differences are so vast that closing this efficiency gap is impossible.

If the study’s validity was beyond question, what would your decision be and why?

I responded that, while I understood that the question was based on a “thought experiment”, such study findings are impossible to imagine.

One of the post author’s goals was to get readers to reflect on the advisability of engaging in 5S without a clear understanding of its benefits.  I get that sentiment.

But the idea that 5S could “require significantly more time, money, and effort than just letting people wing it” is impossible to get my head around.  Workplace organization and visual management is probably the least expensive, highest ROI initiative an organization can carry out.  Let’s face it, all that’s required is getting rid of all the crap you don’t need, cleaning what’s left, and establishing a marked and labeled home address for everything.  That’s it.

The benefits are improved safety, improved operator satisfaction, improved throughput, reduced indirect time, and improved quality.

None of this is to say that implementing 5S is easy.  If that were the case, every manufacturing operation in the country would be clean and well organized.  (Believe me, that’s not remotely the case!)  Implementing 5S has its challenges and sustaining it certainly requires a good deal of patience, discipline, and commitment.    But that’s very different from claiming that it doesn’t have much value or that it might “cost too much”.