Is 5S Implementation At All Possible in Non-manufacturing?

It is no wonder that the service industries sometimes feel disoriented in the world of management-speak regarding business improvement. There is so much jargon floating around – ‘Six Sigma’, ‘5S’, ‘Kaizen’, ‘JIT’, ‘Kanban’ and so on. They do not commonly realize that these concepts are often as applicable to them as to the manufacturing sector.

It is true that the so-called ‘lean methods’ and other kaizen-style management practices initially proved their worth in the manufacturing sector. However, they are equally applicable to the service sector, provided some small adjustments are made.

Let’s take 5S for an example. 5S is a lean management concept which stands for 5 Japanese words beginning with the letter S. these are:

  1. Seiri (organizing or arranging things)
  2. Seiton (putting things in order)
  3. Seiso (cleaning)
  4. Seiketsu (standardization)
  5. Shitsuke (discipline)

But to make them easy to remember, we might use some rough English translations, also beginning with S:

  1. Sort
  2. Set in order
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain

The first ‘S’, ‘seiri’, refers to the task of sorting out the needful from the unnecessary, and discarding the former. It often turns out that stuff that seems useful initially, or has traditionally been considered a part of the work environment, is actually an impediment to work, and creates tension and friction in the workflow. ‘Seiri’ refers to their identification and subsequent removal from the workspace.

Next, ‘seiton’. This is the dictum that one must set the work area such that ‘seiri’ becomes possible, and anyone not natively belonging to that space can come in and find necessary items. This, of course, entails meticulous labeling of each piece of equipment, or, in the case of non-manufacturing industries, each device and instrument (whether material or conceptual) involved in the processes.

‘Seiso’ is cleaning up your workplace in an intelligent manner. A clean workspace stimulates the workflow, and livens up the work environment. So housekeeping must be a part of any workspace, and it is the responsibility of the workers to clean up after work in a way that also reviews ‘seiri’ and ‘seiton’.

‘Seiketsu’ standardizes the first three ‘S’-s once they are firmly in place. Processes and checklists are created and posted visibly in every work area, and workers are required to review them periodically to ensure that the daily requirements of ‘seiri’, ‘seiton’ and ‘seiso’ are being fulfilled. Thus the best practices are standardized across the work environment.
And lastly, ‘shitsuke’ strives to maintain that all-important discipline among workers without which no implementation of 5S can ultimately be sustained. Quality, cleanliness and safety are all finally dependent upon how successfully the workers have imbibed the spirit of discipline.

As becomes clear from the above exposition, 5S requires careful planning based on detailed observation and collection of data. There is no magic formula for successful 5S. It is a slow and gradual process. Each organization must find out its own golden mean through precise measurements and intelligent analysis in interactive workshops known as ‘kaizen events’.

And that is probably the greatest difficulty that the non-manufacturing sector faces in trying to implement 5S. It is easy to observe, measure and record processes in a manufacturing unit. But non-manufacturing industries rarely have a natural measurement system. There is also considerable difficulty in recognizing what constitutes a process.

One formula that they can use is known as SIPOC. This is an abbreviation from the first letters of the five basic elements of production. And it must be remembered that even non-manufacturing industries are producers – not of material goods, but of services and social value.

SIPOC stands for Supplier, Input, Process, Output and Customer. In manufacturing, it is trivial to discern who is who and what is what. In other industries, it may take some careful observation and intelligent consideration to find out the Supplier, Input, Output and Customer. The issue may even be complicated by the fact that sometimes the Supplier may be the Customer – as is often the case in banking or healthcare.

However, once these have been ironed out, and the other four elements have been identified and labeled, what remains must be the PROCESS.

The task that then remains is to find out how best to apply 5S to that process.

Hundreds of non-manufacturing companies have already successfully implemented 5S to their processes, with astonishing savings in cost, time and human resource. These include public sector services, like government offices and courts of law. Implementing 5S in non-manufacturing is therefore no longer the chimaera it once was, but fully achievable with a little careful planning and intelligent thinking.

Peter Peterka is President of Lean Six Sigma US. For additional information on Six Sigma Green Belt or other Six Sigma Black Beltprograms contact Peter Peterka.

Author: Peter Peterka Google

Published 09/3/2008

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