How do you spell “Kaizen,” the Japanese word for continuous improvement? In some circles, you can’t spell it without including five S’s.
Five S (5S) is a philosophy integral to Kaizen that focuses specifically on the people in a process. While Kaizen is often applied to optimize the flow of goods or information (flow Kaizen) or a business process (process Kaizen), the 5S process strives to improve work culture with standardized rules and procedures. 5S, together with Kaizen, seeks to “humanize” work by eliminating wasted effort, making the work itself easier and employees more productive and happier.
The 5S model emphasizes structure, order, cleanliness, standardization and a disciplined approach to sustaining the process.
The First S – Seiri (Sort)
Many reading this article have at times found themselves facing a mountain of work piled high on their cluttered desk, with a hot coffee covering their desktop calendar and those all-important Post-It notes stuck on the computer monitor and your favorite bobble-head doll.
If that sounds like you, consider Seiri. Seiri is based on the premise that employees are distracted by unnecessary objects in the workspace, reducing their productivity. Instead of various projects heaped on your desk in various stages of completion, they’re organized into folders by priority with the “top” priority project on top. The Post-It notes are acted upon, filed or discarded accordingly, and your workspace actually contains space in which to work.
The Seiri motto: When in doubt, throw it out.
The Second S – Seition (Set in Order)
Seiri prepares you and your team for the next step: Seiton. Seiton is the process of placing objects in the right place for action. In a supermarket, Seiton takes place every time products are rotated on shelves, making it easier for shoppers to grab products that might otherwise expire and lead to greater inefficiencies when they must be removed and discarded.
It’s also about placing work and related tools near each other to boost efficiency. In an advertising agency, you might sort work by the medium it’s focused on and the team specializing in that medium, or by the industry or client the project relates to and the team most familiar with that industry or client. The idea is to get the right work before the right people who are equipped with the right tools and information.
The Seition motto: A place for everything, and everything in its place.
The Third S – Seiso (Shine)
Seiso is based on the notion that a clean workplace is safer, has less distractions and is more rigorously maintained, since the act of cleaning requires close inspection of the items being cleaned.
The need for cleanliness is obvious in hospital settings, food service, the hospitality industry, computer chip fabrication and the like – but the inherent discipline of cleaning your workspace translates well into other efficiencies no matter what sort of work is being accomplished. A clean workspace is undoubtedly more organized, safer and shows respect for oneself and coworkers.
The Seiso motto: Clean and inspect, or inspect through cleaning.
The Fourth S – Seiketsu (Standardize)
Standards help ensure that whatever improvements are made using Kaizen or the 5S approach to continuous improvement become the norm and not a one-and-done event. Standards are always followed “by the book.” Once a process is proven to be optimal, it’s standardized.
Standardization means you don’t have to continually “re-invent” the process from the beginning. It saves time that can be used to creatively improve the process going forward, using the 5S approach.
The Seiketsu motto: Make, follow and enforce the rules.
The Fifth S – Shitsuke (Sustain)
Shitsuke is the process by which new processes are adopted and encouraged to become habitual. A degree of discipline is required to ensure continuous implementation of newly standardized processes, and this often involves frequent measurement and periodic audits.
Without Shitsuke, all the knowledge gained during the previous four steps can be lost. It’s easy, once improvements are attained, to become complacent and forget the “continuous” part of “continuous improvement.”
Shitsuke should, therefore, include encouragement. Evangelize the benefits new procedures provide, and coach employees to apply continuous improvement principles to their jobs. Show them how and 5S benefits them through:
Cutting waste. Wasted time and resources are assets no longer available to employees. By cutting waste, they gain time and free up resources to more easily achieve goals.
Higher productivity. This is a natural result of eliminating waste.
Better quality. Improved quality is the opposite of waste. It improves when workers are free to focus on it rather than on “putting out fires” started by wasteful practices.
Improved safety. With its emphasis on order and cleanliness, 5S inherently improves safety. Encourage staff to consider safety in every step of the 5S process.
Engaged, happier employees. When everyone can contribute openly to positive changes, all are empowered. This fosters participation, and with it, employee satisfaction that inevitably translates into customer satisfaction.
The Shitsuke motto: Make it part of everyday work, and it will become a habit.
Kaizen is the word for “good change,” and like Kaizen, 5S brings about positive changes. Arrange the letters however you wish, but embracing these tandem philosophies always spells “success.”
The Five S’s in ‘Kaizen’
was written by me, Greg Norton – also known as webzenkai. I’ve got more than two decades’ experience building effective websites and powerful email campaigns that yield results. Feel free to contact me regarding this article or anything else you find on this website.