Management April 18, 2014 Last updated September 18th, 2018 2,446 Reads share

Use Japan’s 5-S System To Optimize Your Business

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It’s no coincidence that Japanese cars continue to outshine US vehicles in quality. The Japanese have made achieving the highest levels of quality part of their business DNA. These major guiding principles are captured in Japan’s Five “S” System.

Even if you are not a manufacturing organization, adopting these principles from the top of your org chart to the bottom will greatly increase efficiency, quality and reproducibility.

#1. Sort

The idea here is to optimize organization at every level of your business. Tour your business looking for what would be a better fit for the trash bin than the work area. Jack B. ReVelle’s “Quality Essentials: A Reference Guide from A to Z” includes a checklist that prompts users to distinguish between what is needed and what is not needed.

Sort the needed from the unneeded and toss the unneeded in the garbage. Look around for unused furniture, purge the bulletin board, chuck unneeded inventory and office supplies, and generally just be relentless.

#2. Straighten

Get everything back where it belongs. Adopt the philosophy, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Have you brought in equipment or supplies that are orphaned? In other words, they don’t really have a home. Correct those problems.

As you can see from the first two “S’s” we are getting things in order. It’s a fact that when the workplace is orderly, people are less likely to make errors. The direct result of fewer errors is greater productivity, which lowers costs and gives you a competitive advantage.

By the way, as the Japanese have discovered, higher quality is also a strong competitive advantage. In fact, people will pay a premium for the assurance of higher quality.

#3. Shine

Cleanliness is next on our list. Inspect your facilities to find the problem areas. Discover if there are areas that “fall between the cracks” and nobody is responsible for keeping them clean. Correct those deficiencies in your systems. Look at all your signage and make sure it’s in good repair.

Note that the steps we have discussed so far involve inspecting your facility and correcting problems you find. When you do this—and if you take our last step to heart, “Sustain”—you send an important message to all employees that you care about the details. That is as important as any of the individual items on these lists.

#4. Standardize

Once you have thoroughly dealt with the prior three items, you must put systems and training in place that maintain your facility at those high levels. This involves training, delegating responsibility and follow-up. The Five “S” System is not a “once and done” project.

The checklist mentioned above asks this question, “How many items can’t be located in 30 seconds?” That is a great self-check. If you, or any of your employees, find yourselves hunting for something that should have been easy to locate, find out why and correct the problem.

#5. Sustain

Once you have established the Five “S” System, keep it going. Demonstrate your commitment to it. Train new employees. Have various employees do weekly inspections to make sure the system is being adhered to.

There is no question that competition among businesses today is more keen than it has ever been. Small differences in quality and efficiency often determine winners and losers. Grab all the advantages that the Five “S” System offers your business.

Images: ”5S Methodology Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain /


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Megan Wright

Megan Wright

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