Use 5S to Lean Out Your Value Stream

There is something fundamentally wrong with the western approach to using lean tools.  It is obvious in many businesses that managers only use Lean Manufacturing methods within operations and not in the overall business structure.  The truth is a business can benefit from the use of lean tools in every area and process of the organization.  To demonstrate this concept, we will take a new look at using 5S in an organization.

5S (Sort, Store, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) has the appearance of only being suited for our offices, work stations, assembly lines, and warehouses.  It also is typically only practiced in a physical way through cleaning and organizing our environments.  What I would like to propose is that 5S can be used as a tool for your entire business or value stream.  

For the readers who are not familiar with what a value stream is, here is a simple explanation.  A Value stream is your whole process or section of the process starting with your customer order and ending with the delivery of a product or service.  A value stream map is a bird’s eye representation of the flow of information, materials, and your product or service from demand to delivery using a modified version of a flow chart.  

Once a value stream map is drawn and understood it can become the attention of your 5S activities.  Look at it this way, your value stream is essentially your work environment represented by shapes, symbols, and data.  So that means 5S can be a simple tool your organization uses to eliminate waste and streamline your process.

Step 1, Sort:  Take your current state value stream map and target waste, processes that are unnecessary, obsolete steps, double handling of materials or information, and work that your customer does not pay for (Non-Value Add, NVA).  Once identified, decide what to do with each.  Throw it away, redesign it, combine it with something else, or add value to it.

Step 2, Store:  Some of your targets from the previous step will require you to take a piece that does not belong and place it where it does.  Some processes are distanced from steps that are related, so storing it means to put it in the right place.  Just as your tools or supplies should have a place at your desk or workstation, your processes should also have a place that makes sense for your business.

Step 3, Shine:  Normally a step described by the use of a broom or mop, shine can be used to get into the details of your value stream.  Use it to clean up the subtasks within a process.  Shine can also be viewed as a way of refreshing an old but successful process.

Step 4, Standardize:  It is important that your business operate off of a system of standards.  In manufacturing the standardize step involves using standard work documents, schedules for work, color codes, labeling, and so on.  Every business however should standardize their communication and how information moves within the organization.  This can include examples such as standard documents, procedures for manager approval, purchase orders, taking vacation, and hiring just to name a few.  The important piece of standardize is that your business operates in the same way no matter what position, job, or department.  It leaves guess work out and removes the waste of searching, double handling, and unnecessary tasks.

Step 5, Sustain:  Once waste is removed, things are in their place, and there is a standard that runs throughout, plans must be made to sustain the improvements.  The truth is when standards disappear they will never come back.  The goal here is to manipulate your value stream into a future state that sustains itself as much as possible.  You can do this by eliminating choices, automating as much as possible, and by tying steps together.  

The end result of your 5S activities on your value stream should be an ideal future state that represents the goals of the business.  This is a simple way to begin using lean tools for your entire business.  An organization that uses this approach and fully completes each step will find itself as good if not better than many businesses who have been practicing lean for years.  Plus you do not need a complicated improvement system or a team of specialists in order to be successful.

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