How LEAN and 5S Can Improve the Productivity of Your Business

5s-posterEvery business is—or should be—interested in finding ways to cut costs and increase profits while still providing a quality product for its consumers. Many components of a business are essentially beyond a company’s control, so one of the only real options for a business that wants to lower its costs is to streamline its efficiency and productivity. Two excellent practices any company can use to increase its efficiency while maintaining a quality product are known as the 5S and LEAN techniques. Both of these strategies were developed within the manufacturing industry; however, the principles are applicable to any type of business and will help any organization that chooses to examine itself and is interested in streamlining its property, processes and policies for greater efficiency and productivity.

Using the 5S Principles in Business

he 5S principles are derived from five concepts which are useful for everything from housekeeping to multi-million dollar companies. The five words which comprise the principles known collectively as “5S” begin with the letter “S” and are roughly translated from Japanese to English this way: sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain. The goal of the 5S principles is to help businesses get organized on the most basic but profound level and has to do with de-cluttering space in order to increase productivity. None of these concepts is particularly new or unique; however, by strictly applying each of these things, a company will able to streamline its operations in several ways.

Step 1: The first step, sorting, refers to getting rid of anything which is not essential to the running of the business. This is applicable both to office and production spaces, and it requires that a company honestly assess its own facilities. Anything that is not essential to its current production or operational needs should be removed. Just getting rid of the clutter is likely to increase the efficiency of any business, as everything will be easier to find and use.

Step 2: Set in order is the next step in this process, and this, too, is a rather common-sense approach to increasing productivity. Every item used by a company’s staff and workers should be put in a specific place that makes sense for where, by whom and how often it is used. Once all of these things are properly placed, they should be labeled so that everyone who needs or uses the items can both find them and put them away after using them.

Step 3: Shining is just what it sounds like: cleaning each work space thoroughly and then keeping it clean. This simple practice ensures that materials are always clean and ready to use, but it also allows for a simple visual inspection of the space and work materials by anyone at any time.

Step 4: In order to standardize facilities, the fourth step in the process, a company must identify any abnormalities or anomalies in the facilities or the items used by its workers and try to “normalize” them. While there are undoubtedly things which must remain aberrations, a standardized work space is more efficient, especially if that space is used by many people.

Step 5: Once all of these techniques have been implemented, companies must have a plan to implement the final step, sustaining the changes. All workers must be trained or taught how to maintain the changes of their new, uncluttered work spaces. If everyone is not invested in the changes, of course, the result will eventually be the same cluttered, inefficient space. Sustaining what has been accomplished is the key to maintaining the efficiency and productivity gains.

Using LEAN in Business

Once a business has streamlined its physical facilities, it can then implement the principles known as LEAN. The goal of the LEAN techniques is to eliminate waste, which is defined as anything that does not provide value to a customer. This process initially requires more thinking than doing, and it always keeps in the forefront the features the customer most values about the product. A company must examine the processes by which its end product is created. It is especially important, at this stage, to include representatives from the various aspects of the business to ensure that all phases of production are engaged in the discussion.

Once each step of production has been identified, the decision-makers must identify anything which causes a lapse in productivity or efficiency. Once that has been done, the company will be able to eliminate anything that does not add or create value to the final product. Some examples of inefficiency might include unnecessary movement of people or products, ineffective inventory control, excessive down time caused by any number of factors, and the amount of inventory produced. Whatever actions or procedures do not add directly to the value of the final product should be modified or eliminated.

Of course, any production system must still be able to flow smoothly and efficiently without these eliminated steps or proposed changes, so each company will undoubtedly need to experiment a bit before identifying the smoothest and most effective flow of production and achieving the maximum benefits of this process.

The Benefits of 5S and LEAN for Businesses

5s-and-leanUnfortunately, while business owners may want to be as efficient as possible, they often spend more time searching for “quick fixes” than just digging in and starting something. Both the 5S and the LEAN principles require a rigorous self-examination and the willingness to make changes. The two most significant and measurable direct benefits of utilizing these two business strategies are increased efficiency and productivity. Using the 5S techniques will help create a clean, organized work space which eliminates such time-wasters as looking for an item or a piece of equipment, cleaning or repairing items before they can be used and distracting others to ask where things are located. These procedures can also keep businesses from having to replace items simply because they cannot be found or having to repair them because they were improperly stored. Using the LEAN principles will also create a more efficient production system by eliminating anything that is unnecessary to production, such as wasted movement, overproduction of products or parts and excessive wait time anywhere in the process. In both strategies, involving everyone in the process is an added benefit, as it affirms workers at every level even as it ensures the most effective way to promote the greater efficiency and productivity of the company. Both the 5S and LEAN strategies promote thoughtful self-examination; any business that is willing to do this and then implement whatever changes are necessary to increase efficiency and productivity is almost guaranteed to succeed.

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