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Visual Cues in the Workplace: Streamline Operations Using 5S Concept

No, 5s doesn't refer to the new gotta-have-it iPhone. It's a system for making the workplace a safer place to be. The "5s" concept focuses on eliminating all unnecessary things from the workplace so that they're not cluttering up the place - creating a potential for an accident. 

In this sense, the 5s system is a way to make the workplace much more efficient. In a way, it's a sort of business-class housekeeping. Everything in the company is sorted, cleaned up, repurposed or organized, cleaned, and then the entire system is maintained through regular compliance audits or reinforcement from management. The system originates from the Japanese business model, and it's what accounts for the immaculate nature of how they conduct business affairs. 


Sorting is the first step. When you sort out items, you're looking for the most important things necessary to complete the task in the area where work is being done. 

Let's assume you run a factory. There are machines in there, but there are also a lot of other things that may or may not belong in there. You may have storage boxes, employee belongings, and trash that's been accumulating for some time now. 

All of the items that don't need to be there will be wrapped with red tape. So, let's say you've got machinery that employees need to do their jobs. That's fine. But, what about the storage boxes with supplies? You could argue that there's nothing wrong with them hanging out on the production floor. But, storage bins and supply boxes really need to go in a storage area, designated for spare parts or necessary production components. 

A centralized location, as opposed to a distributed or non-centralized location, for these things make the workplace more cluttered. Mark the storage bins with red tape. These will be moved and then put into another location. If you have items that just don't belong on the production floor, they will be permanently removed. 

Set In Order 

Once you've red flagged all unnecessary items, it's time to take action on them. But, you need to put another effective and efficient storage method in place to arrange all of the items you reg-tagged. The "set in order" step will help you do this. 

Whether it's painting the floors, marking or labeling safety products, outlining work areas with floor tape, or installing modular shelving units to clear off items from the floor, this is the stage where you organize everything so that employees' workflow is improved. 


Now it's time to clean. Of course, this is an obvious step. Once the clutter has been picked up and put away, you have to clean it. Daily follow-ups should be focused on making sure that a minimum level of "shine" is achieved on the production floor or in the office. 

Targets could include setting standards that each employee must meet as part of their condition of employment. To make the "shine" step effective, it needs to be baked right into the culture of the organization. This cannot be optional. Clean workstations improve workflow, but unclean areas only contribute to the risk of injury, a slowed or hampered workflow, and lower production. In turn, this means your production costs increase - not good. 


You must work to standardize all of your 5s - in fact, one of the 5s' is to standardize everything. Everything you do must be the same across your entire organization. So, once you've set standards for minimum shine, make sure that this is a company-wide standard, not just one that applies to office workers of production floor staff. 

You can use job cycle charts, daily checklists, visual cues like placards or display scoreboards, and additional or supplemental training on the 5s program. 


What good is a new protocol if it's not being implemented 5 months after creation? Making a habit out of properly maintaining your workplace is something that doesn't happen overnight. It's something that must be constantly reinforced until all employees are on board and in compliance. 

Use signs, newsletters, pocket manuals, or team check-ins to reinforce the changes. Another good idea is periodic auditing of teams or areas in your business. Rather than making these audits confrontational, make them friendly and supportive. Use contests and competition dynamics to "gamify" the entire program. Make employees excited about compliance instead of making them dread it or be fearful of management. 

Eventually, the 5s program will become a part of your company. Employees should eventually look at the program as a sort of "common-sense" approach to working at your company.