4 Tips for 5S Launch Success


5S launch success is actually quite simple. Think of it this way…

I read this interesting analogy the other day in the book Clinical 5S.

Humans like to keep areas clean that they have personally invested time cleaning. On the same note, a dirty area can spread to other areas. Consider what happens if you add a rotten orange into a basket of good oranges. In no time, the good oranges will rot.

The same concept applies to 5S and the workplace. Get rid of your rotten oranges. Then, maintain it to keep everything looking clean and orderly. If you allow dirt and chaos into one area it’s bound to spread elsewhere in no time.

Implement standards to keep the rotten oranges at bay. 

Here are 3 tips you can follow to improve your chance of 5S success.

Tip 1: Set a “Do Not Disturb” during your 5S Launch.

Inform all other departments about your implementation plan. Make it clear that neither you nor your team should be disturbed during your launch. *Idea* Get a “5S At Work” sign and put it in the area when you’re in the midst of the launch event. Make sure every department understands what this means.

Tip 2: Lead by Example

It is critical for the leader of the group to lead by example. No leaving the team, no taking calls, no cell phone, no meetings, no disturbances…nothing. The team will follow your lead. Remember that you are always on stage as a leader so Lead!

Secret Ingredient for 5S Success

It’s been a strong belief of mine for quite some time that one of the secret ingredients needed for 5S Success is Accountability. Managers all the way up the chain have to hold their direct reports accountable for abiding by the 5S standards. For example, if a Warehouse Supervisor sees a subordinate place a pallet jack two feet away from the taped out, pre-determined and labeled location that Supervisor MUST pull that subordinate aside and speak to him/her. The second that the Supervisor simply lets it happen you’re doomed. There’s no telling who’s watching and seeing this lack of conformance. Some of it’s just through osmosis.

On the flip side, if the Supervisor does the right thing, speaks to the subordinate and explains what was observed and reviews the benefits of following the rules, he/she will have helped set the expectation that PEOPLE WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE for their actions. 

On a similar note, the Supervisor’s Manager has to hold him/her accountable for holding their team accountable as already mentioned. Granted, this isn’t always pleasant or easy. And at times, you might think you’re just too busy and it doesn’t matter. Well, it does matter. You MUST hold your team accountable for following the standards that have been put in place. 

Tip 3: Set In Order and Launch to 5S Success

When all the plans are made you’ll be ready to get your hands dirty and jump in with the group to set things in order. Personally, this is the fun part! Tackling an area and process to make it better for the group – it doesn’t get much better! However, the preparation for this step is critical to your 5s success. Here are some tips to make sure you’re as prepared as possible:

  • Take plenty of before pictures
  • A few weeks before the scheduled event create a spaghetti diagram of the current workflow
  • Develop ideas on how you want to layout the new area – what visual materials will you need?
  • Order your 5S and other visual supplies. You must have these prior to starting your Set In Order.

Significant 5S Improvement Example, but…

This customer recently went through the first three phases of a 5S initiative:


Set In Order


5S Improvement with a caveat, can you spot it?

They did a fantastic job! The owners of the company were involved and really got behind the initiative  – A key ingredient for 5S success which is, unfortunately, missing from many 5S programs.

Recently, I was going back through some of the before and after images, they sent me and noticed something amiss. Can you see what it is? Take a look. 

There are lessons and benefits to be gained from this “non-compliance” IF, and only IF, it’s treated appropriately. To do so, the team should get together to discuss what happened, why it happened and how they can solve the issue. 

Tip 4: A trick to help you stay focused

Let’s say you’re interested in improving the sustainability of your 5S process. One way to do this is to go the Gemba (where the work is done) and find something done right. For example, maybe during your walk, you find a tool placed properly on a shadow board or you see someone from your team replacing some worn out floor tape. It can be any improvement. The challenge is how we handle distraction. We know getting out to the Gemba is critical to sustainability.

Here’s a trick to keep you focused. Start each day with three pennies in your left front pocket. Each time you find something properly executed, move a penny from your left pocket to your right pocket. By the end of the day, all three pennies should be in your right pocket. If towards the end of the day you haven’t moved them all to your right pocket then don’t leave the building until you’ve followed through and found something done right.

Use this trick for anything you’re trying to improve upon – drinking 3 glasses of water a day, thanking people, reaching out to customers, etc. And, it doesn’t have to pennies, you can use anything that has some meaning to you. Go ahead try it out and let me know how it works out for you. 

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