Discover 5S Trends for 2021 and How 5S Can Help You Get the Most Out of Your Lean Initiative

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After over a year into the pandemic, we’re beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The 5S trends of 2021 can help you come out of this crisis on top.

The upheaval of this past year shone a light on many things, not least of which on how we conduct business. Many companies have struggled to continue operating. Some have had to close their doors. Then there are those who have continued to strive toward success without missing a beat. What are these companies doing differently?

There are many factors to explain this disparity, but for Lean and/or 5S practitioners, a lot comes down to how they’ve implemented Lean and 5S tools. Our 2021 State of 5S report highlights areas where Lean practitioners can better leverage 5S for greater success in the coming year.

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In the summer of 2020, we decided to put together a survey to assess the state of Lean-practicing companies across America. At the time, we underestimated the pandemic’s ongoing impact. But our results should not be dismissed. The economic upheaval provided us with a big picture view of which 5S practices withstood the test of time, which didn’t, and why. If these are our benchmarks during a crisis, then what more can we accomplish as we refocus on implementing 5S best practices right now?

As we were creating our 2021 State of Lean Report, we realized that we had received a good deal of information specifically regarding current 5S implementation. We decided that 5S deserved its own report (we are 5S people after all!), and the 2021 State of 5S Report was born.

The 5S State of Lean report found that while 5S is incredibly popular, it is not being leveraged to its greatest impact.

The majority of the companies we surveyed (87%) indicated that they are using 5S. Yet only 50% of respondents say their 5S programs are formal, actively implemented, and communicated. 5S practices are intended to transform the entire workplace. It’s not just about perfecting processes. It’s about creating a new culture of changed behaviors and mindsets. 

The effectiveness of 5S programs starts with intention. If companies are looking for a tidier workplace, that is the result they will see. But companies who approach 5S as a way to achieve a broader and longer-lasting transformation will receive a wildly different result.

When companies fully invest in their 5S programs with intention, they see numerous benefits, including improved

  • Worker safety
  • Product quality
  • System efficiency
  • Overall productivity

Most importantly, these changes leave a lasting impact – but they need an actively implemented 5S program to be fully realized.

Despite the benefits of 5S, 56% of survey respondents indicated that 5S was less of a priority this past year.

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These results are a bit troublesome because 5S specifically addresses the unique needs required by the pandemic: methodical cleaning and sanitization routines. What better time to fully embrace 5S practices than when they are most critical to the health and safety of your employees and customers? 

5S also helps companies to accomplish more by doing less. Many businesses have found themselves with a reduced workforce, inventory, or hours of operation. 5S provides the means for companies to maximize their resources. 

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What’s more, we have all had to create new ways of doing things, and with new processes come new wastes. Have you seen increases in any of these wastes this past year?

  • Defects
  • Inventory
  • Movement/energy
  • No value-add
  • Overproduction
  • Transportation
  • waiting/wasted time
  • Non-utilized talents

5S specifically addresses how companies can eliminate these wastes and streamline their productivity.

While 5S could be better implemented across the board, the biggest waste we saw was one of talent.

As stated in our 2021 State of Lean Report, any Lean initiative requires executive sponsorship. However, effective implementation revolves around employee buy-in. Workers should receive training and clear direction about executing any new processes. New ideas are easier to implement when the people directly affected are invested in the outcome.

Acquiring new skills also creates a confident workforce that has a personal stake in how they contribute to the company’s performance. This confidence empowers employees to identify problems in workplace processes and develop solutions to make them more efficient.

According to our results, only about 61% of companies say their culture fosters teamwork, training,  and clear leadership. There is a huge opportunity here for many 5S practitioners. When companies are deciding how to improve their 5S programs in the coming months, they would do well to remember their greatest asset: Their people.

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Our survey also revealed many 5S elements that are being under-utilized in both implementing and sustaining 5S. 

Several 5S tools that are critical to both setting up and maintaining a 5S program are not being used to their fullest extent – or not being used at all. These include:

  • color-coding,
  • red-tag events,
  • floor marking, and
  • other visual management tools

When it comes to the specific phases, we are not seeing 5S best practices put into play in many of the surveyed companies. For the Set In Order phase, almost 61% of respondents label items and the workplace, but only about 21% keep a list of items and locations. For Shine, just 54% frequently clean and inspect the workplace, and 22% hold people accountable to a schedule. In regards to Sustain, 60% offer training for all employees, but just 43% conduct audits.  Our State of 5S Report offers suggestions and links to resources for companies looking to better integrate these practices into their 5S initiatives.

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What would happen if the 5S best practices listed here, and all of those outlined in the report, were fully implemented in a 5S practicing company? That company would strengthen their position in their industry, coming out of this crisis on top instead of scrambling to recover.

If you are looking for ways to improve 5S at work, this report will guide you to proven methods. 

To get the most out of 5S best practices, keep in mind two vital aspects of 5S: communication and continuous improvement.

5S isn’t about putting up shiny new posters and brightly colored signs. The 5S concepts must be clearly communicated and consistently reinforced. Don’t hesitate to use a variety of media to get the message across, and be sure to encourage employee contributions and feedback.

And while it may be easy to get down on ourselves over what we did not accomplish this past year, we must remember that our goal is always continuous improvement. Small changes every day are going to be easier to put in place and more sustainable in the long run. The focus should be on progress, not perfection.

As you read through the 2021 State of 5S report, identify one area to get the ball rolling in your workplace. Where would a 5S concept make the most immediate impact but also be the easiest to implement? Involve your team and provide your employees with what they need to succeed with this change. And remember: celebrate improvements and the people who put in the work to make them happen!

5S has the tools companies need to realign their strategies and realize their goals. 

What is one small step your team can make today to improve 5S in your workplace?

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