The Hardest of the 5S’s – Sustain

John and the 5S Pilot Team have not only done a great job with cleaning and organizing their workplace, but they have established the Standards needed to keep it that way. So why are we talking about the Sustain step if all of that is in place? Do you think that this team would fall into old habits and let their workplace slip back to the messy and disorganized condition it was in before? Have you ever cleaned your garage or desk so it looked like it was new only to find it in the same old condition a few weeks later? Most of us have and the same will happen in the workplace if habits don’t change. The Sustain step is the most difficult because it requires continued diligence.

There are several activities that Food Processing plants, other manufacturers, and other workplaces should employ in order to Sustain the improvements in place after the first 3 to 4 S’s (Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize). The most critical is a good 5S Audit system:

1. Establish a schedule where the team audits itself on a weekly basis. Having teams audit other teams is a good idea as well. You will need to establish a schedule to audit your teams’ progress as well. You will need to establish a frequency that you can maintain so you can lead by example. The practical frequency will depend on how many teams you have. You should be able to do 2-3 audits a week but need to do at least one a week. The teams need to be audited by a leader at least once a month so tap into the resources at your plant to schedule accordingly. The teams will thrive on and be motivated by the feedback provided via the audits you perform. My personal experience is that teams who lost momentum and were back-sliding made huge strides after I personally audited their 5S.

2. Graph the audit results. This is a great visual control. You can make a form available but have the team update the chart by hand. Don’t make the team find a computer to make the graph and don’t update the graphs for them. It’s not as effective and it’s a waste of time. The score should be visible right away. Visual controls you and the team know if they are slipping.

3. Post the audit findings on a board as close to the teams 5S zone as practical. This is just the list of the discrepancies noted during the audit. You can use this to make assignments and due dates as well. I’d suggest making that part of the Team Leader responsibility. Again, real-time feedback is key.

Maintaining a solid audit schedule will be key to your continued success. You should think of creative ways to promote 5S on a regular basis. You don’t want to let the team think that this is the flavor of the month. 5S expectations should become part of the training for new hires and new team members. Reward programs can also be very effective if managed properly. As I stated before, the Sustain step is the most difficult because it requires an ongoing effort. 5S is not a one time fix and required ongoing diligence. With the right systems in place though, 5S become as part of life and you will Sustain the Gain

The team can and will be successful in Sustaining 5S with the proper support systems. John’s team is ready for and committed to Sustaining the Gain. Are you?


See 5 Reasons for 5S or all 7 Steps to 5S. This 5s Audit Form is one I developed based on my 5S experience in Food Processing plants. Other forms are available if you do a google search on 5S Audit Forms. I would be pleased to e-mail a copy of mine to you if you request it in the comments below or contact me via twitter or LinkedIn.

Please leave a comment below if you liked this article. You can also connect on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, subscribe via e-mail (right side bar), retweet, digg, or stumble this article (also right sidebar). Your feedback is appreciated.

About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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4 Responses to The Hardest of the 5S’s – Sustain

  1. Laine D says:

    Oh yes – a vital stage. Making a change is one thing but sustaining it is another whether it is in your business or personal life.

    Setting controls in place so that a clean up or change is permanent at the outset is vital.

    Checklists and scheduled audits help for sure but one way to be sure it doesn’t become one persons job to nag is rotating the function. By doing this, energy and commitment is kept up as is the cross functionality, different individuals or specialists in a team with see it from a different viewpoint.

    Also having a weekly or monthly review and discussion can allow for expanding change(s) to other areas.

    Great article (as usual)- have you noticed how much 5 S or other QA functionality crosses the disciplines from production line to personal life. We all benefit from how can we do things better and increase involvement.

    Laine D.

    • Hi Laine,

      Thank you for sharing your insight. You make great points. It sounds like you have good experience with building systems to sustain improvements. Yes, I have noticed how much 5S, Quality, and even Safety follow me home. The boys really enjoy it when I bring a safety video home to train them too. I was cleaning our power washer before putting it away just this evening. It would have gone straight into the barn before my Lean journey. Thanks again.


  2. Laine D says:

    You caught me – that is what I did in a former life (15 years) mostly within banking, foreign exchange and letters of credit administrative and sales functionality although I’ve had involvement with paint lines and safety environments too. Sometimes it is easier to convince people to put controls in place to take care of money than the operations even when it amount to the same thing at the end of the day.

    Not sure you ever truly leave the job though since it permeates your life or is that taints!!! LOL

    I enjoy your writing on all subjects always makes the brain work.


  3. Although I have never really been involved in running a business I can see that sustaining and maintaining practices and habits can apply to almost anything. Sustaining a writing routine, and keeping my environment more or less tidy, are things I do without precision, and not much thought, but to a standard that’s comfortable for me. I find it works.

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