5S for a Service Business

5S as a tool has been leveraged by manufacturing companies for decades. Leaders driving operational excellence on the manufacturing floor would provide a list of benefits on how 5S delivers superb benefits on the production shop-floor. They would narrate how 5S adds to visual order, cleanliness, safety and standardization on the manufacturing floor.

But are you aware that 5S can also provide great benefits to service companies? This simple yet powerful tool has the ability to transform service organizations. I am telling this from my experience, having pioneered one of the world’s largest 5S adoptions in services.

So, What is 5S in a Services Context?

5S is an approach for workplace organizations; it drives workplace efficiency and productivity improvement. Based on a simple set of principles, it not only helps to identify wastes in the workplace but also creates an environment wherein teams get involved in improvements. It is a movement to make sure that all the elements of a "workplace system" function in harmony in order to allow teams to deliver an optimum level of performance.

Practitioners often mistake the words "workplace organization" as a synonym for housekeeping. This is quite myopic and misleading as it leads one to believe that 5S is a tool for driving workplace cleanliness. Actually, the words "workplace organization" mean much more. They refer to the way the various components of a workplace system are managed and organized. This organization is with respect to components such as workplace procedures, rules, inventory management, policies, asset-ownership, infrastructure maintenance and so on.

Implementing 5S within a service business delivers the following benefits:
  • Reduces process lead times
  • Facilitates workplace organization
  • Standardizes operating procedures
  • Improves customer response times
  • Installs policies / guidelines that drive workplace
  • Contributes to cost efficiency
  • Helps to identify wastes
  • Builds a culture of continual improvement
  • Removes workplace clutter
  • Reduces waste in the workplace
  • Improves look-and-feel
The brilliance of 5S is that it can be adopted by all throughout an organization. There are no burdens of complicated tools or difficult data analysis. 5S is a set of practices that needs to be practiced everyday until it becomes a habit. Whether it is a CEO or a janitor, everyone should practice 5S. As a matter of fact, when you embark on a 5S deployment, your organization should first have the CEO adopt this tool and apply it to his or her office.

Proceed with Caution: 5S Can be Difficult to Implement within a Service Business

Let me caution you that implementing 5S in service businesses can be quite challenging as there are not too many success stories. People always look at 5S with suspicion and doubt its potency to deliver benefits to a non-manufacturing environment. Its simplicity often dissuades individuals who look for glamorous and complicated tools for driving improvements. Also, organizations find it difficult to engage white-collared workers who are made to believe that 5S is a merely a house-keeping tool so it should be done by the house-keeping staff.

This is where you need a strong Lean change agent who understands the concept of "5S for services" well and has the ability to not only engage the CEO with its use but has his or her backing to have the entire organization adopt the tool. The Lean change agent communicates to all the power of 5S and how it can deliver benefits to the business.

Some think that 5S cannot be applied in a paperless office. This is not true. The 5S principles can also be used in the virtual space. The IT space is a great candidate for 5S deployment. Whether it’s investment banking, healthcare, hospitality, government, retail banking, information technology or education, 5S is applicable everywhere.