Take a walk on any jobsite and you will see many workers treasure hunting. They are looking for material, tools, equipment, where to work, or other information. From a customer and Lean standpoint, this is waste. To the worker, it is necessary since he needs something, but it adds no value to the material being installed, thus it is waste. Most contractors and even owners accept this as just the way construction is. It doesn't have to be that way. The answer is to work smarter, not harder. We've all heard that statement more times than we can count, but few people ever tell us how. "How" in construction is to use the 5S's.
The 5S's are actually "S" words in Japanese, where they originated. I do not feel it is useful to know what they are in Japanese unless one speaks Japanese. When these words were brought to America they were given English terms. Depending on who you talk to, the English translation may differ slightly. For me, they need to be words starting with "S" to be the 5S's. While some organizations use different S words for some of the 5S's, fortunately the activities accomplished for each S word are the same. I like the words introduced by Boeing, they are:
- Simplifying - also called Straighten and Set-in-Order
- Sweeping - also called Shine
- Standardizing - also called Schedule
- Self-Discipline - also called Sustain
Sorting means to go through a designated work area and sort out the necessary from the unnecessary. Necessary is what we need and ties to how often we use it. If you don't use an item at least once in a year - it is probably not necessary to your work. Items that are judged necessary are kept, and all the rest are disposed of, recycled or returned. Sorting is fun; it just feels good to get rid of stuff! We may sort a gang box, a job trailer, a material lay-down area, a shop or office.
Simplifying means to put everything (that we determined as necessary in Sorting) in a designated place and to mark it so it can easily be seen. This is the critical step in eliminating treasure hunts. Not only is a place established for every necessary item, but the actual location is based on how often it is used. The items we use most often are located close to where we work and use it. Those used less often are located further away. Color coding and shadow boards are most often used to mark where things go.
Gang Box after Sorting and Simplifying - Beyond just labeling,
note the picture on the left indicating the box contents and
what it should look like when it is returned
Sweeping means to physically clean up the work area. That sounds strange for a construction job since the work is messy. Clutter can be avoided on the job site as well as in the shops. Less clutter makes it easier to spot problems and creates a safer work area. But sweeping is more than just cleaning, it means to deliberately pick up (sweep) the work areas for tools and material that are out of place and return each to its assigned place as defined in Simplifying. By returning tools to the place they are to be kept, the next user can find them quicker (less treasure hunting.) Visually marking the items while simplifying makes it easier to know where they go.
Standardizing means creating standard ways to keep the work areas organized, clean and orderly, and also creating standard ways to do the 5S's. Having one gang box organized as defined by the 5S's is good, but if each gang box is organized differently, workers lose time learning the new organization. We standardize gang boxes, trailer layouts, common tools we use and even how we lay out the job sites. It also means to repeat the first three steps over and over to continuously improve.
Self-Discipline means following through with the 5S's agreements. If we don't maintain the changes we made with the 5S's we will not "maintain the gain." One way to do this is to design a 5S's checklist and have different workers score the job or shop monthly, using the list. This helps maintain focus and indirectly educates those doing the assessment. A simple test to see how far the 5S's efforts have come is to use the 30-second test. Can a worker go to a gang box or material rack and, excluding travel time, find what he needs in 30 seconds or less and move on? If not, then more 5S work is needed.
Some companies use the 6S's, the other "S" standing for safety. The 5S's are done in a specific sequence and safety is not limited to any sequence. It relates to everything one does. It is a behavior or value, not a sequence of steps. One should apply safe work habits while doing all 5 "S." So I use the 5S's, not six.
Applying the 5S's
5S's in the Field
Because of the changing nature and locations of construction work, applying the 5S's is a challenge, but there are still many opportunities. Organizing gang boxes and material storage racks/shelves can reduce treasure hunting. Make everything stored at the jobsite mobile by putting it on wheels, carts, or pallets. One site put names on safety harnesses and set-up a rack for the crews at a job site to hang their harnesses. Less time was spent untangling and resizing the harnesses each morning. With 20 employees working at the job doing air balancing, this approach saved about 15 - 20 minutes each morning for each employee. It was a three-week job so the time saved was big.
5S's in the Fabrication Shop
One shop was able to return over $5,000 in material that they no longer needed after doing a sorting exercise. Their tools have been color coded and assigned to pieces of equipment. Work areas are now cleaner and inventory is better organized. A shop manager said the biggest value he has seen as a result of using the 5S's was that "We pay our employees to be productive, and the 5S's are an investment to help them do that."
5S's in the Office
The 5S's work well to organize offices, including job site trailers. Organizing where forms are stored, how forms are submitted, how current drawings are stored, etc., reduces office treasure hunts. One office color-coded their reference binders using 1" colored dots placed on the binder's back. The dots were marked "1 of 5", "2 of 5" etc. This way anyone could pass by the shelf and see if any binders were missing or out of order. Reference binders are no big deal until you need a specific one.
The 5S's will never claim to save millions of dollars, but when applied consistently, it will save time and material. It will cut out waste. I tell people it should easily save five minutes per employee per hour. That's 8% of the workday in reduced treasure hunting. It can save even more.