Tools: Lean 5S Methodology

Another common lean tool is the 5S methodology. The 5Ss are sort, simplify/set in order, sweep/shine, standardize, and sustain. They are tactical ways of organizing any process and can guide your Kaizen events, helping you find and eliminate the eight wastes. Table 1.4 explains the 5Ss.1

Table 1.4
The 5Ss
Step Explanation Logistics example Benefit
Sort Eliminate unneeded items from the area, store things not needed now—organize Move slow-moving inventory into a more remote part of DC so that you are not wasting steps walking by items that are rarely ordered Free up floor space; have more efficient filling of orders as fast moving items are located closer to each other and closer to the front of the warehouse
Simplify Have a logical place where everything belongs—i.e., a place for everything and everything in its place Put inventory away immediately on arrival to improve stock level accuracy Inventory accuracy, order accuracy, and fill rate will improve. Fewer split shipments or expediting
Sweep Clean and organize each day as you use things—put them away Leave all orders completed so that it is easy to know where to begin, starting in the morning/next shift will be a smooth transition Will reduce and prevent miscommunication and duplicated effort
Standardize Have standardized processes and procedures to maintain workplace order, ease training of new people Have common approach for filling orders, training Will reduce and prevent miscommunication, improve service levels
Sustain Continuously follow this approach and implement it throughout your company Listen to employee suggestions for improvement, train employees in these methods Improved warehouse performance and employee satisfaction and engagement

As you consider implementing lean techniques, be aware that it is possible to be too lean. If a crisis or external shock occurs, you might not have enough inventory or back-up sources to maintain operations and meet customer needs. During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, shortages appeared overnight. Maybe you remember not being able to find toilet paper or hand sanitizer on store shelves. Shortages were particularly painful in the area of personal protective equipment (PPE). Inventories for gloves, masks, and other protective clothing and gear were not stockpiled. Worse, countries hoarded these critical supplies. Countries raced to retool and add capacity.

The bottom line: Be sure you balance the benefits of lean with the risks of being too lean. You want to make sure you design a resilient logistics network. Resiliency is a company’s ability to respond quickly to the unexpected.

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