6-S A System for Quality, Productivity, Housekeeping and Workplace Organization

January 1, 2011

Does your place of work have materials and WIP all over the place, are tools constantly missing? Are their stacks of unread magazines or financial statements in boxes on the floor? Does everybody put things wherever they want to?

If this sounds like your place of work, then the 6-S system is a way to get in control and stay in control of workplace housekeeping and organization.

The 6-S System increases workplace efficiency and employee productivity by involving everyone in the improvement process.

At the heart of 6-S is controlling and creating strict standards in order to control and improve quality output.

Objectives of the 6-S System are:

A. Create a 6-S vision for the organization – Being neat and orderly is not natural for many of us, so this is a skill that has to be learned in order for it to take hold in the workplace.

A workplace vision includes looking at the present and future state of the different processes, or functional departments as target areas, rating these, and improving these individually.

We can break down the target areas into the following:


  • Current Condition
  • Desired Conditions

Product Quality

  • Current Condition
  • Desired Conditions

Equipment Maintenance

  • Current Condition
  • Desired Conditions

Work Efficiency

  • Current Condition
  • Desired Conditions

Inventory Levels

  • Current Condition
  • Desired Conditions

Information Flow

  • Current Condition
  • Desired Conditions

Then we create a sketch of these target areas, showing flow of people, equipment, and materials with arrows. This is known as a spaghetti diagram. You might try color-coding these lines for better clarity.

B. The next step in the 6-S system is Workplace Observation. By first observing the workplace and its Current Condition, we are able to document deficiencies or needed improvements, so we can better understand the steps we need to take in developing an environment that is:

  • Organized
  • Safe
  • Productive
  • Capable of smooth work flow
  • Puts the operator in control

In addition, we might also identify the sources of the clutter.

The next step is to begin sorting what’s needed from work areas from what is not needed. We may want to concentrate our sorting efforts on a particular area, or we might want to divide our workplace into zones and assign teams to begin the sorting process and the 6-S:

  • Sort
  • Straighten
  • Shine
  • Standardize
  • Sustain and
  • Safety
  1. Sorting means identifying needed items from items that are simply cluttering or are unnecessary to the process.We also want to identify the amount of inventory to be held in the area, what tools belong in the area, and how often scrap is to be removed.However, before we begin we need to prepare “red tags” to attach to unneeded items so we can move these out of the area. These tags should communicate why the item was tagged, what quantity, and designate a target disposition area. Disposition areas need to be divided up into short-term, longer-term, frequency of use, obsolete, or scrap.Key idea: “When in doubt, move it out”The sorting process begins by evaluating and identifying those items that are not needed in the area.


    • Floors
    • Aisles
    • Operation areas
    • Workstations
    • Corners, under equipment
    • Small rooms
    • Offices
    • Loading docks
    • Inside cabinets

    Look for unneeded equipment:

    • Machines, small tools
    • Dies, jigs, bits,
    • Conveyance equipment
    • Plumbing, electrical parts

    Red-tagged items go on a Red Tag Log or list for ease of managing and properly disposing of these items.

    We can centralize the disposition areas and conduct employee or public auctions to get rid of these items later. All other disposed material needs the proper signatures and safety precautions, such as might be the case for hazardous waste.

  2. Straightening means physically rearranging the work area, moving office furniture and machinery around for better flow, or accessibility, etc.Straightening means making it obvious where things belong – location of aisle ways, location of tools and equipment.Here are some techniques that help us accomplish this:
    • Lines
    • Divider lines
    • Safety Zones
    • Outlines
    • Shadow Boards for tools and cleaning items
    • Limit lines (height, minimum/maximum)
    • Arrows showing directions and flow
    • Labels
    • Color-coding
    • Item location
    • Staging areas
    • Equipment Parking locations
    • Signs
    • Pictures
    • SOP’s and other relevant documentation
    • Equipment related information
    • Show location, type, quantity, etc.
  3. Shine means physically cleaning and removing reasons for contamination, dust, debris, oil, etc. Shine also means establishing a regular cleaning and Preventive Maintenance schedule, and a checklist of what to look for as cleaning is performed.We start by cleaning and dusting everything, inside and out. We inspect through cleaning. “We inspect to correct, we correct to protect, we protect to prevent”… Prevent dirt, and contamination from reoccurring. This results in fewer breakdowns, greater safety, and product quality, as well as a more satisfying work environment.
  4. Standardizing means to implement a universal way to perform the task or work. There’s no deviation, everyone does it the same. Then we document the standard, creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) so we don’t have to rely on tribal knowledge. These standards can change later, but everyone has to agree to the new change, AND the change has to be quantified, in other words, proven to be better using supporting data!Remember, that most people are visual, so include color photographs in order to make the SOP’s easier to understand. This ensures better quality, increases predictability and reduces stress in the workplace.We also want to implement some type of visible signals or controls known as kanbans, to ensure team understanding for min/max, ordering trigger points, etc. This puts the workers more in control and requires less management interaction or managing. Additionally, the workers learn that the process, and not the egos, is controlling production flow.Standardizing means establishing guidelines for the team to maintain the 6-S conditions, as well as to make the standards and 6-S guidelines visualFinally, standardizing means finding a way to maintain and monitor these new and improved conditions. This is key!!!

    “Where there is no measure, there can be no improvement”.
    Taiichi Ono, Father of Lean in Japan

  5. Sustaining means developing communication strategies and getting everyone involved while implementing daily auditing through daily workplace observation and displaying the daily scan diagnostic in a public place for all to see. Sustaining determines the methods your team will use to maintain adherence to the standards.
    This part is also critical to behavioral modification!Sustaining means clearly defining the workplace area: What is the intended purpose? Is what goes on in the area congruent to its intended purpose and function?Sustaining also means establishing centralized communications boards, developing an area map, showing material, people, and equipment flows, and photographing problem areas.Finally, sustaining means discipline. Everyone must agree to abide by the strict standards or 6-S won’t work!Litmus Test: A person should be able to find anything they need in their immediate workstation in 30-seconds. One should be able to find any needed item in their immediate department in 2 minutes or less!
  6. Safety means creating and maintaining a safe work environment and harassment-free culture, where employees regularly demonstrate safe work practices & precautions. Safety also means conducting a well-structured and regular audit of emergency procedures, including emergency evacuation plans, fire and first aid, handling of hazardous materials, including MSDS’s. Safety means training and certification on electrical equipment, lifting techniques and other ergonomics, and making sure that personal safety and protective equipment are consistently worn. Safety means that aisles are well marked, unobstructed, & markings are not infringed. (ie. Pallets, equip., machines, filing cabinets, tools, or WIP are not placed outside of the markings).


For more information about 6 S or other Lean Topics go to the ACA Group’s Lean Enterprise page or email the ACA Group at ml@theACAgroup.com

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