Sustaining 5S is the hardest part. The average life of a 5S program is 1 year, and sustainability is the reason. So what behaviors should you exhibit to make it work?

Finding something out of place in the 5S’d area is not a sign that the system is broken. In fact, it’s a sign that it is working. It worked because you noticed it. You’ll never keep everything in place all the time. Unless it’s a serious violation, my first reaction to something is just to move it back where it belongs. Many people might disagree with that, because it’s an opportunity for coaching. But if you literally grab every opportunity to coach that you find, you’ll never leave the one area. Correcting it is the behavior you’d want from those in the area, so if the system tells you what to do, then just do it. That’s role modeling the behavior you want to see in others. If it is not straightforward, then ask an operator in the area what is the item, or where it belongs, or why it’s not in the right place. They are the ones who will best know. If needed, coaching can be provided. If it becomes a pattern, then it needs to be brought up with the supervisor in the area so that they can coach as well as hold accountable.

If you are on an audit, then the right first response is to the supervisor, because the audit is specifically focused on the process. You are surfacing issues about the system working when on an audit, so that is meant to facilitate the discussion with the supervisor in the area.

Furthermore, if all of these fail, then change the system. This means find a way to make the particular failure easier to do right, easier to spot when wrong, impossible to do, etc. We can’t always go back to coaching and reminders. Find some way to make the repeated failure no longer a problem.

What’s important about these behaviors is that they are widespread and consistent. This isn’t just for the manager immediately of the area in question. Anyone in management should be in the same page. Get other people who might be going through the area engaged, such as engineers and HR.