What is 7S?
7S is a five-step methodology for creating a more organized and productive workspace: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, Safety, Security and Sustain. 7S serves as a foundation for deploying more advanced lean production tools and processes.
Initially it is started with 7S methodology and this is a system for organizing spaces so work can be performed efficiently, effectively, and safely. This system focuses on putting everything where it belongs and keeping the workplace clean, which makes it easier for people to do their jobs without wasting time or risking injury.
The term 7S comes from five Japanese words:
- Seiri- Sort
- Seiton- Set in Order
- Seiso- Shine
- Seiketsu- Standardize
- Shitsuke- Sustain
- Safety- Set Safety protocols
- Security- Set & Implement security controls
Each S represents one part of a above quoted process that can improve the overall function of a business.
7S began as part of the Toyota Production System -TPS, the manufacturing method begun by leaders at the Toyota Motor Company in the early and mid-20th century. This system, often referred to as Lean manufacturing in the West, aims to increase the value of products or services for customers. This is often accomplished by finding and eliminating waste from production processes.
7S is considered a foundational part of the Toyota Production System because untill the workplace is in a clean, organized state, achieving consistently good results is difficult. A messy, cluttered space can lead to mistakes, slowdowns in production, and even accidents, all of which interrupt operations and negatively impact a company.
By having a systematically organized facility, a company increases the likelihood that production will occur exactly as it should.
As the 7S methodology leads to many benefits, including:
- Reduced costs
- Higher quality
- Increased productivity
- Greater employee satisfaction
- A safer work environment
The 7S concept might sound a little abstract at this point, but in reality, it’s a very practical, hands-on tool that everyone in the workplace can be a part of.
7S involves assessing everything present in a space, removing what’s unnecessary, organizing things logically, performing housekeeping tasks, and keeping this cycle going. Organize, clean, repeat.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the parts of 7S.
The first step of 7S, Sort, involves going through all the tools, furniture, materials, equipment, etc. in a work area to determine what needs to be present and what can be removed. Some questions to ask during this phase include:
- What is the purpose of this item?
- When was this item last used?
- How frequently is it used?
- Who uses it?
- Does it need to be here?
These questions help determine the value of each item. A workspace might be better off without unnecessary items or items used infrequently. These things can get in the way or take up space.
Keep in mind the best people to assess the items in space are the people who work in that space. They are the ones who can answer the above questions.
When a group has determined that some items aren’t necessary, consider the following options:
- Give the items to a different department
- Recycle/throw away/sell the items
- Put items into storage
For cases when an item’s value is uncertain — for example, a tool hasn’t been used recently, but someone thinks it might be needed in the future — use the red tag method. Red Tags are usually cardboard tags or stickers that can be attached to the items in question. Users fill out the information about the item such as
- Name of person applying the tag
- Date of application
Then the item is placed in a “red tag area” with other questionable items. If after a designated amount of time (perhaps a month or two) the item hasn’t been used, it’s time to remove it from the workspace. It’s not worth hanging onto things that never get used since they just take up space.
Set in Order
Once the extra clutter is gone, it’s easier to see what’s what. Now work groups can come up with their strategies for sorting through the remaining items. Things to consider:
- Which people (or workstations) use which items?
- When are items used?
- Which items are used most frequently?
- Should items be grouped by type?
- Where would it be most logical to place items?
- Would some placements be more ergonomic for workers than others?
- Would some placements cut down on unnecessary motion?
- Are more storage containers necessary to keep things organized?
During this phase, everyone should determine what arrangements are most logical. That will require thinking through tasks, the frequency of those tasks, the paths people take through the space, etc.
Businesses may want to stop and think about the relationship between the organization and larger Lean efforts. What arrangement will cause the least amount of waste?
In Lean manufacturing, waste can take the form of:
- Waiting time
- Extra motion
- Excess inventory
- Extra processing
- Unnecessary transportation
- Unutilized talents
Everyone thinks they know what housekeeping is, but it’s one of the easiest things to overlook, especially when work gets busy. The Shine stage of 7S focuses on cleaning up the work area, which means sweeping, mopping, dusting, wiping down surfaces, putting tools and materials away, etc.
In addition to basic cleaning, Shine also involves performing regular maintenance on equipment and machinery. Planning for maintenance ahead of time means businesses can catch problems and prevent breakdowns. That means less wasted time and no loss of profits related to work stoppages.
Shining the workplace might not sound exciting, but it’s important. And it shouldn’t just be left up to the janitorial staff. In 7S, everyone takes responsibility for cleaning up their workspace, ideally daily. Doing so makes people take ownership of the space, which in the long run means people will be more invested in their work and the company.
Once the first three steps of 7S are completed, things should look pretty good. All the extra stuff is gone, everything is organized, spaces are cleaned, and equipment is in good working order.
The problem is, when 7S is new at a company, it’s easy to clean and get organized…and then slowly let things slide back to the way they were. Standardize makes 7S different from the typical spring-cleaning project. Standardize systematizes everything that just happened and turns one-time efforts into habits. Standardize assigns regular tasks, creates schedules, and posts instructions so these activities become routines. It makes standard procedures for 7S so that orderliness doesn’t fall by the wayside.
Depending on the workspace, a daily 7S checklist or a chart might be useful. A posted schedule indicating how frequently certain cleaning tasks must occur and who is responsible for them is another helpful tool.
Initially, people will probably need reminders about 7S. Small amounts of time may need to be set aside daily for 7S tasks. But over time, tasks will become routine and 7S organizing and cleaning will become a part of regular work.
Once standard procedures for 7S are in place, businesses must perform the ongoing work of maintaining those procedures and updating them as necessary. Sustain refers to the process of keeping 7S running smoothly, but also of keeping everyone in the organization involved. Managers need to participate, as do employees out on the manufacturing floor, in the warehouse, or in the office. Sustain is about making 7S a long-term program, not just an event or short-term project. Ideally, 7S becomes a part of an organization’s culture. And when 7S is sustained over time, that’s when businesses will start to notice continuous positive results.
Safety – The 6th S
Some companies like to include a sixth S in their 7S program: Safety. When safety is included, the system is often called 6S. The Safety step involves focusing on what can be done to eliminate risks in work processes by arranging things in certain ways.
This might involve setting up workstations so they’re more ergonomic, marking intersections—such as the places where forklifts and pedestrians cross paths—with signs, and labeling the storage cabinet for cleaning chemicals so people are aware of potential hazards. If the layout of the workplace or the tasks people perform are dangerous, those dangers should be reduced as much as possible. That’s what the sixth S focuses on.
Some people consider safety an outcome of performing the other five S’s appropriately, and as a result say a sixth S isn’t necessary. They think if the workspace is properly organized and cleaned and uses helpful visual safety cues, a separate safety step is unnecessary.
Neither approach to safety is right or wrong. But however a business wants to approach safety, it should be aware that paying attention to safety is important.
The 7 S – Security
Security is one of the crucial part of business operations since 9/11, setting security protocols and procedure with strong implementation of security controls ensure smooth and effective working environment.
Getting Started with 7S
Even though 7S is a fairly simple concept, beginning a new 7S program can feel daunting. It’s like undertaking a big cleaning project in the garage or the basement at home; there’s a lot of stuff to deal with, and getting started probably doesn’t sound fun.
Start with practical steps such as deciding which departments and individuals will be involved, what training is needed, and what tools to use to facilitate the process. Determining these concrete things will help begin the process of 7S implementation.
Here’s the short answer to this question: everyone. If a department is starting 7S, managers and all other employees should be included. If anyone is left out, this could lead to confusion or to messes that people don’t want to take ownership of.
It is possible that some people will play a bigger role in 7S than others, which is fine. There might be 7S coordinators who are in charge of installing and maintaining 7S labeling, keeping tracking of assigned tasks, or introducing new department members to the 7S system. These people will obviously spend a lot of time thinking about 7S compared to others. Everyone should think about 7S regularly, though. 7S might initially take place as an event, but ideally it becomes a part of daily work for everyone.
It’s also important to remember that company leaders should participate in 7S, especially if 7S is a company-wide effort. When people see their superiors taking 7S seriously by participating in it, they’ll be more likely to take it seriously, too.
Anyone who will participate in 7S activities needs to receive training. This could be done in a classroom setting, with a training DVD, and/or through hands-on activities. A demonstration of how 7S could occur at a workstation might also be useful.
For employees to understand why the company is going to start using 7S and why it’s important, they should be given a brief history of 7S, its parts, and its benefits.
It’s quite possible that the way 7S is carried out at one organization or even one department will be different from others, so groups performing 7S for the first time may need to work out the best way to perform the steps of 7S in their spaces.
In any case, everyone should receive training when 7S is new, and then any new employees who come onboard later should receive training about 7S as well.
A key part of 7S is that it makes spaces cleaner and therefore easier to navigate. That means people can more easily get their work done. Visual communication tools such as labels, floor markings, cabinet and shelf markings, and shadow boards can make navigating spaces even simpler. Plus, these tools can help keep the workspace organized. A workplace that uses visual management in this way is often referred to as a visual workplace