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Overview of the 7S Process in Lean Six Sigma

written by: Heidi Wiesenfelder • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/14/2013

7S is an expanded version of 5S, a methodology from Lean Manufacturing that aims to optimize the physical workspace. The focus is on maximizing the efficiency of the work process and the use of space, and reducing disorganization and physical obstacles to efficiency.

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    Understanding the Methodology

    Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that combines aspects of both Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma. Businesses use it as a means of combining the Lean focus on eliminating waste and improving efficiency with the Six Sigma focus on process management, addressing root causes, and implementing sustainable solutions.

    Core Six Sigma tools include DMAIC, Voice of the Customer (VOC), and process mapping, while Lean Six Sigma tools include Value Stream Mapping and either 5S or the expanded 7S.

    The 5S framework includes five different components that each start with the letter S in Japanese. Translation to English usually results in words starting with S as well, although some experts prefer different terminology that maintains the original meaning of the Japanese wording rather than the alliteration. While the focus is primarily on the physical workspace, many companies apply the same principle to their overall operations. The 5S method can be used in a variety of settings, including manufacturing, office, and laboratory.

    Sort: During the Sort step employees go beyond just categorizing items, identifying and marking for removal anything that does not belong. Only essential items should be in a specific work area, and anything that is nonessential should be located elsewhere or eliminated altogether. In the more general sense, some organizations also look for opportunities to eliminate unnecessary programs or administrative processes.

    Straighten: The Straighten step is about more than just organizing the work area. The primary objective of this step is to arrange equipment and supplies in a way that optimizes process efficiency. Items should be kept in the proper order based on how the process is conducted, and located in a way that makes it easy for workers to access them when they are needed. Some companies refer to this step as Set In Order.

    Shine: Also called Sweeping, Cleanliness or Scrub, this third step addresses the importance of routine cleaning and organizing of the work area, typically at the end of each shift or workday. Cleaning is not something that is done only when the mess goes beyond a threshold of tolerance, but rather consistently throughout operations. This ensures that items are where they should be and in usable condition and that there is no cumulative increase in disorder.

    Standardize: As with all aspects of Lean Six Sigma, 5S requires a commitment to standardizing processes and procedures. It is only through standardization of the first three steps of 5S or 7S that companies can be sure expectations are clear and communicated effectively and that procedures are followed consistently. This typically involves written documentation, which may include schedules and role descriptions.

    Sustain: Maintaining improvements is a key tenet of Six Sigma, and 5S stresses this priority as well. Leaders must commit to maintaining the practices of 5S on an ongoing basis, and must establish procedures to address problems that arise and changes that may be needed as business operations evolve.

    While 5S is still very popular, some organizations choose to modify it by adding one or more additional steps. The most common, which are used along with the first five to create 7S, are Safety and Spirit.

    Safety: This component of 7S simply requires attention to safety throughout the other steps. It is particularly prominent in manufacturing and laboratory settings, and in other contexts where potentially dangerous equipment or substances may be involved, and less prominent in office settings.

    Spirit: As leaders understand the impact of company culture and the importance of respect for employees, the need for this additional component becomes clear. While some organizations successfully implement the traditional 5S method, many are choosing to add Spirit as an additional piece to make explicit the reliance on the people factor and the need to continually keep it in mind as other steps are undertaken.


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