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Kaizen 5S for Beginners: Sort

The word “Kaizen” originates from Japanese, meaning “improvement”. For Six Sigma practices, Kaizen refers to any improvement within a company at a continuous rate. The word first gained traction following World War II in Japan, where factory workers continuously sought ways to eliminate production waste. Little did they know at the time, their constant endeavors would soon become vital to the Six Sigma methodology we know today. Whether you work in a manufacturing assembly line, chain management, or logistics, implementing continuous improvement within your role is Kaizen. As Six Sigma continues to expand into new industries, Kaizen follows the lead, as more and more employees discover ways to improve their business processes.

In the modern workplace, we reference the 5S of Kaizen. These 5S’s are a workplace organization method, developed from the five Japanese words: ‘seri’, ‘seiton’, ‘seiso’, ‘seiketsu’, and ‘shitsuke’. When translated, these words become ‘Sort’, ‘Straighten’, ‘Shine’, ‘Standardize’, and ‘Sustain’. In this article, we will discuss the first S, Sort.

What Is ‘Sort’?

Using a broad definition, Sort is making your work processes simpler and easier by eliminating certain obstacles. When you eliminate unexpected errors, you prevent the chance of producing unnecessary or faulty products. At this point, you might be thinking about the basic understanding of Six Sigma. That is, to improve business processes, prevent errors, and eliminate waste. It’s no doubt that the Six Sigma methodology supports itself with the 5S’s of Kaizen. Additionally, you also practice Sort by evaluating the cost of manufacturing certain items and assessing what parts are not needed. This allows you to remove unnecessary factors, costs, and processes, further enhancing your productions.

Implementing Sort

Sort is only effective if you properly implement it into your company. When first practiced in Japan, the Toyota Production System used a simple method for following Kaizen. We define this as PDC, or Plan, Do, Check, and Act. Whenever an error occurs along a production line, all employees must stop their processes and search for the source of problem. This is similar to Root Cause Analysis. For most, implementing Sort is simple. First, designate an area where employees can remove and dispose of unnecessary parts. Typically, this area is referred to as a “Red-Tag” zone. This is required since not all items can be disposed of immediately. Additionally, you should clear your employees’ work zones of unused materials, further increasing the efficiency. Furthermore, keep track your process improvements by hiring a full-time supervisor who checks these processes regularly.

Another way to implement the Kaizen 5S Sort is by using the 5 Why’s. This process allows you to ask why an error occurs and locate where it comes from. By doing this, you organize your business processes, eliminate waste, and increase overall efficiency.


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