5S Seiton (Straighten)
Seiton (Straighten) is the second step of the 5S process. After we have sorted out (eliminated) unneeded items, we must determine where the remaining items belong. This is the straighten step.

Straightening is about far more than simply looking neat. To understand the power and potential of 5S, first let’s consider a culinary phrase familiar to world class chefs,“mise en place”, French for put in place. By definition, mise en place means to collect and arrange the ingredients and instruments necessary for cooking.

Like straightening, mise en place may seem trivial, but mise en place is isn’t just how world class chefs run their workplace kitchens. It’s how they manage and organize all aspects of their lives. The principles of mise en place are very similar to the straighten step of the 5S process.

What is Straightening?
Straightening means to arrange all needed items in a manner that maximizes efficiency. Thus, we should put the things we need the most, in a designated, close, and clearly labeled place. The correct question to ask yourself is “Where is the best place for the items you use the most?”

A common misconception is that straighten simply means to neatly arrange items, such as in orderly rows. This is understandable since the straighten step is also commonly refereed to as “set in order”. However, while a neat appearance is often a by-product of the straighten process, it isn’t the goal. It’s simply a consequence. Rather, the goal of straightening to identify the best place for everything that is needed and ensuring that those things are consistently found in that specific place the moment they are needed.

Why Straighten?
Because the act of straightening organizes materials, it’s much easier to reliably find and properly return things. This helps reduce the frustration, stress, and inefficiency associated with searching for missing items. Everyone knows exactly where everything should be and can find them there when they need them.

Not many people consider this but straightening also helps with inventory reduction since materials don’t go missing and there’s no need to buy extra items you don’t require because you can’t find the ones you already possess.

In fact, most manufactures are able to save significant money on tools and consumables simply by having associates straighten their work cells. However, this isn’t unique to manufacturing areas. It’s just as possible to greatly reduce office supply spend as a result of having office workers straighten their desks and drawers.

The straighten step is so valuable it is actually at the core of many lean and business principles such as safety, ergonomics, standard work, quality, visual work, inventory control, and productivity.

3 Straighten Steps
Only after you’ve completed the sort step by reviewing materials and and eliminating the unneeded ones, should you proceed with the following steps to straighten an area.

  • Step 1: Evaluate the Current Situation

    To adequately evaluate the current situation, you must observe and understand how people conduct the work they do and by extension, how they retrieve, use and store relevant materials. It’s extremely valuable to note how often materials are used, and long it takes to find and return materials.

    Be sure, this step is conducted by observing actual work being performed at the Gemba or the location where the work is conducted. Doing so, significantly reduces the likelihood of poor recollection or miscommunication from sabotaging your team’s ability to gain valuable insights.

    It’s also incredibly important to observe both new and tenured operators. On the one hand, there may be old or new habits that need to be unlearned.

    It’s also vitally important to study and note the distance workers travel to get tools or supplies. Remember that you will want to move things that are often used closer to a worker and relocate the things that are not used as often, to declutter the work area.

    The necessary time to retrieve and put away items is an important factor. Consider what it takes to get the things you need. Is a forklift needed? Does the worker need to request and wait on materials? Do the materials need to be internally counted out, repackaged, or kitted? These other factors can significantly impact productivity.

    In an office environment, a good practice is to file documents according to their usage frequency. For example, you may elect to store working files needed on a daily basis on in a rack on your desktop. By contrast, you also have reference files which you may only need from time to time. It is probably safe to file these in a filing cabinet close to your work area, but not within arm’s reach.

    Archive files containing documents that you hardly ever touch but need to keep can be stored even further away. A good alternative is to store these documents electronically on cloud-based platforms like Evernote or Google Drive. By digitally archiving these files, you could completely eliminate the wasted floor space used to store documents.

  • Step 2: Determine the Best Place

    After you fully understand how activities are carried out, you must decide where things belong based on your understanding. This step is all about ensuring that there is a best place for everything, and everything is in its place. Always ask yourself, “Where should this item go?” Consider where materials can be located that minimize the time and distance required to acquire them when needed. Also consider where other workplace items that need to be located so they are not an obstruction.

    Never forget that the ideal storage location is always the point-of-use (POU), the within arm’s reach of where the worker uses the item. By storing items at point of use, materials are readily available within arm’s reach at the exact moment of need. This makes retrieval far more efficient, effectively eliminating wastes of transportation, motion and waiting.

    Labeling items or boxes on shelves can also help in identifying things easily. This will help you save time rummaging through boxes to find what you need. It is also in this stage where it’s necessary to identify boundaries of where things should (and shouldn’t) go. For example, floor tape can outline where people and machines, and materials are allowed or designated to be.

  • Step 3: Determine How to Store
    As previously mentioned, just because things are easy to find, doesn’t mean that they’re easy to retrieve. Once the ideal location for an item is determined, next we must ensure they are easy to retrieve and return the item.
  • The Three Fs – To ensure success remember the 3Fs of proper storage. Developing storage solutions that account for the 3Fs will help you to ensure that materials remain organized, easy to find, and to easy retrieve when needed.
  • Fixed location: To ensure success remember the 3Fs of proper storage. Developing storage solutions that account for the 3Fs will help you to ensure that materials remain organized, easy to find, and to easy retrieve when needed.
  • Fixed item: Different items don’t share the same location. Each location is reserved for a single unique item.
  • Fixed quantity: Only a predetermined number of a given item can be stored in its proper place (no arbitrary quantities or no mound hills allowed).

Straightening doesn’t have to be so complicated. As always, strive to employ creativity over capital when developing solutions. Just don’t do it alone. Remember that working with a team will get you better, more sustainable results than flying solo!