Real Lean Transformation

5S in labs; a waste of time, right?

Deployment of 5S in a laboratory setting is a time consuming effort and one which in itself delivers little in terms of productivity gains. So why bother…?

The primary misconception about 5S in labs is that it is purely a housekeeping endeavour, whose proverbial box can be ticked once cupboards are labelled and fancy traffic light Kanbans have been installed.

This is an unfortunate perception which manifests itself when the goal of 5S in labs is considered to be the same as that in an engineering workshop. GMP labs are inherently clean and tidy. While 5S may reinforce this, it is not generally required to ensure waste is autoclaved and floors are disinfected. 5S in labs is an exercise in creating a seamless environment, where management of documentation, archiving, consumable ordering and test execution (to name but a few activities that constitute daily business) happen without need for scheduling, delegation or excessive training; one where day-to-day routine testing roles are uninterrupted by searching for pipette tips or, indeed, by panic stricken audit preparation.

The second misconception is that 5S is an exercise in time-wasting due to the fact all analysts know where to find their work materials without the need for pictures and inventory lists.

This may be true of a seasoned analyst; but what of the minutes and hours a new analyst can save when they need not ask multiple co-workers how to find or order depleted reagents, replenish dirty glassware or archive a completed logbook. In a time when recruitment is on an ‘absolute must’ basis, every minute of experience that can be passively imparted to new lab colleagues to expedite their transition into a fully productive team member has to be considered worthwhile.

The third, and perhaps most important point, is that 5S in labs earns its stripes in the context of a levelled, flowed environment.

One of the many barriers to developing truly levelled roles is the volatility in test execution from one day to the next created by a lack of control over test variables – this could mean an abundance of Pasteur pipettes today, none tomorrow; sufficient test solutions in-date today, expired tomorrow. Sustained regard for management of these variables makes levelling a complex testing environment significantly easier.

So perhaps the real question is; how can labs afford not to bother!

This blog piece was written by Karen Wrafter, Senior Consultant at BSM. If you would like further information on Implementing 5S in Labs please send an e-mail to Karen Wrafter.

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