Practical Ecommerce

Streamline Ecommerce Fulfillment with 5S Methodology

Whether your order volume is 10 orders a day or 10,000 and whether you’re shipping orders from a garage, small warehouse, or a large automated facility, you can benefit from learning and applying the 5S methodology, the workplace organization method created by Toyota. The 5S’s are “seiri,” “seiton,” “seiso,” “seiketsu,” and “shitsuke.” The translation in English is “sort,” “arrange,” “shine,” “standardize,” and “sustain.”

For the sake of this article, I’ve altered “arrange” to “set in order” to maintain the 5S’s. The goal of 5S methodology is to organize a workplace for efficiency and effectiveness. It can help ecommerce companies streamline their fulfillment and warehouse operations.

Streamline Fulfillment with 5S Methodology

Sort is the first step when implementing the 5S methodology in your warehouse. Most warehouses have items — tools, packaging, equipment — that are no longer used or haven’t been for a long time. Complete a thorough walk-through of your facility and tag any unused item for disposal, sale, or donation.

Do this first step twice a year. The goal is to make work easier and remove any obstacles. Beyond warehouse management, this same step can be applied to inventory turnover. If inventory has remained unsold for six months, you’re likely losing money. Put it on sale and move it out.

Set in order (arrange) is crucial in maintaining efficiency. Equipment, tools, and, really, everything should always be located in the same place. Be obsessive; this step will save enormous amounts of money, a penny at a time. Consider how much time your warehouse employees spend walking to or looking for a broom, dust pan, pen, pallet jack, printer, time clock, and packaging.

Equipment, tools, and, really, everything should always be located in the same place. Be obsessive; this step will save enormous amounts of money…

Minimize the amount of time looking for these items. It quickly adds up. Label where any inventory should go, so that it’s clear to everyone where the item should be found, returned, or replenished to. The goal in this step is to save time and prevent loss.

Shine serves two purposes. First, it keeps the facility clean. Second, it provides an opportunity to inspect what you’re cleaning to ensure the item is in its place and working. I’m not a believer in large cleaning events and prefer the clean-as-you-go mindset. For example, a packing station should be cleaned at the end of each shift — ready for the next shift.

This also distributes and allocates labor more evenly. Allocating a specific period of time to clean, inspect, and restock helps to evaluate employee or shift productivity from day to day. Implementing the “shine” step will keep the workplace safe and pleasing to work in.

Standardize refers to the process or rules for each position, function, job or task. Efficiency works best when there is a standard that an employee is trained, certified, and held accountable to. Standardization should be as simple as the process allows and should provide for quick identification of where an employee might be failing.

In fact, if the process and rules are properly defined, employees will likely know what caused mistakes and how to correct them. Sometimes employees have a better way to accomplish the task — be open to their suggestions. The goal is to maintain a high efficiencies with few mistakes.

Sustain translates to “doing without being told,” wherein employees follow procedures closely and when one job is completed, they move to the next. Employees typically perform in rhythm with each other and the expectation is set by the process.

Management can usually quickly identify which employees are struggling. Use audits to measure how well employees are performing and, when necessary, retrain, reassign, or replace employees that cannot execute the process. The goal is to keep everything in working order.

A Team Effort

A successful 5S methodology requires a team effort, with clear and concise expectations, and a management model that fosters continuous education and improvement.

Many managers have added “safety” and “security” to the 5S process — expanding it to 7S’s. But, in reality, they are not efficiency items. I’ll address safety and security in forthcoming articles.

Michael Manzione

Michael Manzione

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  1. Carlos Rivera December 1, 2015 Reply

    This is a very timely article for me. I am currently working on streamlining our entire fulfillment process. I agree with many of the points above. Being obsessive ensures efficiency! Thank you!