I’m not a fan of standardizing every last thing. However, there is real value in standardizing inventory, processes and products in order to provide consistency. And consistency is important because it fosters trust.
Additionally, when everything is in place and processes are clearly outlined, you're able to save time and run your business leaner.
You can start to run your business more, instead of it running you.
Standardization, efficiency and organization are all themes of 5S, a workplace organization system that originated in Japan.
5S was originally used in manufacturing, but it is still totally applicable to your small business today. 5S is excellent for businesses with inventory (food, retail, etc.). It's useful for any process where you have multiple people doing the same thing to create a standard outcome. Even your office organization can benefit from 5S.
Benefits of 5S:
- it will save you time in the long-run
- makes your business processes/tasks more efficient
- helps you create a consistent product
- can function as a QA department - by helping you to standardize your process
- forces you to know your usage/sales of raw materials/inventory
- you’ll be less likely to run out of things
- you’ll be less likely to have excess inventory
- you’ll spend less time looking for things because everything has its place
- your ordering will be quicker and easier because everything will be organized
- you can potentially run your business with less staff, since your processes and inventory will be more efficient
- you won't be as needed for common questions and instead will have more time to work on big-picture tasks or maybe even take a vacation
Do these benefits sound like what you've been looking for?
If so, let’s get on to applying 5S to your business.
The 5 (English) S’s are:
1. Sort - (determining what you need and don’t need to run your business)
- You can start with one area of your business (your office, for example) instead of launching into doing your whole space at one time.
- Go through all your drawers/shelves/storage and decide if each item is absolutely essential to run your business. If it is “maybe I’ll need it” - get rid of it.
- For the excess stuff - Craigslist it, give to another business that may be in need (bonus, you're fostering goodwill with them) or donate to a thrift store or reuse shop (like The Scrap Exchange).
2. Set In Order - (organizing everything, everything has its place)
- Make everything have a permanent place.
- Label storage areas so that anyone can find items as needed.
- Clear walkways and floors of clutter for safety and efficiency.
- Set up workspaces to be efficient. Think of the kitchen work triangle. Everything you need for a specific task should be near that workspace. You should not have to walk far to get an item to complete your work.
- Designate areas for personal items. Anything that is going to come in and out of the space should have a designated area.
3. Shine - (clean)
- Clean the workspaces. It’s efficient to Shine while you Set In Order. It’s natural to do them together, especially if you discover that some surfaces haven’t been cleaned in a long time.
4. Standardize - (set up standard processes)
- Create SOPs.
- Communicate that regular maintenance is everyone’s job.
- Implement daily tasks list (cleaning, stocking, etc.) to check off.
- The check off portion provides a simple way for the process to be audited.
5. Sustain - (maintain the process and organization)
- Make sure everything is reset and restocked at the end of each day.
- Audit regularly (once a year, once a month, etc.) and maintain 5S.
Customize for your business:
You can see that the major cost is your upfront time to set it up and the time it will take to maintain. Just like everything else in your business, you determine how much time you want to put in based on the benefit. It may be unnecessary and ridiculous for you to audit your 5S situation once a month. Or there may be processes that are, by nature, impossible for you to create an SOP. But you may find that getting rid of excess items and creating efficient workspaces would greatly improve your business.
Taking time to make your business more efficient will benefit you in the long-run. Don't stress over the upfront cost. The benefits are worth it.