5C is a technique for organizing your workplace environment into a safe, efficient, ergonomic working space with clear visual management. 5C was developed from the Japanese tool 5S and is basically the same principle by a different name. 

The idea of implementing 5C is to eliminate or reduce the impact of the seven wastes in your workplace.

Overview: What is 5C? 

5S was first developed in Japan. The original Japanese terms for 5S are:

  1. Seiri
  2. Seiton
  3. Seiso
  4. Seiketsu
  5. Shitsuke

These were subsequently translated into English and became known as:

  1. Sort
  2. Set in Order (Straighten)
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain

The 5S were then revised to become the 5C. They are:

  1. Clear out
  2. Configure
  3. Clean and Check
  4. Conformity
  5. Custom and Practice

Here is a description of the terms and their relation to the 5S:

  • Clear Out (Sort): The goal of Clear Out is to separate the necessary and unnecessary items in the workplace. Items not currently needed and not being used should be removed from the work area. Some may be discarded totally or put nearby for easy retrieval, and some might be Red Tagged and put in a disposition area for further evaluation.
  • Configure (Set in Order): Configure means to arrange the items that are needed in the area and identify them so that anyone can find them or put them away. The key phrase is “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Create borders or boundaries to keep items from creeping out of place with tape or painted lines. Create a home address for items so people will know where they go, and you can tell if something is missing at a glance. Labeling, signage, and item descriptions are important.
  • Clean and Check (Shine): Clean and Check emphasizes the removal of dirt, grime, and dust from the work area daily. This is an ongoing program of keeping the work area swept and clean of debris. It is often said that cleaning is inspection, inspection is detection, and detection is correction.
  • Conformity (Standardize): Conformity means to develop and implement a procedure for doing the 5C, particularly the first three — Clear Out, Configure, and Clean and Check.
  • Custom and Practice (Sustain): Custom and Practice means developing a mindset whereby the 5C program has a discipline that ensures its continued success and is ingrained in everyday work life and procedures.

3 benefits of 5C 

It would seem intuitive that a clean and organized workplace would be beneficial for any organization. Here are three benefits that should encourage any organization to implement a 5C program. 

1. Safety improvements 

An organized workplace and established procedures will reduce accidents and damage.  

2. Quality improvements 

By having an organized workplace, there will be fewer lost items, fewer damaged items, and less of an opportunity for delays of customer deliveries.

3. Process improvements 

If you are spending time looking for something that’s not in its place, you are wasting time. If something is put in an inconvenient location, or is difficult to retrieve, that slows down the process. If you inadvertently misplace something and have to purchase another one, only to find that you already have two that were hiding, you are losing money.

Why is 5C important to understand? 

It is important to understand not only what 5C is but also how to put it into place in your organization.

Having a disorganized workplace will cost you time, money, and employee satisfaction

It is also likely to create customer dissatisfaction. Implementing 5C is the easiest and most cost-efficient way of overcoming these barriers.

5C is a foundation for continuous improvement

If you are disorganized, you don’t really know what your baseline condition is. Without that knowledge, it makes no sense to try improving your processes. Why buy new clothes if you don’t know what you already have because your closet is in disarray? You may already have two shirts of the same color and design.

You may be in violation of OSHA or other health and safety rules

You may incur serious and costly fines for violation of national, state, or local ordinances. If you have blocked fire exits because you have no place to put a pallet, you may be fined for creating a fire hazard — or worse.

An industry example of 5C 

A small manufacturer finally decided to implement a 5C program after a number of negative occurrences. Customer parts were misplaced, causing significant delivery delays. Machines were broken down for months because of missing parts. Employees suffered eye injuries because they weren’t using eye protection when cutting steel parts.  

Multiple items were purchased because they couldn’t find the ones already on the shelves. Cash was tied up in inventory without knowing what exactly they had — or whether there would be any future opportunity to use the material. Bins were not labeled or mislabeled, so employees wasted time looking for parts. There were trip hazards because of electrical wires on the ground. Forklifts were parked in random locations at the end of the day, blocking access to materials and exit doors.  

The owner finally decided to seriously implement a 5C program. After training his people on 5C, they did an initial 5C audit of the plant. It became obvious to everyone that there were lots of opportunities for improvement. The owner is now engaging everyone to help implement 5C in their own areas, which has been met with great enthusiasm.

3 best practices when thinking about 5C 

There is no real technological challenge or capital expense to implementing a good 5C program. Here are a few tips and best practices.

1. Make sure everyone understands the 5C and how it benefits them

As is the case in using many Lean tools, people will often be resistant unless they see some value for doing something different. You should seek to explain the WIFM or “What’s in it for me?” so people will understand that implementing a 5C approach will provide a safer and more productive work environment just as it would by implementing a 5S or 6S program.

2. Engage everyone in the deployment effort for 5C 

Get everyone involved in coming up with ideas on how to 5C their personal area. Get their ideas, and make them accountable for making the changes.

3. Be sure there is a plan for making 5C a custom of how work is done

Sustaining the changes is important since it’s human nature to revert back to old behaviors if there isn’t a defined plan to continue the changes. Having your employees conduct ongoing 5C audits is a good way to keep everyone accountable and engaged. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about 5C

What are the elements of 5C?

Clear Out, Configure, Clean and Check, Conformity, and Custom and Practice. 

Is 5C applicable to non-manufacturing operations?

Yes. In any organization, there are many opportunities to organize the workplace, whether it be the finance department, maintenance, or manufacturing.

What is the difference between 5C and 5S? 

Essentially, it is the same process but with different nomenclature.

In summary: 5C 

5C is the structured activity of creating a safe and organized work environment. It is the foundation of any continuous improvement deployment.  

Getting buy-in and engagement from your employees is critical to establishing the mindset and accountability for implementing and sustaining any 5C deployment. Don’t attempt to do everything at one time. Logically lay out a planned and sequenced deployment across the organization. And don’t forget the non-manufacturing functions since there are significant opportunities for deploying 5C in various other functional areas.

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