5S in the Warehouse

by theleanthinker

So a quick update to the situation in the warehouse.  Amongst other implementation plans, we decided to introduce 5S with the support of the management and DCOs (distribution centre operatives).  I will be focusing just upon the 5S implementation we used in this post, and perhaps look at other aspects in future blog posts.

In the standard 5S manner we first looked at sort.  To enable our implementation to be adequately sustained it was vital to gain ‘buy-in’ from all levels of the hierarchy.  We involved DCOs

Sort – The first step is to remove all unnecessary items. 

  • We first looked at the paths which the pickers used.  Although the pickers used zigzag patterns, they would typically loop back upon themselves.  We adjusted the pick route in order to remove this waste.
  • Pickers often took items on their LLOPs (low lift order pickers) which they did not need.  Especially food and drink items, so these items were removed.
  • All forklifts can operate anywhere in the warehouse. Man up order pickers were used to eliminate the need for ladders, and to assist with order picking from level 2 and 3.  
  • To reduce the need for pallet reshuffling the items were placed heavy first, then lighter last.  This also helped the stores at the other end, and they could break down a pallet much more safely.


  • As always with sift:  “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
  • The location of the comms cell was not friendly to the users who needed it on a daily basis, this was moved to a more appropriate place.  It also made sure that the information displayed was easy to access, to improve the usage of it.
  • There was difficulty with items such as breakpack, with pickers unable to identify easily which were breakpack and which items were not.  We addressed this with new clear signage.  Removing old signage, such as “Pick it Right!” – Signs which didn’t help the pickers in the slightest.
  • To prevent the small items falling off LLOPs and dropping through the pallet, we provide blue bins which hygiene filled with empty boxes.  These were then placed at the end of the smaller item aisles to enable the pickers a box to pick into.
  • Red boxes were placed at carefully chosen intervals which were to be used for broken or part-case* stock.  This red box was then owned by the stock office, and they would deal with the items placed in the red box.


  • This was one area in which the warehouse needed little effort.  It already had impressive hygiene, as this was one of the customer KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). 
  • For shine we mainly tried to reduce the amount of food/drink waste deposited in the pickfaces.  This was simple by preventing this type of material to be allowed on the LLOP itself.
  • We also did some small clear up activities in the offices.


  • This is one area which we had considerable work to do.  There were standard processes, however the SOPs were extremely wordy and the employees who were not fluent with English struggled with them.  To combat this we introduced new SOPs, detailing everything they should know, but made them incredibly visual. 
  • There were many areas of the picking procedure which were not covered by an SOP, such as pallet wrapping, breakpack picking, and calling for replenishments.  We combined our observations with the management/DCO knowledge to ensure the SOPs were “best practice” and that they were visually intense.
  • The training process for the pickers was also lacking standard.  With pickers “shadowing” an experienced picker as their training, it was producing a large variance in picker ability.  We understood that a training standard was needed.
  • We created a training syllabus, which would be followed for each new picker, and at each new process, they would be signed off, showing that they had full capability.  Along with this we created a shorter syllabus for current employees, to ensure that we upskilled our current workforce also.
  • In the training syllabus, an instructional video was developed.  This had questions asked throughout the video, to test the new/current pickers and ensure that they are fully understanding their process.  This video also introduced some information about up and downstream, in hope that they would understand how their role affects other areas of the business.
  • The video was another way in which we attempted to address the language barrier, and so far have had some great feedback from various different nationalities.


  • Throughout the project we were adamant that nothing was to be done solely by ourselves.  It is clear that solid customer engagement at all levels is key to sustainment.  Along the way we had quality circles, problem solving events, blue sky visions etc.  These were all ways in which we hoped to engage and pass over the ownership of the newly implemented process and ideas.
  • Along with employee engagement we produced new areas to add onto the workplace audit.  This was to provide a means to monitor the usage, and flag any issues which could be raised.
  • With regards to training, a feedback system was implemented, allowing the pickers to give positive and negative feedback on how they enjoyed the training.  This has been passed over to several TLs who were extremely excited about continually improving the training, as well as the warehouse in general.

As we have only just implemented these changes, I shall leave it there, and write another post in coming weeks to verify how the sustainment and improvement processes are going.