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Straighten is to make sure that there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. The only way to guarantee this is to think about the visual controls needed right at the beginning of the process.

Figure 1 – The 5S Categories progress to STRAIGHTEN

What does it mean to straighten up the site, or the office, or the garage, or your desk? It means to tidy up, to put things away, set things in order, and hopefully put them where you think they belong. However, the Lean leader learns that this word has a deeper level of meaning. There is some benefit to cleaning up the area every day after we complete our work. But when we speak about straightening up in Lean thinking, we are asking Lean leaders to ensure that there are visual controls in place. They are thinking about the eight wastes in terms of where and how materials are stored, batched, moved, and managed throughout the life of the project. Doing this efficiently is a tall order and requires planning.

Field leaders know they need to order materials and tools at least once a week on projects and knowing when and how much they need to order is important to the production schedule. They want the materials and tools labeled in such a way that it is as efficient as possible. They need to get what they need, when they need it, without having to hunt for materials or count stuff out for an order. Lean practices help them with this. Straighten is ensuring waste is prevented for all these materials needed on site.

There are materials we need to replenish our daily work. We need them close by and organized in such a way that when we need a piece of material; it is within reach. Along the same lines, when we need information, it is within reach. This means a click of the mouse away.

Labeling where things belong is extremely helpful. When you find a wrench on the floor and notice, the wrench has a place on the wall labeled WRENCH. Now that is visual, and it eliminates the waste of looking around to find its place. How would you know that if you were just passing through? You would know because you saw the wrench on the floor, and you noticed on the wall all the shop tools hanging there with labels and an empty hook labeled “WRENCH.” This is useful, but an even better indicator is when someone has taken the time to create a shadow of the wrench on the wall or clam box. What if you have four different-sized wrenches, which one goes where? When you show the size of the wrench by painting or tracing the exact image of the wrench on the wall, you can see from across the room where it goes. This way you do not have to strain to read written labels. You do not have to know much about wrenches to know where it belongs. You need to delve into why the wrench was not put away.

When working with tools and installation materials, what labeling are you using? Are you using the manufacturer’s labels on the shipping boxes? Are materials sorted and in efficient locations for the people doing the work throughout the day. The ten-foot rule - everything I need is within ten feet of me - helps you decide where things should be located. This improves the workers’ efficiency when all their materials, tools and information for the day are within ten feet of the work they are doing. This also means that their materials, tools, and information must be on something like wheeled Baker-style scaffolding or carts. Now the worker can move them as needed quickly and safely throughout the day.

Figure 2 – Moveable scaffolding ready to travel with workers

The key to straightening things properly is visual controls and efficiently locating them for the work at hand. You want to do the straightening as part of the 5S system after you have completed a Sort and have categorized everything and removed the unnecessary items from the work area. Only then are you ready to straighten. Answering certain questions will help you decide what straighten means to you. How often will you need the tools, equipment, and materials? How close should they be to your area of work? This can be a challenge to accomplish regardless of the area you work in. This challenge is out there for all to achieve–whether it is the office, factory, warehouse, or project site. It becomes impossible if there is clutter everywhere. But it is a challenge we are taking on every day as we accomplish sort and move to straighten.

As an example, you have a lift of four-inch conduits and associated elbows, bends, couplings, and connectors. You order them and they arrive on the job site. You must receive them and store them until you need them. You estimated that you have ten weeks of four-inch conduit to install. The question you are asking yourself is, what do you need on-site to maintain the flow of your work to operate uninterrupted? Workflow is your primary concern, along with the efficiency of installation of materials. The goal is ease of access and usage for the worker.

Every trade partner crew needs materials, information, tools, and equipment to get their work completed. Managing these with a 5S system is critical to efficient work. The straightening part of the 5S system is concerned with the planning and organization of these items. This means how they are stored and managed throughout the life of the project; creating efficiency and flow with visual indicators that help with searching and replenishing activities. This is critical to an efficient 5S system.

To straighten (set in order) is to organize materials, tools, or supplies efficiently to support the usage, and have visual controls and signals in place that help get the materials, store them, and replenish them as needed. An empty spot signals that replenishment is needed. This signal is an authorization for stores to move materials, equipment, or tools to replace what was consumed. This system of movement is the intricate dance that is orchestrated throughout the project. This was well thought out at the time of doing the second S, straighten.

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George Trachilis, P.Eng. lives in Canada and consults throughout the world. He started his career at Motor Coach Industries in 1994 where he received Lean coaching by the best consultants in ERP systems, Just-in-Time manufacturing, and Total Quality Management. Having lead change for over 10 years, he decided to start his own consulting firm in 2003. It grew to become one of Canada’s Fastest Growth Companies by 2006. George is a Shingo-research Award-winning Author and Coach. He co-author of Lean Construction Leaders: A Trade Partner’s Guide to Lean.

Perry is Lean Executive Director at Parsons Electric Company (PEC). Perry's interest in construction began with his family's tradition of construction in carpentry and masonry fields. Perry served honorably in the United States Air Force. Following the service, he spent many years earning degrees in the technologies industry until he joined Parsons and began his electrical construction career where he has served for the last twenty-plus years. Perry is a certified instructor for Lean Construction Institute (LCI), served (s) on the LCI education board, and is a certified instructor for Jeff Liker's Lean Leadership Institute (LLI).