Creating and maintaining order

Why you want to do 5S

I think many people have been taught at home to keep a neat and tidy bedroom, to clean up the dishes after dinner and to stow it away in the same cupboard every day (this is how it works in my neck of the woods anyhow). The bigger question is, why? It is the right thing to do, you might contend. Someone might say it has always been this way or for others it is just part of their daily routine – they don’t even think about it. But why is creating and maintaining order important?

Having a well-organised work environment is called “5S” in the Lean world and is one of the fundamental Lean tools to be applied continuously. The following experience left me contemplating about workplace organisation.

While accompanying a family member to an A&E (Accident and Emergency room), I noticed a sign on the wall in the resuscitation room indicating that the pair of scissors should always be left in this room. Nonetheless, I couldn’t see a pair of scissors and neither could the nurse that arrived a bit later. This reiterated why it is important to have 5S in the workplace, whether you are a nurse, a baker or a toolmaker.

To beautify the workplace is not the main purpose of applying 5S. The reason we need to be well organised is not to be neat and tidy! That is window-dressing-Lean; superficial. I can surely appreciate a neat and tidy desk, room or shop floor, but that is not why we need order.

A purpose of 5S is to enable our staff to spend more time on their real work; the activities that is actually adding value from the customer’s perspective. A well-organised work environment will also help everyone to immediately spot a problem, like a missing pair of scissors. It also assists employees to make less errors, and spend less time on frivolous activities like searching for tools, materials, information, and people.

The value to be created in this resuscitation room is to attend to a patient’s injuries or illness immediately. There is no time searching for a misplaced or broken device required to provide a valuable service. Creating excellent outcomes for customers (even saving lives) is thus based on good 5S. Delivering a product or a service on time to your customers according to their requirements is what the customer dearly values. A disorganised office, messy shop floor or congested storage area will most probably prevent this from happening.

Deeper questions to consider could include the following: if the nurse can’t find the pair of scissors immediately, what else might she/he be searching for? What information or materials might she forget to use because it is not visible? How much time are the staff members spending on these wasteful activities? Is management aware of all the non-value-added activities that is stifling the business? These questions point us to the quality of the culture in the organisation.

KAIZEN™ is much more than just having a neat and tidy workplace. It is a culture within the business whereby everybody, every day, and everywhere are making improvements based on identifying “waste” (inefficiencies) and getting rid of it in a formal way. But to enable this, staff members should be trained, empowered and led to apply the KAIZEN™ approach to business improvement.

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