Organizing the Work Place

Organizing the Work Place

It’s difficult to find out the paper I wanted. I can see papers everywhere but not the one I wanted. Puzzling is, how my secretary manages to find out! Tea stains on table surface, dust layers on monitor, over-stuffed file cabinets, and cartons of papers on floor….

Is this quite common? How many of us are working in a place that is filled with dirt & debris (be it office or shop-floor)? People working in such conditions consider searching as a part of their routine. “Who knows where” is highly valued. Is this right? Is there a solution?

5S is an initiative that enables you turnaround a workplace cleaner & safer apart from making your job simpler and satisfying. “5S method”, as it is called refers to five Japanese words: seiri (sort), seiton (set in order), seiso (Shine), seiketsu (Standardization), and shitsuke (Self-discipline or Sustain). Translated or transliterated, into English, they all start with the letter “S”. 5S is all about how to organize a work place for efficiency and effectiveness, clearing the clutter as to find items without searching, cleanliness and sustaining the new order.


Mr. Hiroyoki Hirano has formulated the concepts and tools of the 5S system. He wrote a book 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace for Managers that was readily accepted by the management of manufacturing companies. So, we can say 5S is originated from Japan.

Even before Mr. Hirano formulated 5S, Ford Company was practicing similar initiative which they called “CANDO”. C meant Cleaning the Clutter, A for Arranging & Organizing, N for Neatness, D for Discipline and O for Ongoing Improvement.

The glaring difference between CANDO and 5S is Standardization. Mr. Hirano felt that without Standardization, Sustenance too, would be a problem. He believed that Standardization builds understanding among employees of how they should do the work.

No continuous improvement initiative will sustain without Standardization & Self-Discipline.

5S provides a structure for improvement programs. It can be termed as the DNA for any continuous initiative program. 5S is an ice-breaker exercise that enables the success of cross functional teams. The biggest myth among 5S implementers is that 5S is a step by step activity. Certainly not! 5S cannot be implemented in steps. All the elements of 5S should go together.

Logical decision of trashing the not needed is required just like our body removes the unwanted things every morning. Imagine our body fails to remove the waste from our body for a day! Similar situation would arise in our workplace if unwanted items are not removed. Distinguishing what is needed and what is not becomes difficult as one has the tendency to hang onto the possessions. Added to the logical decision of trashing, classifying items into needed but not now; but not here; but not this much paves way for effective Seition. Red-Tagging on items where decisions could not be taken at certain levels bring in the involvement of higher authorities.

Managers had always recognized the need to decide upon locations for materials and tools. However, they were unclear about what to do with the non-essential items – whether to remove, stored elsewhere or trashed. 5S makes a clear distinction by differentiating between Seiri and Seiton. 5S makes it clear that any effort to consider setting in order (a layout change of flow creation) before the removal of the unnecessary items would lead to a sub-optimal solution!

Similarly, Seiso, or cleanliness, is a distinct element of the change program that can transform a process area. As per 5S, the definition of a cleaning methodology (Seiso) is a discrete activity. Breaking down the improvement activity in this way clarifies that the requirements for the cleanliness regime must be understood as a factor in the conceptual stage of Seiton.

Change can be introduced and people might adapt to the changes as long as the Management drives it. It slips as the focus is lost from the top. Standardization or Seiketsu, helps us in maintaining the focus. With Standardization, the behavioral pattern changes and hence a cultural change is brought in. Shitsuke or Self-discipline is a distinct approach to bringing about a new way of working.

The identified benefits from 5S can be regarded as falling within the KAIZEN™ portfolio – that is, they are all based around the elimination of waste in one form or another and enhancing the performance. The most obvious benefit from items being organized in such a way is that of improved productivity. Another benefit of 5S is improved plant maintenance – workers ‘owning’ a piece of plant, responsible for keeping it clean and tidy, can take ownership for highlighting potential problems before they have an impact on performance. The next is Quality. Obviously, dirt is not welcome in any organization and it is needless to mention that a cleaner environment improves the quality. Imagine where your goods are supplied along with a soiled Invoice! What do we project about our organization?

Next to follow is improved Safety. Clear pathways between workbenches and storage racks can minimize accidents, so does neatly-swept floors. Improving the layout of the facility merges with the concept of visual management; if one can see the status of plant and of work in the facility, then benefits will accrue as the complexity of communication and its gaps are eliminated. 5S can also be a valuable sales tool when potential customers visit; a well-organised, clean and tidy facility sends a message of a professional and well-organized supplier.

Let’s get started with 5S as this is the first step for any continuous improvement initiative.

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