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A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place — Wouldn't It Be Nice?

Debra Sunohara

Does it seem to take forever to find that document on your server? Do you spend hours in your storage room looking for things? If so, than you are probably wondering if there is a way to reduce time wasted searching and increase your productivity, and the answer is a simple, Yes! Implementing a 5S cycle can be the answer to these problems.

5S You Say?

5S or FiveS is a great foundation for creating a focus on organizing, increasing visual order, and standardizing a workspace, be it at work, or at home. 5S is a system with a Japanese origin (The Toyota Production System), used predominantly in the manufacturing industry, it incorporates 5 stages all beginning with the letter “S”:

  • Seiri
  • Seiton
  • Seiso
  • Seiketsu
  • Shitsuke

These words can be loosely translated to mean Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

The goal of 5S is to organize a workspace to promote flow, reduce wasted time, reduce cost, optimize productivity, increase safety and boost mental health and morale by using visual cues to increase the consistency of successful results.

The Cycle

5S is a cycle and not just a step-by-step process. Each stage follows the previous one — then the process repeats itself anew in an on-going basis.

The stages of 5S are as follows:

Sorting (整理)

Essential items only, everything else must go!

A review of all the things in your office, on your desk , in your room, or on your computer or server should be conducted. Whatever is needed to do business is kept; the rest is discarded, recycled or sold. This stage eliminates wasted space, makes what you need easily accessible, increases “thinking space” by de-cluttering your surroundings, and promotes productivity be decreasing wasted time spent sifting through unnecessary clutter.

Set In Order (整頓)

Arrange everything that you kept so that it is easy to find and missing items are easily noticed.

Pegboard-280x187This stage of 5s fosters efficient workflow. You know where your tools are because everything has a designated place — you don’t waste time looking for them. Things like labels, storage bins, colour coded files and efficient shelving solutions are excellent ways to accomplish this task.

Shine (清掃)

Clean your space.

Cleaning should be part of your daily routine just like the other four stages of 5s — Japanese workers clean at the end of every shift. A clean workspace promotes a positive mental outlook that increases productivity and flow, so sweep, dust and “shine” away!

Standardize (清潔)

Everyone should know “how we do things here”.

By understanding, agreeing to, and implementing standardizing practices in the work environment, abnormal practices are easy to identify and correct. This will require a good amount of discussion and planning with your co-workers. It is important to use visual cues such as posters, pictures or labels to reinforce these habits and facilitate the understanding of the practices.

Sustain (躾)

Maintain what you have done; don’t let all the hard work go to waste!

The fifth — and perhaps the most important — stage incorporates sustaining the previous four S’s. Focus on the new standards and attempt to prevent a gradual regression to the old ways. Reminders with the use of visual cues such as posters, labels or pictures facilitate success in this stage.

Don’t Get Carried Away

It is easy to go overboard with 5S. You could put down electrical tape on your desk to outline where your pencils, eraser, ruler, laptop and notepad go, and you can even go a step further and force this on your employees!

5s desk-260x179Successful 5S implementation requires that everyone involved is involved.

Before implementing 5S make a plan; don’t just force this new system without warning! Like any successful change initiative, key factors for making change happen need to be in place, including senior management being fully committed and leading the way.

Implementing 5S In An Office Environment Can Be Difficult

Culture is a very important part of office life, and is much more evident in an office than in a factory. Employees customize their space with personal belongings to make it feel more like their own. This can create a problem since 5S takes away a lot of the personal touches in an office, and people can see this as an attack on their sense of self.

As with everything, moderation can go a long way. Office workers can embrace the other 4 S’s without diving too deeply into “Set in Order”. In fact, many times a good “Sort” will motivate people to do a much better job with order and cleanliness.

Understand the culture before you force new systems from the top down.

The Sixth “S”

There is a lot of talk online about the inclusion of “Safety” in 5S.

While obviously important in an industrial setting, this concern applies to the office as well. The correct application of 5S should reduce many obvious health risks in the office like elimination of hazzards such as loose cables and clutter.

However, it is important to keep in mind the many ergonomic issues stemming from the physical setup of desks and workstations. From carpal tunnel syndrome to back injuries, most health issues arising from the office can be prevented!

For more information on 5S for the office, I would suggest Lean Thinking by James Womack & Daniel Jones.

Do you implement 5S in your work environment? Would like to share your experience? Do you plan on implementing 5S? As always, thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated!


Photo Credit for the 5S Desk:



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Greg. do you think this will work with creative ‘out of the box’ thinkers? Do you think this respects the diversity of the way different people work, think, optimize their individual work days?

I am not asking these questions as criticism, but out of pure curiosity.

I worked once in an environment that mandated clean desk. I am not my most efficient with a clean desk—and the type of work I was doing then (managing many complex projects with hundreds of details to keep in mind) did not lend itself to a clean desk.

In addition, over the years I have developed a system to take into account my own energy and creativity cycles, and this requires that my various priority items (high, medium, low) are visible. So what I did, and what some others did, was develop a system to hide my ‘mess’ from the bosses. This was a waste of time.

I have known extremely creative people who work in a whirlwind of what appears to be chaos and out this come ideas that no one else has the mental apparatus to dream up. These people are treasures if they are managed so that they are not forced to conform, which they are really unable to do.

I am a big fan of lean, and I actually do keep my own work space quite neat about half the time. But that’s me. Do you think the way of organizing you describe respects diversity? Do you think it is appropriate for all types of workplaces and tasks? Is there a middle ground?

By Ellen Godfrey on 2011/09/21

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Posted by Debra Sunohara
Posted on September 20, 2011

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Categories: management, process improvement, productivity, quality