5S Workplace Organization in the Office and Plant


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Though many of the Lean tools have originated in the Toyota Production System, the maturation and migration of them to non-manufacturing settings is a natural evolution. This evolution builds on the foundation of Lean in the plant and adapts the concepts to other venues.

5S Workplace Organization is one lean tool that is increasingly applied in the office as well as in the plant. The basic reason for this cross-border applicability stems from its title, Workplace Organization.

The key element of 5S is the getting rid of non-useful material that has accumulated in the workplace. The workplace occupants have become accustomed to files, documents, sales brochures, equipment, and supplier catalogs taking up valuable office space and being piled on top of cabinets, under desks, in back rooms, and on desks. Similarly production inventory, scrap, tools & jigs, and unused machinery accumulate on the shop floor. As well as being a hindrance to finding anything (which in itself is a waste inefficiency); the accumulation of “stuff" is a barrier to carrying out the essential tasks of business and constitutes a safety hazard. A 5S red tag blitz quickly identifies what has to be removed from the workplace in what is called SORT, the first of the 5S's.

Once that is done, which in the office may include moving files to an archival area and in the plant bringing in a dumpster for scrapped items, SET IN ORDER, the second of the 5S's, which is having " a place for everything and everything in its place", brings organization to the workplace. Having observed the movements of the employees as they go about the essential elements of their duties, a spaghetti diagram brings to light a visual map of their movements. This stage of 5S sets the placement of tools, files, etc.in logical, ergonomically correct positions and makes the workplace organized. In the plant setting the use of painted / taped marking of aisles, material set down locations, work cell boundaries, and shadow boards for production tools and cleaning items is common. The labeling of “homes" for materials, whether in the plant or office (in the form of office supplies) moves the environment from one of disorganized clutter to that of being supportive of the task at hand. The big payoff here is the amount of “free space" that is generated and the opportunity to create a more efficient and ergonomic workspace (on average the companies discover that they are able to free up from 30% to 70% of their floor and office space). The need to physically expand the shop floor or office space is eliminated by judicious use of the space formerly occupied by waste. Another positive element of implementing 5S is the pride the staff takes in their new environment.

The third S, SHINE, comes into play when the workplace is given an initial cleaning and then maintained in a “spic and span" condition through regularly keeping it clean and orderly as part of the daily work routine.

The first 3 S's are the easy physical elements of 5S. The next two, STANDARDIZE and SUSTAIN require a change in culture to bring them into being. Regular checking to ensure the first 3 S's are maintained is critical to prevent backsliding and loss of the gains made. The development of standardized 5S audit sheets is a key element to base-lining and then measuring progress. All employees from top management to the janitor must be involved and “walk the talk" to sustain 5S as a way of doing business in a Lean enterprise.

The facility should be “tour ready" at all times as a result of an ongoing 5S program. Everyone is able to monitor the state of the workplace because with a proper 5S implementation everyone can readily ‘see’ when any thing is out of place in their environment. The workplace becomes visually controlled by all staff and is less of a “command and control" environment with only one person responsible. Employee pride grows and is evident in less waste with better information and product flow to the customer. That's the bottom line!!

Glen Tolhurst
Lean Advisor
Lean Advisors Inc. (LEAD)

Lean Advisors Inc. (LEAD) provides Lean And Six Sigma Training And Implementation support to organizations of all sizes and sectors including healthcare, office, service, manufacturing, mining, aerospace, food processing, high tech.


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