Within the manufacturing industry, 5S is often the first step in a Lean transformation. The reason is that 5S gives visual improvements such as increased quality and safety simultaneously as increasing the understanding of how Lean works.
That is why many organizations want to transfer the concept into an office environment. Sadly that does not always have a good outcome.
The worst case scenario is someone coming into the office and tells you exactly where everything is supposed to go. If you ask them why it is important, you rarely get an answer at all.
The most important part of 5S at the office is not a military kind of order; instead the goal is agreeing on what is necessary for effectiveness and cooperation. It is the common standard that is the most important thing. Everybody wants order, but no one wishes to clean up after someone else…
Implementation of 5S in offices is easiest as a series of workshops. The purpose of the first workshop is to clear out all of the material that we can do without in personal workplaces, digital environments, and common spaces. Make sure that all of your shelves and storage spaces are used for what it was intended from the beginning. Also make certain they are not overflowing.
Empty out your e-mail inbox, tidy up in all of your common folders and databases and remove all of the documents on the home screen.
If there are environments with bad ergonomics, do something about it. The same goes for safety hazards such as dangerous electrical installments.
The purpose of the second workshop is to agree on what common standards we need. The focus lies on well-being, effectiveness, and cooperation.
Work in groups and define what should be similar at all workplaces. Examples are in boxes, contact boards or the way files should be labeled and placed. Decide what should be stored at every workplace and what should be in the common places.
Go to every common room as the printer room, archive or staff room. Create a standard explaining where everything should be. Decide the level of material we can use (maximum and minimum) and where to buy new material.
Also go through every common digital environment and decide on a standard structure and labeling that will make it easier to find the right item.
Contemplate how the cooperation can be improved. We need a way to communicate our workload, what we plan to do and if we are short on time. The best way is to create visual boards and schedule regular meetings.
Finally, it’s time to bring out the dust cloth! We properly clean every place that normally doesn’t get cleaned. The main reason for the cleaning is to learn what is required to uphold the new standard. That is why we are documenting where we have worked, and everyone who has helped should make a suggestion on how often his/her task should be done in the future.
In this fourth workshop, we decide new practices that we build on what we have learned so far. We decide what to do every day and every week. For example – to every day clear out everything we aren’t using at the moment and update the visual board. Every week – empty out your inbox and computer desktop and make plans for next week. Sign the work on a list.
We finish by creating a system for follow-up and improvement. 5S-rounds are scheduled and practiced by team leaders together with their team. Deviations and ideas are taken care of according to a defined process and make the foundation for the improvement work.
When a workplace can maintain their standard for a certain period, it is cause for celebration. Get some nice diplomas to hang on the wall or have a party together!
By Oskar Olofsson, author of the book "Succeeding with 5S"