Friday, January 03, 2003

5S, always a good starting point

I've observed that many, many experienced lean practitioners urge those new to lean to start with 5S. Now, I've done 5S in a number of situations, but I think I got some new insight into it over the holidays.

By way of review, 5S is the five-step system for creating and maintaining an orderly workplace. The five steps are:

  1. Sort
  2. Set in Order
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain
Here is an excellent summary of 5S. A very useful, short book on the subject is published by Productivity Inc. The steps are self-explanatory and are fundamental to any lean system.

I applied 5S over the vacation to my home office. My, what a mess it had become. My intent was to work through the first three steps of 5S in two four-hour blitzes. It worked and here's what I observed.

Sorting forces disciplined thinking. The lean concept here is to get rid of anything that does not add value. Only leave the items you use every week . So, I dug in and started at the top, asking, do I need this? Bottom line: I filled up six file storage boxes with junk. I found and emptied seven three-ring binders. I found an overdue library book and returned it. I have a stack of 20 books to give to our local library for their used book sale. I found some old baseball memerobilia I'm going to list for sale on eBay. I had to ask myself, over and over, does this book/paper/form represent anything I really need? If not, throw it out, give it away, sell it. In the midst of all the junk, I found about six papers that I really valued. The rest went away. (If you'd like a copy of a 1981 issue of Sports Illustrated with a very young Wayne Gretzky on the cover, it is yours for the asking...just Email me!)

"Set in Order" forces labeled storage. I need to keep old tax returns. How? The second step forced me to think through how to sanely keep the items I truly need. Some simple shelves, with hand-written labels did the trick. Minimal cost, reconfigurable.

Labeled Storage helps others help me keep it clean. The few things I need to keep-bank statements, health care records, for example-now each have their place. My wife and I both know where they go. They are far less likely to get "tossed". Without the labels, it is impossible to get to the step of Standardization.

Shine means "shine". It was fun to finally get down to the top of my desk, last seen several years ago, and spray on cleaner and make it really shine. The physical act of cleaning and eliminating literal dust and clutter is amazingly invigorating.

Eliminating clutter frees the mind to focus on what is important. Lean is all about relentlessly eliminating waste that gets in the way of creating value. The simple act of cleaning a workplace is the starting point.

5S is contagious. I did the 5S on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday evening, I went into the office to see my 14 year old son cleaning out a side table where he kept homework he had done on the printer. It, too, had been a mess. Matt cleaned it all off and left one reference book and a box of computer disks neatly in order. I hadn't asked him to do this. He saw the look of amazement on my face and said, sheepishly, "Well, I see what you did and figured this was the least I could do." Good kid.

Find some clutter to clear out today. Clear your mind to add value.

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend.

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