Organizing Your Workplace With The "Five S" Process

Organization is one of the keys to an effective workplace. It seems like such a simple thing, but the fact is that when we take the time to organize our workplace, we become more efficient.


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Organization is one of the keys to an effective workplace. It seems like such a simple thing, but the fact is that when we take the time to organize our workplace, we become more efficient. One reason for this increase in efficiency is the decrease in "search time" that results from an organized work area. For anyone who thinks "search time" is not important, give some thought to how much time you spend in a given day looking for something. Whether it's a file, work order, tool, part, blueprint or even something as simple as a pen, we spend considerable time searching for these things, and this is time wasted.

A number of years ago, Toyota identified five principles for assuring an organized work area. These principles are simply good housekeeping practices, but they can have a major impact on any organization. Toyota identified these principles using Japanese words that all begin with the letter "S." Hence these principles became known as "The Five S's." In order to make these principles more meaningful to those of us who speak English, they were renamed as follows:

Sort: Remove all items from the work area that are not immediately needed for the job at hand. This includes tools, documents, containers and equipment.

Set in Order: Everything left in the work area should have a designated place. There are many ways to designate locations, including marked lines on the floor, signs hung from above and labels on all storage devices. In an orderly workplace, everything is assigned to an area and is returned to that area when not being used.

Shine: Clean up the area to consistently make it look good. Everything that you need to do a job should be painted, fixed, refurbished or replaced. Everyone prefers to work in a clean area, and this will lead to improved morale and better productivity.

Standardize: Develop procedures that will keep things like new. Formal procedures for housekeeping and preventive maintenance are essential components of this principle. Responsibility must be assigned to people to develop and follow these procedures.

Sustain: Follow the procedures developed for maintaining an orderly workplace. This requires discipline not to cut corners. If the procedures are not followed, old habits will resurface, and the benefits that come from an orderly workplace will be lost.

As you can see, these principles are not complicated, but they nevertheless require a commitment. By this, I mean a willingness to stop producing parts in favor of putting things where they belong or cleaning up a work area. When faced with this trade-off, a company's housekeeping program may go awry. To avoid putting yourself in a position where you have to decide between production and housekeeping, you should clean and organize as you go. Don't wait until a job is finished before cleaning up chips or sweeping around a machine. Practicing housekeeping principles on an ongoing basis means the tasks are easier and less time consuming.

So if you are going to commit to the Five S principles, where do you begin? The easiest way is to put things away when you have finished with them. Don't just place tools and fixtures on a table, but take them to the storage area. Getting things out of the way gives you more room to work, ultimately making things easier for you. If something gets dirty, clean or paint it. Encouraging everyone to follow these procedures, then holding them accountable for compliance, will stress your commitment to an orderly workplace.