Why Should I Mark My Cupboards!?

office 5S drawer marking.PNGRonak has been successful with 5S in the factory but is facing challenges with 5S in the office. He said in a follow up to the post on 5S guidelines for the office:

Only problem is in personalized cabins, where there is lots of arguments from managers why should they mark and label their cupboards and drawers, I know where i keep all my things.
Can you help me in this?

Readers, please feel free to chip in with advice.
Personal goods in non-personal cabinets
If the contents of the cabinet were truly “personal” as in lunch box, family photos, crossword puzzles, etc. then the first S of 5S should have taken care of some of those things. Whatever remains after the 1st S – whatever is not Sorted out – should be put in its proper place and labeled so that the accumulation of clutter becomes immediately visible again. Otherwise you keep having to go back to sort.
When not to mark
If the cabinet contained top secret information it may be a good idea not to detail its contents. If it was agreed that the cabinet is essentially a personal locker, then just mark it as such but don’t detail the contents. If it’s never important for anyone else to be able to find anything inside of those personal cabinets, then they probably don’t need to mark those cabinets.
However if that were true, it raises the question of why only one person (the manager) in the office used that information or materials in the cabinet. Surely the information belongs to the company and is used as part of a process that involves an internal customer-supplier relationship. If that logic holds true, then the contents need to be visible because someone else may need to retrieve the information when the manager is absent or otherwise indisposed.
What’s the point of marking?
We should not mark and label things just because the 5S textbook says to and gives examples and instruction on how to do it. Whatever we do with kaizen needs to be sensible and reasonable. Marking identifies something, yes. But more importantly it identifies everything that it is not. This enables visual management by saying “books go here” for example, allowing us to see that all non-books in that location are an abnormality. Marking may not be the most practical, effective or attractive way of achieving this. As an alternative perhaps one could replace the cabinet doors and walls with transparent plastic so no labels were needed. Yet another alternative is to take photos of the contents and paste these photos on the outside of the cabinets.
Elevate the discussion
I’ve never met a cabinet I didn’t want to label. But if not having the cabinets labeled never causes a problem, it’s OK not to label them. However being unable to see something is in itself a problem within a lean workplace because visualization is one of the golden rules. Making problems visible is the only way we will solve them. If the managers can’t agree to this principle they are in no way ready for 5S or any aspect of lean.


  1. Daniel Markovitz

    August 17, 2009 - 4:45 am

    I think the discipline of 5S helps focus the mind on what’s important in one’s job, and what is merely waste. Given the volume of information that office workers manage, there’s a huge amount of stuff — emails, files, reports, magazines, websites, etc. — that they’ve collected as part of their work. Some if it is useful for getting the job done. Some of it is useful. . . but realistically, they’re not actually going to use it, because they’re just too busy, or their job has changed. And some of it was useful at one point, but now it’s obsolete garbage.
    Applying 5S to this collection of stuff means making decisions about all that information and figuring out what to do with it. Whether they choose to actually use it for something, archive it for the future, or toss it, they’re finally assessing their work and analyzing their needs. And this analysis gives greater clarity about what’s needed on a daily basis to create customer value.

  2. Isaac D. Curtis

    August 18, 2009 - 4:16 am

    Everyone is a teacher. Sometimes the teacher needs to call in a substitute teacher. The substitute teacher needs to know where the teacher’s materials are so the class can be taught 🙂

  3. John Santomer

    August 19, 2009 - 12:29 am

    Dear Jon,
    Now I understand why the Westerners were fascinated by the Japanese simplistic,clean and organized approach at their work place to an extent that personal items such as family photos and office display materials were very minimal. It is simply that the Japanese recognized the importance of having an uncluttered work area as professed by the rules of 5S. For the Japanese, an item to be placed in their work area need to have more than just the purpose of being a display item. Perhaps they have already grasped the idea that if an item is in the corporate workplace then it is no longer essentially a personal belonging and has become a corporate property occupying corporate space.
    And as you’ve stated if the presence of the item is work related-then it should be marked (unless the materials contain corporate confidential or top secret info by nature). The presence of corporate work related materials in the office means that all who are authorized to have access should be able to find the item easily even if they come to the area for the first time. This way labels readily reduce the search time for an item. Which goes double for electronic files kept in a huge files repository.

  4. sharma

    August 19, 2009 - 1:35 am

    Dear Jon,
    I think the answer lies in your excellent article “the power of you” :
    where you have stated the four stages in personal change curve :
    denial-resistance-exploration-commitment and the four stages of competence
    1. Unconscious incompetence
    2. Conscious incompetence
    3. Conscious competence
    4. Unconscious competence.
    That’s why kaizen takes time to sink in an organization.
    Secondly, (without any prejudice) I am developing a feeling that just like the MBAs are always joked about by the real Entreprenuers, the same will be true for the “well educated black belt holders of six sigma” who want to achieve everything in a short span of time.
    I think that Ronak should also reflect on the human aspect of implementing TPS.

  5. Ronak

    September 23, 2009 - 8:38 pm

    Thank to all for the input. This will definately help me in implementing 5S in personal cabinets.

  6. Steve

    July 20, 2010 - 7:30 am

    Long before I read the first thing about 5S, I was teaching my children, specifically my oldest, that everything within the home needed a place and either a purpose or sentimental connection. (I know a sentimental connection can be connected to purpose but for argument sake, purpose here is the item is used like a coffee pot, pictures that are hung on the wall, etc.; where as, sentimental is grandmother’s purse that is never used.) As long as an item has a place and one of the others, then it can be kept; everything else should find a new home. I think this can be taken to an extreme at the work place though. When you start nixing personal affects like pictures, coffee cups, etc. you are not gaining anything in the form of efficiency, you actually lose it because people are thinking about how rigid the company has become. Pictures and personal affects have a place that is out of the way to allow efficiency in work and still allow employees to personalize their space.
    Another way it can be taken to extreme and interfere with efficiency is by the following example, I’m right handed, so I have a pen carousel holder on the right hand side of my computer (looking at the screen), so I can reach with my right hand, grab a writing utensil and begin righting with my right hand. This wouldn’t be the same for a left handed person who would probably be more efficient with the pen holder on the left side (looking at the screen). The point is, 5S is a useful tool for organizing, straightening and cleaning an area to make it more efficient, but taken to the extreme of removing person photos on a wall that would otherwise be blank doesn’t improve efficiency. The same can be said about a small personal space to put lunch sacks, purses, etc.