Office 5S Video: Too Much or Too Little?

By Jon Miller Published on October 27th, 2008

Cheers jeersfrom across the internets as the Wall Street Journal gives prime time coverage to our beloved lean management principles sort, straighten, sweep, standardize and sustain, otherwise known as 5S. Kyocera’s North American headquarters is going for “perfect 5S” according to the Wall Street Journal article Neatness Counts in the 5S Club. Today’s article comes with a video on their office 5S effort titled “Cluttered Cubicles Go Lean With 5S Rules.” Click the triangle inside the circle on the lower left to play.

Here is the Youtube link to this video if the above link does not work for some reason.
Is this too much 5S? Clearly the people in this video are uncomfortable and not overly excited to be demonstrating their “perfect 5S”. The tone of the article is at best tolerant of the advanced degree to which Kyocera is taking their 5S effort by enforcing the standards and removing things that don’t belong in the workplace. The most common argument against this sort of office 5S is that it “depersonalizes” the workplace. But doesn’t this miss the point? Where is the “I” in team? Why do we assume that personalization means humanization? How many cubicles are decked with not just photos of sports teams but of family, their customers and team members in the workplace? If “personalization” supports the purpose of the team as a whole rather than just individuals, then it does not create misalignment and is not waste. When it’s just “me” then it may do so.
Is it going too far to make a place for everything, label it clearly and ask that things be put back where they belong after use? Apparently to some people, although the logic of why this is escapes me. I suppose there is something inherently different about factory work that just demands that 5S be maintained at a much higher level than in a traditional knowledge work environment such as a hospital, bank or your average white collar function of a manufacturer.
Is it too little 5S? It certainly isn’t perfect yet. At one point when an hole punch is removed from it’s location, all that remains is an outline of the object – ridiculously insufficient to identify what was there. More than a footprint we need a photograph and even the serial number of that very item to be located within that outline. Kyocera should have waited until their 5S was less of a work-in-process and even more “perfect” before showing the world. As a result, they made their office 5S look like “show lean” and not a serious effort.
Is it disrespectful to people to ask them to keep it neat and organized for other people? Either by choice of the WSJ journalist or by the design of Kyocera’s 5S program it appears that people don’t make the connection from 5S to making waste visible to removing waste to improving safety and quality. The purpose of removing clutter is to improve the performance of the team. If the purpose is mistaken, then it is too little 5S, not too much. Let’s not confuse activity (clearing clutter) with meaningful work (designing effective workplace processes).
Here’s is a lean rule of thumb worth noting: when faced with a choice between doing something halfway and calling it good or pursuing perfection even if it means making some people unhappy, pursue perfection.
You’re going to make people unhappy either way.

  1. Chris Nicholls

    October 28, 2008 - 5:24 am

    Dear Jon
    Thank you for providing a link to this video. I feel what was demonstrated by the video is only good house keeping. I couldn’t imagine any advantage or kaizen in just tidying up. Evidence of sorting the necessary from the unnecessary was not visible but it looked tidier than my office. The Key is to have a good reason to do 5S, depersonalising individual workstations and insistence on marking out the position of every piece of equipment just annoys employees and serves little purpose. In a modern office it is far more important to apply the 5s principles to your PC and e mail. You can’t readily see these electronic processes all you see are people operating a keyboard and clicking a mouse. In a modern office environment you can’t see if people are doing their work in the most effective Muda free way.
    I have found that applying lean principles including 5S to the office environment requires a more thoughtful approach than simply applying the same approaches that work in a manufacturing environment.
    Your article last year about e mail 5S was inspirational and knocks spots off the wall street journal video example, I learnt a lot from your rules.
    Best Regards

  2. Lester Sutherland

    October 29, 2008 - 12:32 pm

    Frederick Taylor would be proud of Kyocera…..

  3. Lee-Jon

    November 2, 2008 - 1:55 pm

    Have to agree 100% with Chris here. Manufacturing 5S isn’t the same as office/transactional 5S – and those who directly translate it often miss the point. Virtually all offices have their tools and processes in one place – on a PC. This is where 5S should direct its effort. The PC is the factory, the workspace is usually a holding area for items required during the day. I’ve never seen or heard of a decent example where removing pictures of loved ones was more efficient or effective. Whether that’s a team photo – or a cuddly toy. People are smart- they pick up the seven wastes because they can see the link to performance and productivity, but drawing a line around a stapler… its like teaching them that wearing a tie makes them type faster!

  4. Gary Ray

    February 7, 2009 - 7:13 pm

    Oh my. Do adults need treated like children? This is 5S taken to an extreme.

  5. Chris W

    September 2, 2011 - 1:13 pm

    Oh my… cannot help but cringe at most of this.
    > Where is the “I” in team?
    Wow, that’s painting with a broad brush. Just because someone has their stapler on the left or the right side of the desk that’s indicative of someone not embracing a team environment?
    I think not!
    > Is it going too far to make a place for
    > everything, label it clearly and ask that
    > things be put back where they belong after use?
    In an environment such as this, yes! It is most certainly going too far. It’s really unfortunate you think otherwise; I’d hate to see the places you’ve worked in the past.
    This is a company that is using a process in a way it wasn’t designed, doesn’t take into the cultural aspects of the original 5S, and doesn’t trust their employees to be grown-ups.
    > Apparently to some people, although the logic of
    > why this is escapes me.
    In Japan, 5S in the office is not a desk top audit program; it’s a way for leadership to engage their staff. But since most Lean advocates over here are micromanagers and don’t possess any vision nor leadership, it makes sense how 5S has been so horribly perverted in this nation.
    > Is it disrespectful to people to ask them to keep
    > it neat and organized for other people?
    You miss the point completely. It isn’t about respect. It’s about implementing something for the sake of implementation. If Kyocera could demonstrate value gained from desktop audits this would be more palatable. Staff would be excited about something which has tangible and concrete value. You mention that maybe Kyocera should have waited to perfect their 5S more before rolling it out. Wrong. Maybe Kyocera should have looked at human factors more before rolling it out. No matter how much you polish a turd, it still looks like you know what.
    I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t have the time to lead this way. I have products and services to provide to clients and to maintain an environment where people develop their skills and achieve their goals rather than babysit the housekeeping of their cube.
    I would argue the waste here is the overhead of having a self-described 5S cop on the payroll and all the time and energy wasted on implementation, delivery (the 5S rulebook), and enforcement.
    If someone wants to have a briefcase under their desk, fine. They’re a grown up. If someone has a stack of papers or post-it notes visible in their cube, I trust that they know how to get to that information. In fact, when I arbitrarily make them put something which isn’t intuitive to them, chances are they spend more time looking for it than if I would have just left them alone in the first place. I challenge someone to show me a cogent ROI that shows the benefit of policing where one’s briefcase goes.
    If someone has a problem with clutter, then I address it with that person. Not white-wash the whole organization and shove desktop audit policies down their throats.

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