By Jim Edmonson

Have you ever watched someone move around their kitchen effortlessly, making meal preparation seem easy? Have you ever tried to complete a simple operation in another kitchen where every move seemed frustrating and inefficient? I have worked in some amazingly organized offices in which it was incredibly easy to get a job done and in others where it was incredibly difficult. Organization, or lack thereof, can impact our offices and kitchens in much the same way. Fortunately, manufacturing’s Five S Program will reduce the effort required to get things done in both office and kitchen. In the kitchen, you might have one place for mixing bowls while the pantry stores food supplies in an organized way. You can do the office equivalent by paying attention to the second S in Five S!

A fundamental, systematic approach for productivity, quality and safety improvement, Five S is an effective program for all types of business. The Five S program focuses on maintaining visual order, organization, cleanliness and standardization. The results you can expect from a Five S program are improved profitability, efficiency, service and safety.

The principles underlying a Five S program at first appear to be simple, obvious, common sense. And they are. We put its principals in place every day in our kitchens. But until the advent of Five S programs, many businesses failed to benefit as they ignored these basic principles.

Manufacturing and industrial plants are among the businesses that can realize the greatest benefits. However, any type of business, from a retail store, power plant or hospital to a television station, and all areas within a business, will realize benefits from implementing a Five S program.

Step 1: Sort (Clean Up)
“Sorting” means to sort through everything in each work area. Keep only what is necessary. Materials, tools, equipment and supplies that are not frequently used should be moved to a separate, common storage area. Items that are not used should be discarded.

Don’t keep things around just because they might be used someday.

Sorting is the first step in making a work area tidy. It makes it easier to find the things you need and frees up additional space.

As a result of the sorting process you will eliminate (or repair) broken equipment and tools. Obsolete maps, reports, video tapes, printers, computers and displays, just like the broken blender in the kitchen, must go.
Step 2: Set In Order (Organize)
Step two is to organize, arrange and identify everything in a work area for the most efficient and effective retrieval and return it to its proper place. Have you ever wondered where that stapler keeps disappearing to? In our kitchen, the spoons are always in the same place, so why not bring that predictability to the office?

Commonly used equipment should be readily available. Storage areas, cabinets and shelves should be properly labeled. At home in your garage, you can outline tools on your tool boards, making it easy to quickly see where each tool belongs.

In an office, provide bookshelves for frequently used manuals, books and catalogs. Label the shelves and books so that they are easy to identify and return to their proper place. Do the same for materials, supplies, equipment, easels, and other frequently used materials and equipment.

The objective in this step is the classic saying: a place for everything and everything in its place. But don’t forget the second important part of Systematic Organization—set up a system so it is easy to return each item to its proper place using good labeling and identification practices for all the equipment and materials you use.

Step 3: Sweep (Clean Regularly)
Once you have everything, from each individual work area up to your entire office, kitchen or garage sorted (cleaned up) and organized, you need to keep it that way. This requires regular cleaning, or to go along with our third S, “shining” things up.
Regular, usually daily, cleaning is needed or everything will return to the way it was. You can also think of this as inspecting. While cleaning it’s easy to also inspect the machines, tools, equipment and supplies you work with.
When done on a regular, frequent basis, cleaning and inspecting generally will not take a lot of time, and in the long run will most likely save time. With practice, it should happen naturally. My general rule is the last person to leave the office at night is assigned the inspection job. As they pass through the office turning off lights and equipment, they are to return things to their rightful spot and notice anything broken or unusual and report it.
Step 4: Standardize (Simplify)
To ensure that the first three steps in your Five S program continue to be effective, the fourth step is to simplify and standardize.

The good practices developed in steps 1 through 3 should be standardized and made easy to accomplish. Develop a work structure that will support the new practices and make them into habits. As you learn more, update and modify the standards to make the process simpler and easier.

One of the hardest steps is avoiding old work habits. It’s easy to slip back into what you’ve been doing for years. That’s what everyone is familiar with. It feels comfortable.

Any easy way to make people aware of, and remind them about the standards is to use labels, signs, posters and banners.

Step 5: Sustain
The final step is to continue training to maintain the standards.

Have a formal system for monitoring the results of your Five S program.

Don’t expect that you can clean up, get things organized and labeled, and ask people to clean and inspect their areas one day and then have everything continue to happen without any follow-up.

Think of this step as sustaining the benefits you are getting from your Five S program. The benefits include fewer work interruptions looking for or fixing something and therefore a more efficient work flow. You’ll see faster and more accurate report preparation, better presentations and meetings, and impressive visual impact for visitors.
Speaking of visual impressions, when you make your business retention calls, see if the office and production areas are practicing Five S. It can be an indication of how efficient, and therefore competitive, a company is.
Information for this article is from Industry Week Newsletter at