I am composing this article in what is supposed to be springtime. However, our weather has been anything but spring like. We only get three months of summer in Michigan as it is, and if it doesn’t get started soon we won’t even get that much. One thing we are being blessed with is long, green grass from all of the rain. I have mowed twice already dressed like the proverbial Eskimo. What does this have to do with the business at hand – writing an article about workplace organization?

If you have ever mowed in the cold I’m sure you can empathize with my desire to get in a nice warm house as soon as possible. Fortunately I rearranged my shed last summer and now everything has a designated location. Now I can drive the mower into the shed (without having to move a bunch of unnecessary stuff), park it, close the door, and get out of the cold. That was not always the case. Thanks to my handy 5S Pocket Guide and my time spent facilitating 5S events around the country I won’t be mired in all of that unnecessary stuff again.

Sort and Set-in-Order 

As I mentioned at the close of the last article, I want to touch on the first two S’s -- Sort and Set-in-Order -- again before moving on to Shine. Sort is the simple and fun process of separating all of the things that are necessary to perform a process from those that are not necessary. That may sound absurd because, after all, why would anyone have things in the work area that are not required to do the work there? The reason is that we are packrats. In the workplace, this is a bigger problem than at home because the person performing the work probably inherited all of the stuff that’s there when s/he moved in. Since the stuff belongs to the company rather than the person, s/he doesn’t feel empowered to make disposition on what is needed and what isn’t needed. Do you feel comfortable making decisions about things that belong to your spouse? I dare say you don’t, so you should appreciate the position all of your staff members are in. Getting them to feel comfortable organizing the workplace properly takes time. That’s why Sorting is not a one-time event.

Setting things in order is easier for the person doing the job once all of the clutter is out of the way. The person owning the process is most familiar with the sequence of activity and where tools, equipment, gauges, instructions, etc. need to be to perform the job in the most productive manner. Make sure s/he feels empowered to set the process up within pre-established boundaries. If the work area is common to more than one person ensure all of the process owners participate in setting things in order.

The next S: Shine 

I devoted the one nice day we had so far this spring to Shine my mower so it will perform to my expectations when needed. Shine is not intended to just be a clean-up campaign of all of the items that are deemed necessary for the process. Shine goes much deeper than that. For instance, when I shined my mower I checked the tires for leaks and wear; checked the oil; changed the oil filter, cleaned and washed the air filter; scraped the mower deck; changed mower blades; checked the belts for wear; and charged the battery. I also washed the mower to make it shine on the outside, but the real objective was to look for potential issues that could render my mower unusable.

The same purposeful approach should be taken when you and your staff shine your work areas. Check for air and fluid leaks, check for missing or loose bolts and screws, repair bare wires or loose connections, and clean the equipment and work area.

Planning is important 

Cleaning the work area requires some planning to make sure everyone is in agreement on what the expectations will be. Will you simply sweep the floor or will you sweep the floor, wash the benches, and clean the light fixtures. Planning is especially important in a shared work area. If everyone isn’t in agreement on who is going to do what, how it will be done, and how often it will be done, the process will unravel very quickly and old habits will take over. I have seen more lean transformations fall by the wayside because of a lack of discipline in workplace organization than for any other reason. A successful transformation requires discipline and discipline begins at the individual and team level through adherence to the 5S process.

Not a one-time event 

Like the first two steps, shine is not a one-time event. Once the tools, equipment, etc. have been renewed and refreshed they need to be maintained in a high state of readiness. I cannot overemphasize the need for all of the process owners to understand and comply with this new way of doing business. The agreements need to be in writing and a schedule of responsibilities has to ensure that the work is shared equally and equitably across the team. The schedule indicates who is to perform the agreed upon tasks, how the tasks are to be performed, any special item(s) the person might need to accomplish the tasks, and the frequency for performing the tasks. The schedule should be posted in the work area so everyone is aware of their responsibilities. Some companies allow team members to audit themselves for compliance to the schedule while others rely on the first-line leader to ensure compliance. I suggest a combination of both to ensure accountability.

The next session will provide some recommendations on how to Standardize and Sustain workplace organization until it becomes the new norm so you can maximize the benefit of this important lean tool.

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