5S Office Management

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5S Office Management

When was the last time you saw your desktop?

If your answer is, “Hmm…I don’t really remember,” do you realize how much time and energy you are wasting just looking for stuff? I am guessing that you already know you are wasting time. Or maybe you are so embarrassed by your messy office that you don’t even let clients see it. You end up meeting with clients in a conference room. You did like to get your office cleaned up, but you have no idea where to start.

Let me suggest a concept called; 5S. 5S is an organizational tool born out of the Toyota production system called Lean.

The basic idea behind 5S office management is that a messy office is full of waste. Not only the waste you can see, i.e. the mess; but the time wasted in looking for the right file, your phone, eye glasses. You get the idea. (Caveat: Lean tools like 5S are designed to work together to create a synergistic whole. Ideally, they should not be implemented individually, but rather as a part of an entire Lean organization. That being said, 5S is something you can implement today, with the understanding that your goal is to create a more effective and efficient office as a whole.)

One of the first tools everyone seems to jump to is 5S. Lets implement 5S to start our lean office journey, whether that is the right answer for them or not. On the manufacturing floor, 5S is more straight forward. Employees may not like it at first but 5S has an easier time getting accept on the manufacturing floor.

The flip side is in the office. 5S is very applicable in the office but harder to apply appropriately. I can’t count how many times I have heard, “You are not taking my pictures away from me.” or “It is stupid to label my phone and stapler. I know where they are and where they go.” Who am I to argue? I totally agree and would feel the same way.

When I stopped to think about it, people felt this way because of the improper understanding and/or execution of 5S in the office. Most likely someone came in and dictated how they were going to clean up their area and label everything and they would be graded on it.

That is not the intent of 5S. It is to quickly surface problems so they can be recognized and addressed.

So when and how does someone apply 5S to the office appropriately?

The first answer is when it is a shared space. If someone else will have to use the same area or desk to do the same or similar work, then this is a place that 5S can help. Just like the manufacturing floor someone can come in and spend too much time re-arranging the desk area for their work or spend too much time looking for something that is out of place. Unlike your own personal desk that no one else will use. If no one else will use it, then why label, because you know where everything is. Even “messy” people have a system so leave it be.

A company that I visited recently did a great job of applying 5S to the office. The work was processing layouts through a computer system. People had their own desk, but could have to share it with others. So if Mike left on vacation, Maureen would come to his desk to do that work, because no matter what the layouts had to be processed that day. So they standardized the colour of the folders for “To Be Done”, “In Process”, and “Completed”. They standardized what drawer the folder went into when completed and how the work area was laid out for the work. The work area was the computer and the things directly around it to get the job done. They also standardized where their visual signal for needing the next job was on the desk so no one had to search for it. The rest of the area was for Mike to personalize with his pictures, calendars, and what not. It did not interfere with the work that was needed to be done.

The group became more efficient and standardized without losing any personalization because of this, for 2 years this worked very well and there was ownership. The only reason it isn’t around now is because of new technology that eliminated that work. The challenge is to know when and how to use 5S, especially in the office.

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