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Oct 22, 2010

The Lean Office - With 5S

Do you get frustrated looking for files? Is your desk too small for all your stuff? If you can answer yes to these questions, you may need a personal 5S.

5S, which stands for Sort-Set in order-Shine-Standardize-Sustain, is typically an organizations gateway to a lean transformation. 5S will help any organization improve productivity by reducing the amount of time wasted throughout the day. A key strategy for this simple yet powerful tactic is known as the "visual workplace." Visual controls help make conditions, instructions and actions instantly recognizable through simple signals such as color codes, signs or demarcations. In this article we'll focus on how to apply 5S to an area that is very important to you, your desk.

In a professional environment, a cluttered workspace usually indicates a cluttered mind. This is not a message you want to send to your superiors or customers. So how does one tackle this dilemma? One very simple yet effective method is to apply the 5S process to your immediate work area. This includes converting paper to electronic files, cleaning out your hard drives, establishing visual management to your filing systems and organizing the physical space.

By applying the following 5 simple steps, you will be able to quickly de-clutter those desktops and become a highly productive worker.

1) Sort - Going through your "stuff" can be quite a daunting task and all too often a stumbling block. If you feel your workspace has gotten so out of control that you just don't know where to start, sorting is your first task. You will need to dedicate some time to sorting so a good idea is to come in on a Saturday morning and go through all those papers, files, magazines, etc. Your goal is to get rid of as much as possible. Get three large boxes and label them as follows:

Things I need and use every day
Things I occasionally need
Things I haven't touched in over three months and have no need for

Common sense dictates that if you haven't used an item recently and have no reason to keep it, get rid of it. The remaining items will have to be stored appropriately.

2) Set in order - These days there is no excuse not to go paperless; how often do you print emails, instead filing them electronically. The intent with setting in order is to develop a system that allows you to quickly find and retrieve items, quickly identify required actions and clearly understand where things belong.

Create an electronic filing system that uses colors and icons. If you need to keep paper documents, try scanning and saving them electronically. Identify actions such as "replenishment" or "complete" with simple signals that don't require verbal instructions. Make sure all physical items have a defined "home" location, this will ensure that organization is kept up.

Items that are used every day should be stored (physically or virtually) within easy reach. This may include active files, equipment or information. The occasionally used items can be put away in less frequented areas such as external hard drives, storage closets or hard to reach shelves. In either case make sure everything is properly labeled and coded.

3) Shine - 5S is a chance for you to not only establish a better filing and storage system but also to purge your hard drives of excessive files. To insure your work area won't get cluttered after all this effort you should make it a habit to immediately go through mail and incoming items as they are received. Don't wait until later; this is especially true with any magazines and periodicals. Look through them, extract whatever information you need and throw the rest out.

4) Standardize - This is where you will develop the "rules" for maintaining the first three S's. Make sure your new efficient process is as intuitive as possible. Consider this a starting point that you will continually improve. Use Outlook to send yourself reminders and schedule tasks. Establish a standard color coding system for your reminders and tasks. This could indicate customers, priority, locations, etc. Once you've developed a personal 5S system try and spread it throughout your office. A good trick is to run contests or post "tips and tricks."

5) Sustain - Don't let your new system fall apart. You'll have to instill personal discipline to keep this process going. A good idea is to schedule a "Sorting" day every month or so. The intent is to make 5S habitual. Some companies like to develop formal methods to sustaining improvement through training and auditing. This can be done with sophisticated software programs or simple paper forms. Regardless of the method you choose, the idea is to hold yourself accountable.

One of the key elements to any process improvement program is efficiency. As you've seen this can start at a personal level and ultimately spread throughout your company. By using 5S you'll be amazed at how your productivity levels will increase. Following these five simple steps will guarantee that clutter and misplaced items area things of the past.