The Perils of Ignoring 5S in Offices

by Mark Graban on December 9, 2006 · 0 comments

By : Daniel Markovitz, TimeBack Management


The benefits of 5S in a manufacturing environment are obvious and well-documented. In an office environment, however, the benefits are just as real — and the costs of ignoring them equally so.

Recently, I referred someone to a senior member at an executive search company. He’s a perfect fit for their services: this company specializes in the recruitment of financial professionals, and he has a Stanford MBA, 15 years of experience, and tremendous analytical skills — and he’s actively looking for a new job. A match made in heaven.

And yet, the search firm never called him. One week went by, two weeks, then three. No contact. When I followed up with the search firm, the headhunter said that she just lost the piece of paper on which she scribbled his information. He quite literally got lost in the shuffle.
Her desk is a disaster: papers strewn everywhere, terrible organization, and no standard procedure to sort through the piles and deal with the information that’s been piling up. It’s no wonder that she forgot about him.

As a headhunter, her “work in process” consists of job seekers and companies looking for employees. And yet her workspace is so disorganized that she literally lost the very thing that she should be working on

He ended up finding a job on his own. Her firm, however, not only lost short-term revenue, but a long-term relationship.


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Comment by Steve Lage on April 20, 2010 at 5:56pm
Hi David and Karen-In our consulting practice, we find that the most effective way to get management buy-in is to connect the tool (in this case 5S in the office) to the objectives of the organization. For instance, if new product development lead time is a critical business objective, showing how organizing files on the server to save engineers time in finding design or evaluation tools is an easy sell. Too many times we find that people focus on the tool but do not show how it contributes to the organizational need. So I would start with the objectives that your management team is trying to achieve and see if there is a connection to what you want to do. If there is, all you have to do is connect the dots. If not, I think you have a hard sell.
Comment by David Visco on April 20, 2010 at 4:43pm
I find it interesting that you have different standards across various sites. Sounds like a corporate wide standardization is needed.

Regarding the kindergarten look - I've actually never heard it referred to in that way although I understand the point. At The 5S Store, we have all the supplies needed for 5S. I'm not aware of any suppliers that can take away that "kindergarten" look. Once again, it goes back to management setting the expectation. It sounds like you're left to defend the labeling and setting things in order. I find that unfortunate. This is an all too often problem when management is not 100% on board. I'm going to ask a few other comrades for their input which I hope you'll find helpful.
Comment by Karen Van Den Bloomer on April 20, 2010 at 1:08pm
Hello David - Thank you so much for the 5S Management Walks. We are doing something like this in our manufacturing environment (Gemba Walks) but haven't expanded into the office environment completely. This will be a guiding light for our management team to get involved. Now the only aspects to consider are definitions around what is clutter? What I perceive as clutter may not be the same as what you do. Some of our sites have gone to the extreme and dictated how many personal items are allowed in the cubicles and offices. Some also have required no plants or items on top of overheads.

In your experience have you seen the line blurred between 5S and aesthetics? Or does performing 5S create a "pretty" environment? When defining necessary items, such as labels for items in a work room, have you seen a neat way to able without creating the kindegarten feeling (that is what I get a lot - doing 5S is like being back in kindegarten)? Do you know of potential suppliers?
Comment by David Visco on April 20, 2010 at 12:30pm
Hi Karen - you're correct. I couldnt work at that desk. It comes down to management making a desk like this unacceptable and to hold people accountable. If Sr Management supports such improvement the best way to drive it home is to do weekly management 5S office walks. As they walk around, they can leave 5S comment cards - yellow are for areas needing improvement, and blue cards for thumbs up. see attached. 5S Management Walks.PDF

Also, heck out another forum post on how 5S can increase sales. This speaks to why a clean work place is so important.
Comment by Karen Van Den Bloomer on April 20, 2010 at 12:15pm
The places we are trying to apply the 5S concept are in areas where people rarely leave their desks and everything is done via computer or phone. We are trying to establish a better looking environment, which is not necessiarily 5S, but more creating a professional environment. We are trying to get people to stop having their work spaces look like this.

Although people like you and me probably can look at the image and think "how can he/she be productive in this environment" the person sitting there doesn't see a problem and probably have worked like thishis/her entire life. Do we need to teach better ways to be productive? I don't know. I just know that I struggle with this concept because the peron 9 ot 10 times is able to find what is needed in 30 seconds. The only value I see is perception. When I see a work space like this, I perceive this person to be unorganized.
Comment by David Visco on April 20, 2010 at 11:46am
Hi Karen - how about doing a current state spaghetti diagram of a particular administrative process, then, "lean it out", and do another spaghetti diagram showing the improvement. Make sure to measure the distance traveled and the time for each step. Some examples might be: using electronic fax vs paper fax. From there, figure out an hourly rate and do the math on the savings. Improving efficiency will then allow folks to work on more value added processes such as following up with customers thereby resulting in additional revenue. Another idea might be to improve processing time you could be to tear into all those electronic files and show how unorganized they are. As an improvement, you could standardize the efiles and show the time saved. Thoughts?
Comment by Karen Van Den Bloomer on April 20, 2010 at 11:35am
I agree with you that there is a lot of waste in the office environment. I have been trying to get support from different levels of management and the problem I am having is showing tangible value for doing it besides making it look pretty. Even though we audit to how messy a desk is, it is not directly impacting how people work. Do you have suggestions to change behavior and viewpoints of office personnel? Have you seen a process that ties both value as well as productivity to employees? Most people I talk to, since paper is a thing of the past, waste more time looking for electronic files vs hard copies.

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