Japanese 5-S methodology - A clearer approach to workspace management

I had never been so excited about a new year as I was in the December of 2016. The reason was that my paper on Automated Space Layout Generation had been selected for a presentation at IEEE Conference (AMIAMS-2017), MNNIT Allahabad. The presentation was scheduled on 4th of February and being my first publication, my excitement was at peak levels as it was my time to speak and for the first time, I was a matter of interest to the great intellectuals whom I have always listened while growing up. These were the people who have been changing the course of the human race for about 200,000 years now. The curious ones they say, our researchers, scientists, and engineers. Little did I know, that this conference would not only give me a platform to speak but also open different domains and perspectives which I had never explored.

On my first day at the conference, there was a hype about a guest lecture by Dr. CC Tan. I had no idea that I was about to experience an energy which would inspire me and open the gates of a new domain. There I was sitting among 100-120 others as he took on the stage. I witnessed the energy and enthusiasm of lecture delivery. He was there to talk about workplace management, basically, how can we increase organizational productivity by applying the Japanese methodology of 5S. He was jumping, running, even kicking at times, utilizing the entire stage to present such a powerful yet simple 5S methodology.

5S is a roman transliteration of Japanese words: seiri,seiton,seiso,seiketsu and shitsuke. But since this would not make any sense to people with no Japanese understanding, let me unfold this philosophy for you. In English, these 5S can be understood as Sort, Structurize, Sanitize, Standardize and Self-Discipline (Sustain). Let’s understand how they can affect our management by increasing speed and productivity.

Seiri (Sort): This is the first step to having a smooth workflow. We need to sort things out. Remove distractions, remove all unnecessary and unwanted workflows, items, obstacles, and processes. For example: If you are in RnD workspace, you wouldn’t want your contact center teams/agents to be seated and taking calls as it would cause distractions. Everything must have its own clean environment(a clean workspace).

Seiton (Structurize) This step involves setting things in order or a structure. Things must be arranged in order at specific places. It prevents loss/waste of time in arrangement and searching things. For example, Organisation must be divided into teams having common goals and they must be seated together for efficient collaboration. Another example can be separate space for all hardware items in an organization. All these small yet important steps make the workflow easier and this improves the speed and productivity of a workplace.

Seiso (Sanitize) It means cleaning in a literal sense. If your workplace is not clean, you won’t be able to mentally attach yourself to the place and perform. One must continuously clean our workplace and ensure that it is pleasing to work in. An example can be a daily cleaning activity at an organization, dusting, cleaning boards, laptops, machines etc.

Seiketsu (Standardize) This is an important step in a workplace management as it creates a benchmark of best practices in a working area. We must maintain high standards of our organization in terms of processes, workflows. For example, Every build test request for a feature must not have more than 2 iterations. Another can be every request to a team should be acknowledged in an hour. In short, every process must have a standard associated.

Shitzuke (Sustain though Self Discipline) This is one of the most important aspects of any management as it applies to the people/participants in a process or workplace. All the above-mentioned principles must sustain and it can only happen if the people following them are self-disciplined and ensure that all these steps are iteratively followed for sustenance. It requires an effort on all our parts and hence most important aspect. Any process can only be as good as the people involved in it.

All these principles are not just theories, many corporate giants knowingly or unknowingly follow them. Toyota, for instance, uses Hirano which comprises of 4S.The only thing that amazed me was the 5th S and how it defines the sustainability of other 4S. This methodology can not only be used for workplaces but in fact at almost everything we do. This does not necessarily support monotonicity as some might think, we are ought to evolve, learn and get better, hence it is iterative in nature. I hope this was a thought provoking read for you.

For more interested ones here is a wikipedia link.

Its just the realization that matters. Once we understand our impact and role in any process, we can better execute our roles. All we need is a big picture to understand Why do we work? What do we contribute? How are we impacting? and most importantly Who are we ?

Published: February 24 2017

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