The 5S Method Maintains Clean, Lean Order At Your Workspace

Many of the physical setups and mental tactics we’ve recommended to banish desktop clutter and the like can be summarized by the 5S methodology. It’s a Japanese system consisting of five principles to keep any work station clean, labelled, orderly, and efficient.

Commenter peter.sletmoe pointed out the relevance of 5S to the kind of clutter posts we love around this joint, noting that it “works just as well at home as it does at the office”. Wikipedia has, as always, the best starting point for understanding and researching 5S.

It’s a method that seems to have gained adoption among manufacturing firms, but it can just as easily be applied to desk and knowledge work. Each “S” is actually a Japanese word that can be loosely translated into an English S-word—Sorting, Straightening, Sweeping, and Standardizing—but the fifth S is a kind of recursive container that captures the essence well:

Phase 5 – Shitsuke (躾) Sustaining the discipline: Maintain and review standards. Once the previous 4 S’s have been established, they become the new way to operate. Maintain focus on this new way and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways. While thinking about the new way, also be thinking about yet better ways. When an issue arises such as a suggested improvement, a new way of working, a new tool or a new output requirement, review the first 4 S’s and make changes as appropriate.

The wiki’s editors suggest 5S is closely tied to the concept of kaizen, a kind of continuous improvement that was illustrated in a recent This American Life episode, “NUMMI,”, about the Japanese method of car manufacturing. You can hear a condensed summary at about 17:30 in.

If you’ve received a form of 5S training, or have read up on it, we’d love to be pointed to more resources and reading on the matter, or hear your own experiences, in the comments.

5S (methodology) [Wikipedia]

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