The Five S Program: Seiton / Straightening or setting in order

Almost two years ago, I started discussing the concept of the 5S program and Kaizen – two Japanese concepts that are employed by business in order to drive efficiency in the workplace. I started out with Seiri but then either forgot about it or didn’t have the time to follow it up. Tsk tsk.

Seiton is about order, neatness, and “everything in the right place.” Seiri and Seiton almost always go hand in hand, the first principle allows you to keep you what you need most and the second one ensures they are placed where you can easily reach them.

There should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. The place for each item should be clearly labeled or demarcated. Items should be arranged in a manner that promotes efficient work flow, with equipment used most often being the most easily accessible. Workers should not have to bend repetitively to access materials. Each tool, part, supply, or piece of equipment should be kept close to where it will be used – in other words, straightening the flow path. Seiton is one of the features that distinguishes 5S from “standardized cleanup”. This phase can also be referred to as Simplifying.

It is time to arrange your workstation so that all essential items are within easy reach.

For me, I make sure that everything that I need daily is within easy reach – phone, of course, pen, notebook, calculator, printed copies of our methodologies, and my trusty mug of coffee – so that I can easily concentrate on my work. My copies of our methodologies are also in a file folder and placed on the uppermost tier of my multi-tiered document tray. Other methodologies are on the same tier, while additional readings are on the second or middle tier. The bottom tier is for miscellaneous documents.

This practice also extends to my virtual desktop. I’ve already shown an example in my previous post about this in this article.


The Five S Program: Seiri / Sorting

Seiri or sorting is the first step in the program. Basically, it is about arranging your workstation so that everything essential in daily work is within easy access/reach.

Phase 1 – Seiri (整理) Sorting: Going through all the tools, materials, etc., in the plant and work area and keeping only essential items. Everything else is stored or discarded.

Sorting involves a short decision making when beginning this step. You have to decide which things/tools in your workstation are essential and meant for daily use, which are meant for weekly use, for monthly use, and so on and so forth. Those that are only occasionally used should be stored nearby and for easy referenced. Obviously, tools, equipment, and references that are more often used should be handy.

A very simple (and maybe silly) example is your notebook. For very obvious reasons, you’d want it within arm’s reach, of course. Other office supplies, such as pens, notepads, reference books or guides, staplers, and staple wires may also come in handy if they’re within reach.

As a result of the sorting process you will eliminate (or repair) broken equipment and tools. Obsolete fixtures, molds, jigs, scrap material, waste and other unused items and materials are disposed of.

The objective of this step is to clean up the work area. Cleaning up not only makes things look nice, it makes it easier to spot maintenance needs such as an oil leak. It improves safety. It eliminates clutter and confusion. It removes tools, equipment, supplies and waste that interferes with getting the job done.

So, there you go. It’s time to sort through your workstation. Especially, as we are just beginning the new year!


The Five S Program

I first encountered this methodology at my first job – in a call center, no other! But since then, it has stuck with me. Maybe it’s my inherent obsessive-compulsive (OC) personality. Maybe it’s a combination of both. I really don’t care. It’s working for me.

Anyways, I noticed today that everything in my work station (even the way my PC files are organized or how my window tabs are arranged) is organized and arranged to adhere as much as possible to the Five S style (5S). I find it really helpful when I know where things are or where I placed them. For example, my calendar (calendars) is located just beside my right-hand monitor or mouse. So when I need to check on dates and months, I only have to turn my head a little bit to see. Another example is the project framework. It’s located beside my left-hand monitor where I usually have my working file on (the reference documents are on the right-hand monitor) so I can easily reference it (there is that problem of having to come closer because the print was optimized to fit one page but…).

So… what is it all about?

“A Five S program is usually a part of, and the key component of Visual Factory (Workplace) Management (VFM). And 5s and VFM are both a part of Kaizen — a system of continual improvement.”

Kaizen was created in Japan after World War II. It means “continuous improvement”. It comes from the Japanese words 改 (“kai”), which means “change” or “to correct,” and 善 (“zen”), which means “good”. The system needs to involve every employee in the company’s hierarchy. “Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis. This is not a once a month or once a year activity. It is continuous.”

“In most cases these are not ideas for major changes. Kaizen is based on making little changes on a regular basis: always improving productivity, safety and effectiveness while reducing waste.”

The other system, VFM, refers a system of visual cues communication tools that relay information visually at the time and place it is needed. “Visual controls make working areas user-friendly by answering questions; identifying equipment, materials and locations; describing actions and procedures; and providing safety warnings and precaution information.” In other words, it makes things simple by “labeling” them with the intent of imparting as much information as possible with limited resources for the benefit of the intended user without having to clutter the workplace (that’s just counter-intuitive). VFM uses correct and appropriate labels, signs, cues, indexing, etc.

So let me give you an example (see image to the left for the actual view of my “My Documents” folder). My folders are organized this way:

A_[project 1] – usually the project where I spend the most time working on.
B_[project 2] – the next most important or time-consuming project
C_[project 3] – and so on and so forth

If both projects take 50-50 of my time then I usually give them equal weights. So instead of A then B. I would put A1_[project 1] and A2_[project 2]. I always reserve “z” for Z_Archives, which is for old folders or after reorganization of my files, documents, etc. This is just an example of how I create an efficient system for documentation and filing purposes.

Next on our plate: Seiri or Sorting, the first step! I just gave an example of this above.

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