07/03/2012 - 10:39

Five-step plan brings order from chaos

07/03/2012 - 10:39


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Scientists tell us entropy is the force that brings disorder to the world.

SCIENTISTS tell us entropy is the force that brings disorder to the world.

We see it in action on a daily basis in our offices, our storerooms, our workshops and our factories. 

Nothing stays in the right place – clutter and rubbish fill empty spaces, important files vanish from the last place we put them, passages fill up with strange unwanted items, and dirt and dust appear overnight.

The only way to beat entropy is with another opposing force – that of organisation.

Do you remember the last time you sorted out your garage or your shed or your office?

I bet you started out with good intentions; you were going to turn an organic mess into a shrine to organisation and cleanliness. 

You threw out all the rubbish, unused tools, broken printers, old posters and empty boxes – and cleared space. 

Maybe you put a few odds and ends back on the right shelves or in the boxes where you usually keep them. 

You might have ordered some screws or bolts into similar sizes and stored them in clearly labelled glass bottles.

Still enthused, you probably gave everything a good dust and sweep and then stood back in the glow of a job well done.

And so it was, for you had just completed the first three steps of the classic workplace organisation program – 5S. 

The 5S was developed in Japan after WWII and further refined as part of Toyota’s famous ‘Lean’ production system. 

Each S represents a Japanese word – seiri, seiton, seison, seiketsu and shitsuke. They can roughly be translated into English as follows: sort, set in order, sweep, standardise, and sustain. 

• Sort: Getting rid of items that are no longer needed or used.

• Set in order: Putting all remaining items in place so those that are used often are closer/easier to reach than those which are not used so often – the main focus here is on creating a place for everything and putting everything in its place.

• Sweep: Cleaning to ensure everything is neat, tidy, in its place and free from dust or other hazards

• Standardise: Using systems and processes like audits and rewards to maintain the first three steps; so tools are always returned to the same place, and labelling and storage enables anyone to find items quickly and easily.

• Sustain: Developing the discipline and systems to support the other four steps.

Sustaining the gains

Just as in your own garage or shed example, steps one to three are relatively easy to carry out. 

The million-dollar question is: Did your clean, tidy, well-ordered space stay like that way? The chances are that it didn’t.

It couldn’t without systems in place to standardise and sustain all that good work so you don’t need to re-do it in a few weeks’ time. 

This means training and encouraging everyone else who uses that space to stick to the rules.

At home, anyone who uses a tool must return it to the same place and anyone who uses a bolt should put the lid back on the bottle and return it to the correct place on the shelf. 

At work, it requires clear guidelines and a disciplined system to ensure everyone knows the right thing to do and does it.

You also need a regular schedule – daily or weekly – to clean the space and keep it in order.  Just five minutes of work on a regular basis avoids hours of labour and effort later on.

High impact

The aim of a 5S program is to instil organisation and orderliness to support an organisation’s activities.

It brings clear focus to the processes that form the core of any business, and encourages an efficient and safe environment for these activities to take place.

For such a simple, commonsense system, 5S can have an impact far greater than expected. 

In an environment correctly set up for work, you will find you can work smarter and find things faster.

Other benefits include: reduced time to get jobs done; better atmosphere and associated employee morale; impressed customers; reduced inventory; more space; and, importantly, better safety. 

One organisation found 75 per cent of all safety accidents could have been prevented with a disciplined 5S programme.

These five steps can form a strong foundation for all other improvement program and can make a world of difference to your shed.


Gillian Bester is a director of Spring Board (WA) Pty Ltd, which uses facilitated change to help businesses.

Contact Gillian on 0414 743389 | gillian@springboarding.com.au  www.springboarding.com.au 


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