5S Outside of Manufacturing

chaos-485498_960_720What I want to explore here are ideas on how to use Lean Manufacturing to help waste reduction in areas outside of manufacturing. When I worked in manufacturing, everything was about Lean Six Sigma. Outside of manufacturing, that sort of cultural drive to improve doesn’t seem to be present.

Agile came along, and it has a lot of Lean ideas built into it, but the drive to continuously improve doesn’t seem present in all environments. Unfortunately, in many ways, Agile frameworks fall short by failing to address some of the issues that Lean addresses. So for this series, I want to discuss ‘5S’ and some ideas on how to use it in non-manufacturing (and even non-project) environments.

First – you are always making something. The point of your job is probably to do something and produce an output that will be consumed by someone else (the next phase in a process, a manager, other employees, the final customer). Whether that be a physical or virtual product, information, or a service – you are making something that, hopefully, has value for those that consume it. It isn’t too far of a stretch to compare your daily business reports, data entry tasks, delivering food to a table, or a software application project to manufacturing.

‘5S’ stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Some versions may vary – IASSC, for example, uses: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Self-Discipline. This variance I think has to do with the original ‘5S’ being in Japanese and the translations vary with an added attempt to keep all the words starting with a meaningful ‘S’ (I am not 100% sure on that). There is also sometimes a 6th ‘S’ added that stands for Safety.


5S – Steps

  • Sort: you identify objects and their roles.
  • Straighten/Set In Order: You organize those objects based on those roles
  • Shine: You clean the work environment – this means brooms, mops, rags. Make it pretty and professional. You might even need some paint.
  • Standardize: Make the whole thing a part of regularly scheduled activities. Make an official and consistent time for when the above activities should occur.
  • Sustain/Self-Discipline: Make it cultural. Drive in the importance of 5S and Lean as it relates to waste reduction, time savings, and an overall better customer experience.


Your Workstation

workstation-405768_960_720This doesn’t mean you have to get rid of all your family photos in your cubicle, I think things like that give us a reason to want to work. It reminds us that we are still human, and we aren’t only the sum of our job duties. We have a whole world outside of the workplace and we are not robots. Those objects are essential for morale.

But items that can be a distraction or impediment to the work that needs to be performed should certainly be on the chopping block. Do you really need your cell phone out and sitting on your desk? And how frequently are you getting behind in your work because you hear it alert you to a message, or you just want to dive in and check on your Clash of Clans village real quick?

I have worked in places that have implemented a clean desk policy. This was about making sure that the physical work desk and space was clean when you left the office. Working to sort and straighten the workstation in advance can make the process of having a clean desk much easier to achieve. You may not need a report from last week on your desk right now. Put it away in a drawer.

A cashier in a store probably doesn’t need a dozen items that customers have left with them because they decided they didn’t want them. They may not need 20 coat hangers, stacks of coupons, a jar of pens that can spill when one on a chain will work fine. That other stuff can be put away, maybe keep some extra pens in a nearby drawer in case the one on the chain fails.

The waiter in a restaurant probably doesn’t need stacks of old order slips laying around where they can be mistaken for a new order. Cooks in a kitchen need to focus on the current orders, work to keep non-needed ingredients out of the immediate vicinity of the prep area (this can help with things like food allergies as well).

The point is, figure out what you need to do your work; get rid of everything else.

Give it a name, give it a purpose, and be actively looking for objects whose presence is not needed in the work area. Arrange teams responsible for going around and identifying unnecessary objects. It doesn’t have to be a dedicated person, and it doesn’t have to take hours. Once you go through your first sort, maintaining it could be done with as little as a few minutes of looking around a day and keeping up with things as they happen.


Your Overall Workplace

In the overall workplace, there may be items present that are impediments to traveling through the office, the store, or the restaurant. Clean things up, from the fake potted plant sitting on the corner that gets in everyone’s way to the catch-all table in the engineer’s office that is covered with old parts that haven’t been used in years (I have one of those in my house).

Maybe the cook in the kitchen has stacks of old recipe books that haven’t been used in months, or the auto mechanic keeps all of their tools laying all over the place instead of in a toolbox. They aren’t using all of the tools, their impact wrench they haven’t used in three days so maybe it should be put away.

The result can help to reduce mistakes and create a neater and more professional looking atmosphere. The neater and professional benefit can be very important in a customer facing role. It can also improve the ability to find things, assuming no one is changing the stored location every few weeks.


Your Computers

software-3663509_960_720I have been guilty of violating this one. The desktop on my work computer (and my personal computer still is this way) was full of files upon files that I haven’t opened in months. I always think, “What if I need this again?”

At some point, I don’t need it anymore and then it stays there on the Desktop. Months go by and dozens of files have built up, then I accidentally open one up thinking it’s something else and I remember working on it and wondered why it was still there, but I don’t have time right now to remove it, so I just close it and find the file I need. Repeat again next week.

I ended setting up a single folder on the desktop. Within that folder, I made sure to have subfolders for the projects I am working on. All of my files I make, I am sure to include dates in the names and make them fairly descriptive. Then I clean up the desktop by moving all items I do not need at the present moment in time into that folder sorting them into the subfolders. I keep only items on the desktop that I plan to work on within about a week’s worth of time. I feel more at ease having a cleaner desktop than one cluttered with old documents that I have no idea when or if I will ever need again.

After organizing the computer desktop and sorting everything there, I want to go one step further and reduce distractions. Identify on your computer all non-essential alerts. If you frequently get alerts from an internal company social media page that you never bother to look at, consider stopping the alert.


General Rules to Remember

At your workstation:

  • If you aren’t going to use it today to complete your work, put it away
  • If you don’t need it, get rid of it

In the overall work environment:

  • If it hasn’t been used in a month, put it somewhere out of the way, preferably a consistent designated spot
  • If it is impeding a smooth flow of travel, get it out of the way

On Your Computer:

  • If you know for sure you won’t need it, delete it (be careful making that decision, better to save it somewhere as a backup)
  • If you are unsure, make a backup copy somewhere, then remove it from your desktop
  • Keep only regularly used items or items you plan to use within a week on your computer desktop
  • Sort through alerts and remove unnecessary ones



This should get you thinking about things in your work environment that may distract or potentially cause a quality issue in your environment. I could probably write thousands and thousands of words on this issue. I tried to keep it concise for you.

Here is one method of approaching this that may be useful: How to Plan a 5S System Launch



Images from pixabay.com

*Working in manufacturing for years, I tend to think of Lean Six Sigma as one thing. I couldn’t remember if 5S was Lean or Six Sigma – not the first time, and not the last time. I had to Google it for this post (What are the Five S’s (5S) of Lean).

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