Workplace organization means more than keeping our office space tidy and clean. When done effectively, it is a powerful visual performance management tool that lends order, safety and standardization to work flow, which in turn helps reduce waste and lower costs.
A means to workplace organization is “5S,” a methodology popularized in 20th century manufacturing, particularly automotive mass production, to create a clean, organized and visually controlled work environment. Though industrial in origin, 5S methods are readily applicable in service-sector settings, including government agencies. Let’s describe each step and consider its value.
1. Sort: Separating the essential from the non-essential. Eliminating unnecessary or redundant inventory is an example of this step. By applying 5S in its maintenance yards, the Arizona Department of Transportation reduced excessive inventories by making them available elsewhere, thus helping others to avoid unnecessary purchases. Likewise, the state has removed more than 600 underused vehicles from its fleet, saving millions of dollars. Agencies create waste when they retain records beyond their archival retention schedules because surplus, non-essential documents must continue to be managed. The same can be said for electronic files clogging our computer drives making it difficult to find what we truly need.
2. Straighten (Set in Order): Organizing essential items where everything has its place. ADOT also has had tremendous success using 5S at its Motor Vehicle Division service centers, where staff must quickly respond to changing customer demand. Because work stations have been made standard, employees
can easily move between counters and know exactly where equipment, supplies and other resources are located. Using standard naming and file organization on shared computer drives saves time and enables staff to readily find what they need.
3. Shine: Making sure everything is clean, organized, functioning and ready to use. Whether you work in the office or in the field, all employees benefit from a safe, clean work environment. Dirty equipment increases potential for process variability and equipment failure. Clean work surfaces, door handles and shared equipment like phones and computer keyboards can reduce potential for spreading germs, a big concern during flu season.
4. Standardize: Establishing a system of standard work with visual controls so anything that is non-standard becomes obvious and easily detectable. This may be the most important step in the 5S process because standard work – defined as the documented current one best way to perform a process – is the foundation for the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle of continuous improvement. Without a standard, teams have no way to know if they are backsliding. There can be no sustained improvement without adherence to standard work.
5. Sustain: Making 5S a habit and continuously promoting it throughout the workplace. Like the Arizona Management System itself, 5S is not a bolt-on, one-time exercise. For it to be meaningful, it must become a habit, practiced routinely as part of daily work life. When followed with discipline, 5S can help instill the culture of continuous improvement that AMS seeks to promote throughout Arizona government.