It has been a long time since Toyota paved the way with their lean production system and Lean has expanded beyond the world of manufacturing and is prevalent in many of the worlds leading industries and business sectors including the service industry and and administration environments.

Lean has various tools which can be used for optimizing business processes – typically those used at the very start of a lean deployment help set the scene and provide a basic framework on which to build – for this reason many organizations choose to implement 5s early on lean deployment. Unsurprisingly 5s is excellent for optimizing an office environment.

5S is the method used for organising a workplace. It is sometimes wrongly referred to as a housekeeping methodology but it goes far beyond housekeeping. 5s is imperative to creating the Lean Office ideal and can be easily implemented, the process is very straightforward and there is a set routine to follow (you will probably not be surprised that there are 5 ‘S’ words to implement!) Sorting, Straightening, Shining, Standardising and Sustaining

Sorting – There is the very basic principle in the sorting part of the 5s techniques. If the item is not absolutely essential for the business process then get it out. Organise an area and label (red tag) non essential items. This allows an area of review in which items can be retrieved if, during the natural course of business, they are suddenly required. However set a timescale and if they are not used remove them from the business.

Straightening –set everything in order and set the limits for every process within your office. This phase focuses on effective storage solutions so that even if someone is not used to your systems, things are easy to find, easy to use and easy to return to the correct location.

Shining – The third phase is dedicated to cleanliness. It is about creating a work environment that people want to work in, Focus on the cause of any mess. Can you implement more electronic means to dispense with in trays? Paint walls that are unsightly and most importantly ensure everything from lights to computers are cleaned.

Standardising – Slipping back into old habits is one of the biggest challenges of lean. It happens very slowly and can go unnoticed for significant periods of time. This phase helps to deal with this. Communication is critical to ensure that everyone knows their responsibilities. Staff must be instructed to their responsibilities and it is vital that management punish accordingly any violations.

Sustaining – The fifth and final “S” is about creating habits. It is well documented that it takes at least 3 weeks to form a habit and the ultimate goal must be for staff to feel it is uncomfortable and wrong when they don’t put things back in the drawer or not empty their waste paper bin. Once this is achieved sustaining tends to be viral and new members of staff have the precedents of 5S hammered into them by existing staff members and the cycle continues.

To succeed with 5S in an office environment there are 3 key elements to remember:

1. Communication – Communicate constantly with staff, and explain to them the importance of lean to the organisation. Offer training sessions, post memos or perform one to ones, do whatever is necessary to ensure that staff are on board.
2. Commitment – The management also must be behind the idea to ensure its success.
3. Use visuals – Staff will understand much better with visual aids.

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