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The 5S Workplace: Cause or Effect?

By Dan Markovitz, Time Back Management:

A response to an earlier post

Is messiness really beneficial?

I think the authors of A Perfect Mess make a silly distinction. On the one hand, you have order for order’s sake. The authors argue that all those poor fools who arrange their pencils by hardness of lead are in love with order for no valid reason other than aesthetics. Or they’re neurotic.

On the other hand, you have chaos in the service of creativity. The authors suggest that messiness enables people to get on with the really important things in their lives, rather than having their sock drawer arranged just right. And the time freed up by embracing chaos allows people to do wonderful things, like connecting two pieces of paper on their desks, and winning a Nobel Prize.

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But they miss the point. Truly organized people aren’t organized just for the sake of order. Rather, their organization is a RESULT of a process for dealing with all the stuff in their lives. These folks avoid interment in paper or email by having a clear methodology for handling all the business (and personal) responsibilities in their lives. By handling this stuff effectively, they avoid clutter and chaos.

So people shouldn’t focus on getting organized. Rather, they should focus on a system for dealing with all the stuff that comes at them. And that will (help) create a 5S workspace. For example, doctors don’t focus on getting their operating room organized. Rather, they have a strict process for preparing for an operation: they wash their hands in a certain way, they lay out their instruments in a certain way, they check the equipment in a certain way. . . and always the exact same way. Every time. The result of this system is a 5S workspace.

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The authors of A Perfect Mess make much of the Nobel Prize that came about because someone connected two pieces of paper on his desk. I suppose you might be constructing a system that prevents you from curing cancer, or developing cold fusion. But that seems to me a bit like using the Powerball lottery as a retirement strategy. It *might* pay off. But most likely, you’ll just be out a bunch of money.

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Dan Markovitz

Dan Markovitz is president of Markovitz Consulting, a firm that radically improves operational speed and efficiency by applying lean concepts to knowledge work. He is a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute and teaches at the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. He also lectures on A3 thinking at the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business. Dan is a frequent speaker and presenter at conferences, and has consulted to organizations as diverse as Camelbak, Clif Bar, Abbott Vascular, WL Gore & Associates, Intel, the City of Menlo Park, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. His book, A Factory of One, was honored with a Shingo Research Award in 2013. Dan has also published articles in the Harvard Business Review blog, Quality Progress, Industry Week magazine, Reliable Plant magazine, and Management Services Journal, among other magazines. All of these articles are available for download on the Resources page. Earlier in his career, he held management positions in product marketing at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger, where he worked in sales, product marketing, and product development. He also has experience as an entrepreneur, having founded his own skateboarding footwear company. Dan lived in Japan for four years and is fluent in Japanese. He holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

4 Comments
  1. Jean Cunningham says

    I think you make the perfect distinction here. 5S as a process with a purpose.

    And the lottery connection is perfect. Nice article!

    Jean

  2. Mark Graban says

    I’m going to try to read the book soon so I can make a more informed opinion. I read another review that said the book actually looks for a middle ground between order and chaos.

  3. […] was going to blog about this book before and Dan Markovitz had beaten me to it. But, Matt, a Lean Blog reader, sent me this new article on the same topic — is neatness […]

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