Not Neatness for Neatness Sake
I 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 potentially a waste of time? This discussion and the articles are based on the book A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder–How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place (now there’s a cluttered mess of a title!!!)
I tried giving the book a chance (in audio book form) and got through the first few chapters. I think the author makes a reasonable point that neatness for neatness sake isn’t of high value. But, the articles I’ve seen about the book tend to make the leap from questioning neatness to glorifying messiness. I don’t think that’s the message the book was trying to get across. I’m sure the author might think this example would be waste, so do I. If neatness and order means we mark where our keyboard goes, yes, that’s probably a waste of time.
There’s a big difference between one person and their personal space (a desk) vs. a shared workplace. Most of 5S is intended to help in shared workplaces right? When I do 5S work, I always emphasize that we aren’t trying to be neat for the sake of being neat, we’re trying to reduce waste and make abnormal situations more readily visible. A messy and disorganized shared workspace leads to waste, as people are looking for needed tools and supplies instead of doing value added work.
Instead of asking “Is a Messier Desk Better?”, as the MSN article does, we should be asking “What’s the Cost of a Messy Desk?” If there’s zero cost (you’re the only user of the space and you can keep track of where things are, no problem). If it’s a shared bench in a factory, a laboratory, or a pharmacy, then the cost of messiness could be very high. That’s where common sense has to intersect with Lean methods.
The MSN article says:
“Mess isn’t necessarily the absence of order,” Abrhamson and Freedman claim. “A messy desk can be a highly effective prioritizing and accessing system. In general, on a messy desk, the more important, urgent work tends to stay close by and near the top of the clutter, while the safely ignorable stuff tends to get buried to the bottom or near the back, which makes perfect sense.
In a way, that’s a 5S principle — the most frequently used documents (or tools) should be at closest reach, that might be at the top of a stack.
From the article, an example that might show a lack of common sense:
Feelings toward workspace chaos can be strong. The book cites a Bradford, Penn. police chief who actually was fired for not having a neat desk.
Firing someone over a messy desk? Come on. I would guess the chief was fired as part of somebody’s show of power. If a City Manager or Mayor instituted some “clean desk policy” and decided to fire the police chief (or anybody) for not following it, that’s either bad management or it was a police chief they could afford to lose…
What are your thoughts? Seen examples of “neatness for the sake of neatness” instead of using 5S to eliminate waste?