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.

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.

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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  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!


  2. curiouscat says
  3. 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.

  4. […] 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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