The Wall Street Journal gets it wrong on 5S


Poor Dan Brown. He's the "5S Cop" at Kyocera, responsible for hounding employees into compliance with the company's "Perfect 5S" policies.  Unfortunately, the way Kyocera implements 5S is, in the words of Mark Graban, more LAME than Lean. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal featured a disappointingly credulous and simplistic article on Kyocera's 5S initiative that completely missed the fact that what Kyocera is doing is not, in fact, 5S. It's obnoxious, anal-retentive rule enforcement that breeds resentment, frustration, and cynicism among workers.

5S is a philosophy and an organizational tool to improve efficiency by reducing waste in the workspace. It is not simply neatness for the sake of neatness. But you know you've got problems when Kyocera policy

not only calls for organization in the workplace, but aesthetic uniformity. Sweaters can't hang on the backs of chairs, personal items can't be stowed beneath desks and the only decorations allowed on cabinets are official company plaques orcertificates.

It gets worse. When Mr. Brown inspected the accounting department recently,

he discovered a hook on a door and told cash-management assistant Deanna Svehla that doors are supposed to be free of such accouterments. "But that's where I hang the Christmas decorations," she said. "C'mon, like there aren't plenty of places to put decorations," he said, nodding at the orange and black Halloween tinsel strung along the outside of her cubicle. That's OK, it turns out, because it isn't permanent.

Can you imagine having his job? Or even worse, paying him to do this, instead of something useful -- like, say, solving customer problems or inventing new products? (Mark Graban and Matt May raise similar points in their blogs.)

Look, I'm a big fan of 5S. I spend a lot of time helping companies implement 5S. But, with apologies to Lloyd Bensten, Senator, this is not 5S.

The goal of 5S in an office is to enable people to work more efficiently. Properly deployed, it reduces the time spent looking for information. It helps avoid the distraction caused by piles of paper and post-it notes scattered about the desk. It diminishes the chance that something important will be lost in the stacks of stuff metastasizing in the office. And it reduces the amount of space that people need to get their work done. But sweaters on chairs? Please.

I've written about the value of 5S -- real 5S -- here and here. Give it a try. But don't waste your time with Kyocera's far-from-Perfect 5S.

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