5S or More? The Relevance of a Visual Workplace


We have all been reading about visual efficiency, and the relevance that it has for lean manufacturing, for lean management. But have you stop to consider why or how having a visual workplace can really help improve a business?

Looking at lean methods such as the 5S, we can verify that clear Visual communication is the preferred and essential tool to help implement order in the workplace, improving efficiency by eliminating the waste of motion looking for tools, materials or information. Other benefits include improved safety and morale due to improvements in the work environment.


5S or more? Did the Japanese left 2 S out?

5S method is based on 5 Japanese words starting with “S”, and even though there are a great number of English translations, we choose the following:


Sort out what is needed in the work area. This helps declutter the work area and makes it easier to access work tools, materials and information needed. The work team in the area has to reviews all items and remove those that are not needed. Items that are not been used for a long period of time may be moved to a storage area outside the immediate work area. Placing a red tag on items to be removed from the area and then putting the red tagged items in a designated red tag area could be a smart solution. This will allow people to review items in the red tag area and decide on whether they are to be stored, used in another area, sold or thrown away. Holding items for a period of time helps minimising the risk of disposing of items that are needed.


Set in Order. “A place for everything, and everything in its place”. The key consideration is how to present the tools, materials and information to operators so that motion is minimised. The items used most frequently should be positioned close to where the work is performed. Creating storage locations makes it easier for operators to return tools and materials to their correct positions when not in use. Use display or notice boards or clearly visible storage places. This will also make it obvious when items are missing and enables action to be taken before major delays are caused. Designated areas should be clearly labelled. Taping on floors and work areas, pictures and part labels are often used to better help organisation.


“Shine” is the cleaning step. Give the work area a deep clean. This prepares surfaces for labelling and painting of floors, equipment and fixtures which makes a visible difference and sets a higher standard. An ongoing cleaning and improvement scheduleshould be put in place. Time should be conceded to employees at the end of the shift and once per week for a deeper clean and improvement and organisation of their work area.


Standardise. Set a standard for the area to be maintained on a regular basis (i.e. end of shift and weekly time given for a deep clean). Photos, pictures, visual aids are a quick visual reference for better communicating and disclosing these standards and should be displayed in all the work areas. The standard set depends on the environment. For example, some production environments are dusty and it would be impracticable to maintain a clean facility. In such cases, focus on keeping clean the key equipment, work areas and visual aids. Standardising colour coding and storage devices across the facility helps employees to work in different areas without breaking the safety or workspace rules.

The most difficult of the 5S’s since a management system is needed to Sustain it. This may include a cleaning schedule to share the workload; Checklists to be completed at end of shift and on weekly deep cleans; Audits by managers; Visual displays in the area indicating adherence to the 5S standard.


5S is part of a broader objective to create a visual workplace which is simple to assure and will lead you to success… guess there are more than 5S to consider in this lean thinking method!


A Visual Workplace is a Productive, Efficient and Happy Workspace


5S has 3 important factors that make it one of foundations of Lean:

  1. Involvement / ownership by the people who work in the area.
  2. A focus on the production process and eliminating waste through workplace organisation.
  3. Discipline needed to maintain standards.

Implementing 5S is an opportunity to get the workforce involved in continuous improvement. The workplace organisation resulting from 5S reduces wasted time searching for information or materials. As with all continuous improvement efforts, the 5S process should rerun on a regular basis to “raise the bar” and assure the continuous approach on continuous improvement! In an ever-changing world, periodic assessment to strategic goals and the status of processes, plans, teams and workflows is crucial for keeping up with problems that need to be solved and needs that need to be addressed.

Just to help breaking with traditionally common assumptions, 5S is equally relevant in office and production environments. Visual cues help employees recognize work cell boundaries, areas requiring special caution and locations for public spaces, such as restrooms, break rooms and recycling bins. But beyond that, they should clarify essential information about standards and processes equally to all employees. Connecting all organisation as a whole, making everyone a valuable member of the production or value creation process!


The workplace is ripe for reinvention. The end of the modern financial system as we know it has been clearing the way for an era of ethical economics, or “Ethonomics.”, that are bringing to the spotlight again lean management approaches and the need to design for the principles and requirements of the modern workspaces. By using a different approach concerning workspace design, we will”explore new ways to create healthy, inspiring, and sustainable places in which people can feel good about where they are and what they do.” The authors of "Ethonomics: Designing for the Principles of the Modern Workplace” - a research paper that taps some alternate strategies to make workers happier, by design company Teknion in collaboration with design experts who include Joan Blumenfeld, principal of the company Perkins+Will - contend that movement needs to be built into the workday, while the office should be redesigned to provide more than a hermetically sealed environment that is at once too noisy but less than visually stimulating.


Ethonomics illustrates that it’s the incorporation of a number of key elements and initiatives at all scales that will provide an architecture for workplace happiness. Assuring a visual, comfortable and flexible workspace where people can choose and change from one type of space, work, interaction, and environment to another is key, not only for productivity and efficiency but also for leveraging the level of happiness in the workplace.

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