This idea came from Katie as we were trying to organize files in our office. We had a lot of client files that date back ten years or so. They were taking up valuable real estate in the office (a nice three drawer lateral file cabinet that was full and that we could use for something more important). Because of our growth and moves over the years (in additional to reorganizing files once in a while) we had moved these same files at least five times. The files were stored in a very common method – alphabetical order. This is, of course, to make them easier to find when we need to look something up. I mentioned to Katie that I read somewhere that 95 percent of the items put in a file cabinet are never looked at again. From “The 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace” by Hiroyuki Hirano, Figure 5-4 Document Usability Trend (Source: NAREMCO) shows that documents that are six months old may have a ten percent use frequency and at one year they would have a one percent use frequency. So this got us thinking…

Katie fixing the files.

Katie fixing the files.

The files would continue to grow in number. As we add more files we would either have to reorganize the files periodically or have extra unused space to accommodate more files – neither of these alternatives is desirable. I mentioned to her that of my files from just a year ago (I only probably had to pull three of them out to look at). So this is where Katie had her breakthrough moment – why don’t we just organize the files by year and then alphabetically?  More than likely I would be able to guess what year that work was done so all I would have to do is to go to that year’s box and look alphabetically for the file. So what if I got the year wrong? No big deal, just try one of the other boxes. It would only take a few minutes to find the file and this would not surpass the savings in filing time, storage costs and general ease of use. Now many of you may already be using this type of filing system; that’s not the breakthrough. The important part to me was that we took the time to think through a problem, suggest multiple solutions, decide on which target condition to experiment with and implement it.

Now I know this method my not work for everyone and is definitely based on the number of files you have to maintain, but for us this will be a great way to store files and retrieve them when needed while reducing waste. By the way, we were able to get rid of a lot of unneeded items by Sorting through the files.

Way to go Katie, keep up the Lean thinking!

Check back with me in a few months and we’ll see how our experiment is going.

5S That Actually Works

December 5, 2011

Six month ago we did a quick, one-day kaizen event focused on Visual Workplace in two areas of an office – the fax/printing area and the marketing shipping area. The team did a great job of getting things organized and visual with signs, lines, and labels.

Fast forward six months – this time we were going to do a quick 5S training event in a production area. The operations director was doing the training (his first time and he did a great job!) and he had the team go look at the office areas that we did six months earlier because they were close to the training room. I tagged along and couldn’t believe my eyes. The areas were not just as good as six months ago they were even better!

Before Visuals













End of Kaizen Event













Six months after













I asked a couple of the office workers how they did it. This is what they said:

  • “There are about only six people that use this area so it’s easy to keep an eye on it.”
  • “Once we got it organized and labeled, it just maintains itself.”
  • “You just make sure you don’t leave anything in the area.”
  • “It’s easier because we know where everything is and where it belongs.”
  • “We hold each other accountable if anything is out of place.”

One of the customer service reps mentioned that she needed to laminate something and she never used the laminator before. She said it was simple and easy because they posted a “One-Point Lesson” right on the wall by the laminator.

There was some resistance when we first did the labeling – “Everyone knows what that is.” But now, it is self-evident when things are in their right place or not. This has helped tremendously to sustaining and improving the gains achieved!

So see, there may be hope for your 5S system after all!