"Do me a favour, 5S in the office just doesn't work", said Sara as she made her way to the training room. "Yes, I agree. To be honest I am not sure why the new MD is spending the money on yet another 5S training course when we've all done this before", said Joanne. Sara and Joanne both worked in the Accounts Department for a large Precision Engineering company and had been on several lean training courses over the past 5 years.

When Sara and Joanne arrived at the training room, there were 5 others already in the room, Bill and Justin from Purchasing, Sue and Julian from Product Development and John from Quality. " What do you all think about attending this course again?", said Sara. "I went through roughly the same course three years ago and it has made absolutely zero difference to my role, I might try and wangle myself out of it", she said.

However just as Sara was about to leave the room, in walked the trainer together with the new MD. She re-took her seat quickly. Andy was the new MD. He was from a manufacturing background and keen to implement lean ways of working in the office and administrative areas of the business.

"Right", said Andy, "I want you to meet Paul; he will be your trainer for the day. He has some interesting things to say about how lean and particularly 5S can help us in our office and administrative areas. I would welcome your feedback at the end of the day. I am not going to say anything more, so enjoy the course".

With that Andy promptly left the room and closed the door behind him. There was an uncomfortable silence for a few seconds which seemed like an eternity. Who would speak first? Paul the Trainer broke the silence, "Can I see a show of hands from those people who think they could use today much more productively by going back to their desks and doing a normal days work rather than sit through this course".

Everyone in the room all looked at each other wondering whether this was a set up and who would be the first to make a move. Slowly one after each other, all the hands went up. "I thought so", said Paul, "Well let's hope I can change your mind". "I'll tell you what, give me 30 minutes of your time and if at the end of that period you think today is going to be a waste of your time, then we'll cut our losses and you can all go back to your departments, can't say any fairer than that".

The delegates looked at each other again, surprised by Paul's statement. Justin piped up, "Ok, that's seems very reasonable to me but unless you have something interesting to say it's going to be a wasted trip for you". Everyone agreed they would give the trainer 30 minutes but secretly hoped he would offer up nothing new so they didn't have to sit through the course.

"Ok – who wants to tell me what 5S is all about"? said the Trainer. Sara, who had been quiet up until now spoke first. "It's about tidying up, housekeeping and putting things back in the right place so you can find them next time. It might work on the shop floor but it's just not relevant in the office, in fact it's a bit insulting really, I do these things already, its just common sense isn't it?".

"Anybody else have any other views", said Paul. "Yeah, it's like Sara said, every now and again we get the big blue wheelie bin from goods in and throw everything we don't need out", said Bill. "It's like a spring clean. We normally do this before the directors from head office are due to visit". "Oh yes, and do you remember when the last lean consultant came in he had us all put insulation tape on our desk indicating where the phone had to live, take down all of our photos of our families and told us to clean our keyboard and monitor every day. He wanted it to be like an operating theatre – sterile".

This provoked quite a lot of laughter. "Mmm...., I see, so if I am to understand you" said Paul, "its about throwing things out, tidying up, cleaning and making the place 'sterile'. Is that what you all think"? "You've got it, now you can see why it won't work here, we are creative people and as a result it's not for people like us, its only useful for shop floor workers", said Sue.

"Wrong", said Paul. "Let me start by asking you a few direct questions. Have you all got enough space to work in efficiently"? "No", said John from Quality "I have 12 metal filing cabinets in my area. They store all of the quality reports we have produced over the past 25 years. Some of them have reports in for products we last manufactured 10 years ago. I've actually got a piece of inspection equipment I keep under my desk in its box because I have nowhere to put it". I know what you are going to say, why I haven't thrown some of these reports out to create some space. Well, I can't because we offer a 20 year warranty and whether I like them or not I have to keep them". "Okay", said the trainer. "but do they need to be next to you. What if we created an area were we could store the reports so you knew where you could find them if you needed them but they weren't necessarily beside you". "I've already tried this but there is just no space anywhere, everybody is short of space".

"I understand what you are saying but what if we could find a way of reducing the number of filing cabinets around you so that you could leave the inspection equipment set up on its own bench, would that increase your productivity?" said Paul. "Yes, sure because each time I have to get it out it takes me about 45 minutes to set up and calibrate", John moaned. "I must lose hours per month doing this."

"Ok, we're starting to get somewhere", said Paul. "Let me ask you another question, can everyone find everything they need to do their job in 30 seconds or less?". "Well no, but no one else can either", said Justin. "It sometimes takes me longer to look for something than it takes to do the task itself, especially things like tracking down who has the engineering change notes". "So if we introduced a visual system where you always knew where the change notes were, this would help?", enquired Paul. "Absolutely, but no-one other than me has any interest in fixing this problem because everyone is focussed on their own issues. However for me it's a big problem because every day I don't know what I should be ordering probably means its one day less Production are going to have to manufacture the product". "So if we resolve this problem we are likely to improve delivery on time to customers?", said Paul "I guess so", said Justin.

Paul continued, "Do your servers contains dozens and dozens of folders and files which are no longer valid and clutter up the directories"? "Yes, but...." "Have staff named some of these folders and files in a variety of formats so you have duplication of certain information making it much harder to interpret"?

"Well Yes...Hold on a second are you saying that the sorting exercise we should be doing in an office is on our servers, PCs and networks rather than just the office itself", said Sara. "Precisely", said Paul. "The sort activity should encompass both the physical and the virtual world. Your files are like the products on the shop floor, they need to be sorted and correctly located so they can be easily accessed by all.

Do you realise that 40-60% of all of the waste found in your organisation is likely to be in the office and administrative areas because most of the waste is virtual rather than physical". Paul continued.... "Do you recognise the problem of running out of paper for the copier or cartridges for the printer because no one indicated they were running low"? "Now, you're talking, that happens all of the time and the amount of un-collected pages left on the photocopier/printer is untrue", said Joanne. "It's a disgrace".

Paul continued, "Let me ask you another question, How many times does the person or department supplying information to you pass it on to you in an incomplete format so you have to go and ask questions before you can start work"? "Yeah, Yeah that happens all the time, but how does this relate to 5S ", said Justin. "Well, if we find standard ways of working (the fourth S) and perhaps use mistake-proofing techniques as well to prevent people passing on incomplete information it means everyone can do their jobs right away cutting down more wasted time. We can often adopt mistake proofing techniques by using visual management techniques using 5S principles.

Here is another example, if you share information electronically for instance, its good to use the same versions of software so there no formatting issues etc". "I am starting to see 5S in a new light", said Joanne. "But what about this concept of everything in its place, surely that doesn't apply to where telephone sits on a desk, or does it? "You are right, this is a common mistake made by some organisations when adopting 5S in the office, they try to apply 5S in the office exactly the same way they would in the factory. Some concepts translate well, others don't. For example, rather than focus on where a telephone sits on your desk, I would encourage you to identify where a hard copy purchase order should be filed, or an infrequently used computer file should be stored or where Justin's engineering change note is up to as it does it rounds for signature. Make it simple so people can find things in 30 seconds or less. Use colour and signs to help too. 5S is a lean tool that should be used to make your job easier not harder and as a result the work place should become more productive".

"I think I can start to see we've been approaching this from the wrong angle", said Julian. The way you have put things over I can that we have been taking things all a little too literally and that if we were all to look for ways to make things simpler it would make a huge difference". There was silence for a few seconds.

"Ok, my 30 minutes is up. Right, now that I have your attention, how many of you would like to leave now and miss out on exactly how we go about implementing 5S in the office", said Paul. "We're staying" the delegates replied in one voice.

To find out more about what the delegates learnt on this training course why not attend our 5S in the Office course?