“5S” in the world of lean manufacturing stands for “sort”, “straighten”, “shine”, “standardize”, and “sustain”. While it is hard to argue with the success of lean manufacturing on the assembly line, how far should the concept be taken? For example, can an employee add a hook on a door to hang a sweater? According to some 5S proponents, the answer is “no” – it doesn’t contribute to “aesthetic uniformity”. Put a box of papers on top of a file cabinet – another “no no”. This raises the question of how far a employer should go to dictate how employees do their job. One might argue that the employer should care only about output and not about process. Another may argue that employees will not maximize output because they will not choose the right process. It would be nice to see some data on whether application of 5S to office environments indeed yields improvement.
Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2008 – Neatness Counts at Kyocera and at others in the 5S Club