Addressing 5-S contempt and the glorification of messiness

Mike Wroblewski

There seems to be a swell of support against 5-S activities, which is certainly not a new phenomenon. The backlash against any attempts to organize areas like a person’s desk or workstation can be powerful, passionate and personal. This 5-S backlash easily grows into contempt as we hear about extreme examples of 5-S Gone Wild. This includes stories of companies that place footprints on desks for everything (computer, keyboard, phone, papers, stapler, etc.) without regard of actual benefit, stupid rules that limit the number of personal items on a desk to an arbitrary number like three, or label-crazy consultants that have us labeling every possible object on site under the principle of visual management like in this Far Side Cartoon.

With the release of the new book, “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder – How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices and On-The-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place”, written by Eric Abrahamson and David H, Freeman, many supporters of the messy-desk lifestyle are united against any and all actions to “fix” what they believe is not broken.

Maybe guilt over not being better organized is a factor that causes people to rationalize the mess and clutter. As pointed out in Mark Graban’s post Not Neatness for Neatness Sake at Lean Blog, it seems that the authors of the book are glorifying messiness.

To get a better insight to their supportive argument that messy is better, read Tom Peter’s Cool Friends interview with David Freeman about his findings. I find it curious that many of the findings in support of disorder are based on surveys which I tend believe are not all together scientific and most likely bias. I do admit that I have not read this book or verified the details on his research, so I only present my opinion on the use of survey data as fact.

Take for instant Mr. Freeman’s theory that “People who keep messy desks actually spend less time looking for things then people with neat desks.” And what is the scientific proof cited by the author that supports his theory? “We did a survey for the book that backed this up” along with his comment, “Common sense backs this up.” For me, common sense tells me the direct opposite. I guess even what is considered common sense is up for debate.

My thoughts are that organization and 5-S principles are critical to continuous improvement success. As I have learned on my lean journey, we should question all assumptions and actions to eliminate waste. Even activities thought to be lean requirements like 5-S should be constantly monitored like any other process for the value of performing the activity. Remember, any activity that adds cost or time without adding value as defined by the paying customer is waste.

About the author:

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is president of Victory Alliance Technologies, a Greensburg, Ind., firm that specializes in lean implementation. He writes a blog called "Got Boondoggle?" featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. Mike can be reached by e-mail at mwroblewski@victory-alliance.com. Subscribe to Machinery Lubrication

About the Author

Toyota Material Handling

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently a ...