Seiketsu: To Standardize in 5S

There is an old joke that is often told in some offices that go, “Our office isn’t messy, we just like to make obstacle courses.” Wherever work is accomplished, a mess is probably going to be made sooner or later. Most people have often experienced some situation during their lifetime where you make an effort to keep an area or room as neat and clean as possible only to return later and find it in total disaster. This is often a common scenario for parents with young children or people who keep pets at home.

In the workplace, maintaining an uncluttered and clean condition is even more difficult to achieve. You may be asking yourself questions like, “Why is this place always so messy?” or “How can we prevent this place from getting dirty so quickly?” Work environments involve more people, materials, and equipment, so tidiness can become something that is much harder to handle than simply hiring a cleaning service to stop by once or twice a week. The answer lies in applying Seiketsu to maintain a clean work environment.


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To give an example, a small office in a warehouse may use several types of office equipment such as computers, printers, fax machines, copiers, and so on. These types of equipment often collect a lot of dust that is coming in from the outside, even if the doors and windows in the office remain closed. After cleaning the office equipment, you may find that there is a new layer of dust on the equipment the following day. This type of situation can become very frustrating, and many people may choose to give up cleaning which is not the right answer. Seiketsu is a method that you can use to ensure that your small office equipment remains clean and stays clean even in this type of situation.

What is Seiketsu?

To understand this method, you must first know about the 5S method. This workplace organization method was first started in Japan as a tool for lean manufacturing in industrialized companies. It has since evolved into methods that can be used for any business or organization.

5S uses a list of five Japanese words that correspond to the order of the method: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke. Seiketsu is the fourth step of the method and when you translate this word into English it means “standardized cleanup”. Seiketsu sets the standard for cleanliness and is derived from the previous step Seiso, which is translated to mean “shiny clean”.

5S uses a list of five Japanese words that correspond to the order of the method: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke. Seiketsu is the fourth step of the method and when you translate this word into English it means “standardized cleanup”. Seiketsu sets the standard for cleanliness and is derived from the previous step Seiso, which is translated to mean “shiny clean”.

5S - Seiketsu

5S - Seiketsu

This method is all about maintaining a clean environment. When you practice the first three steps of 5S on a regular basis, you will eventually move on to standardization which is the fourth step. This step involves adopting a problem-solving approach to maintain a tidy and clean condition. This step is also harder than the previous three steps and requires a lot more thinking and planning than actual cleaning with your hands.

The fourth step is just as important as the previous three processes because your organization will learn and internalize specific steps, standards, and procedures to maintain cleanliness. One of the reasons why this idea originates in Japan is because the people there learn and internalize specific steps to perform many types of actions.

Japanese standards are often quite different from the everyday activities that people in the West perform because Westerners have more freedom to do things however they please. This is the reason why some Western organizations that keep a lot of clutter and mess are still able to perform their duties and functions; even if it is not efficient or the best way of going about doing it. In a 5S work environment, Seiketsu helps organizations seek to find optimal processes for each particular purpose, task, or situation.

Why Standardize Everything?

Consistency is what Seiketsu is all about which is why it is also known as the “standardization phase” of 5S. When the best practices are put in place on how tests and procedures are done, the workplace will naturally create more consistency. When standardization is implemented, workers will do their jobs with greater efficiency which will then lead to lower costs and increased productivity. Workers also have a greater understanding of their job expectations when requirements and responsibilities are clarified through standardization.

Standardizing worker’s duties after they have followed the first three steps of 5S will help them keep their work areas clean, organize, and efficient. This is because they have a clear understanding when it comes to step one “sort,” step two “set in order,” and step three “shine.” Once standardization is implemented, better job performance is created and leads to reduced costs, higher quality, less waste, fewer accidents, and fewer production errors.

In every 5S program, team participation plays an important role. Employees should always be encouraged to actively participate in the development of standards that are created with the fourth step when it comes to their work areas and any task they are required to perform. When these standards are comprised of shared ideas and values, employees will have higher productivity, more motivation to follow the standards, and take greater pride in their work.

Once your organization has standard procedures in place for help every task to be done, methods of cleaning and ways of maintaining and organizing equipment and tools will become the standard. Inefficiencies and other problems will also become easier to identify when you have standards in place. During the Seiketsu phase, labeling is also a useful tool that is also implemented to determine work expectations and flow patterns for every work area.

Overall, it is important to standardize everything because 5S is a cyclical methodology of continuous improvement in the workplace with a Kaizen mindset. To make this method useful, you must develop standards that are open and flexible to continual improvement. Creating standardized procedures in determining best practices may take time and lots of planning, but the benefits and rewards will be enormous.

How to Get Started With Seiketsu

If your workspace or office area looks like somebody just dropped a nuclear bomb on it and the dirt is piled so high, you have small mountains forming, and you can still implement Seiketsu so that cleaning becomes a normal process for your organization. Before you can get started with the fourth step, remember that you must first apply the previous three phases of 5S: Seiri, Seiton, and Seiso. The fourth step will become a standard part of the everyday process when you provide equipment, time, and documented instructions. Also, everyone in your organization should get used to using red tags and make them a part of everyday life and all working areas.

To standardize the organization of your work area, component footprints should have one color for where the cell is entered and another color for finished products that exit the cell. Standardization involves making things as clear as possible, so you should color code everything whether it is different functions or areas. Common color codes should be identified across your organization or company so that everything is clearly understood when implementing the fourth step.

One common problem in organizations is people from other parts of the company coming into your area and taking tools and equipment without your knowledge. When it is time for you to use those same tools or equipment, it is nowhere to be found. This type of scenario will drive anyone nuts and creates all types of dysfunction in any organization.

Seiketsu creates a standard by providing common ways of storing tools and equipment in your work area so that people from other parts of the company will know what to do if they need to use tools and equipment in your department. It involves having specific areas with color codes for documentation and making them standard across all areas.

Operators will also document their workflow by following the development of the second stage (set in order) using simple word processing software and digital cameras to design professional-looking documents that provide clear instructions. There are also detailed work instructions or standard operating procedures (SOP’s) for every work area. These documents will help create the standard of Seiketsu by ensuring consistency among every employee and during all working hours.

Changing the Culture

The fourth step is not just a methodology of standardization. It also involves changing the culture in your office organization. Changing the culture using the fourth step includes eliminating all kinds of wastes and inefficiencies. When problems occur, standardization makes them easy to identify and take corrective action.

If your work culture is not open to change, you have to follow the 5S steps in order. If you find yourself at step four, but there are several work areas left dirty and disorganized, the method is not being implemented properly, and you may want to start over at step one. Our helpful way to change your organization's culture when implementing 5S is to use the Plan-Do-Check-Act Approach or what is also known as a PDCA plan.

Under the PDCA plan, standardization involves creating guidelines and visual controls to keep the workplace clean, organized, and orderly. Good housekeeping standards are high and always maintained. The first three steps of 5S are always executed in order, and Seiketsu helps turn the steps into natural, standardized behavior. Lastly, you can sustain this work culture and enhance interest in Seiketsu by creating inter-departmental competitions.

Changing your work culture will also involve implementing the following action items so that they become standard behavior in your organization:

  • Make sure that the first three steps in 5S are implemented correctly
  • Establish standard practices and routine for regularly and systematically repeating the first three steps
  • Create forms and procedures for regular evaluation of the status of the first three steps
  • Take photographs before implementation as well as after
  • Create a 5S board where all team checklists and documents are publicly displayed
  • Standardize procedures for creating the labeling of all items, shadow boards, and position lines
  • Standardize holding area rules and red tag procedures
  • Standardize training times for communicating and documenting 5S procedures and improvements for equipment and the workplace
  • Standardize cleaning schedules using 5S Owner Checklists which are created during the Seiso step
  • Make a schedule for cleaning the workplace and an overall maintenance system for housekeeping using a cross-functional team to complete the tasks
  • Assign responsibility to individuals for all machinery and work areas
  • Conduct regular inspections and evaluations by a special team and include senior management
  • Never criticize poor performing areas. Instead, always remain positive by giving commendation for good performers and good practices
  • Complete an evaluation using the five levels of higher management or with people who are appointed to do this task

Standardize Your Workplace

As the old saying goes, change doesn’t always happen overnight. However, following Seiketsu will make sure that there are standard procedures in place for how things get done, how equipment and tools are organized and maintained, and methods for keeping your organization as clean as possible. Determining standardized procedures and changing your work culture will take some time, but the results and benefits are well worth the effort.

The next 5S method is called Shitsuke which is to Standardize.

Author: Eric Raio

Eric Raio is one of the founders of Factory Solutions. When he isn't plotting new ways to create awesome software. He likes to geek out about flying drones and technology.

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