5S – taking it too literally?

5S – taking it too literally?

As an old saying in Object Oriented Analysis (OOA) goes “Naming is essential.” And while I was writing this series on the 5S approach over the last couple of weeks I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the Sort – Straighten – Shine – Standardize – Sustain canon of the English translations.

The 5S-approach works well for knowledge work …

I actually took the words from the Wikipedia article to create the titles for my articles, but as you can see in the current list of links below I amended the titles with the translation from Hirano‘s book on implementing 5S in e.g. office environments.

To me these translations made a lot more sense in the context of knowledge work. And – to be honest – in the context of the original descriptions as well.

… but not so much with the ideas associated with the English S-Words

It is my feeling that while it is a nice touch to have the 5 Ss from 5S matched up with English words starting with ‘s’ (which definitely helps with memorizing them), there is a very high risk of semantic-diffusion through this.

There is a qualitative difference between organizing things and sorting them. Just like straightening things out is not the same as being orderly. And so forth.

In business process design, design thinking and software development we have a couple of approaches that are completely in line with the 5S approach – but it is hard to recognize that when the (English) S-words are used.

To take one thing from software development, “refactor mercilessly” is a way to keep the codebase organized and clean – keeping the codebase sorted and shiny doesn‘t make too much sense in that context.

There are more things – like naming things correctly, which not only fits in with cleanliness but also with orderliness and discipline. But the point I am trying to make is that the 5S approach provides much more applicable guidance when not taken literally by the s-words from the Wikipedia article, but instead by the older translations from Hirano et.al.

So how about giving the translations from Hirano‘s book a try for your next process improvement session? You do have process improvement sessions, don‘t you?

Till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

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