Simple 5 S? Ask the Japanese First!

The road to learning continuous improvement principals is constant and dynamic, picking up concepts and the variations of interpretation.  During my 30 plus years of studying and practicing scientific management theories, I noticed how ideas get developed, interpreted and communicated, accepted wisdom sounding important but lost in translation, complexity within the details that may not be needed, long string of words some not used in normal conversations.

Unlike other languages, English is full of innuendo.  The normal blue collar workforce with its own vernacular when asked to grasp these new concepts struggle to implement them like fish out of water.

As an example to this, I’d like to share what I learned with the Lean concept of 5 S.  First I’ll provide my opinion of the English version, then I’ll follow up with the Japanese version.  Obviously, this is my account and does not represent the how other companies pass this acumen to their work force, but it’s important to illicit an argument that we as LSS practitioners are targeted effete, contentious and ineffective. 

When I learned the five words:  Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain I was not really convinced of the choice of words to convey the true meaning of a lean practice. 

1.       Sort
2.       Straighten
3.       Shine
4.       Standardize
5.       Sustain

To illustrate some of the confusion, I copied the following from the internet that provided definitions to these five simple words.

·         SORT:     sôrt/Submit (noun):  a category of things or people having some common feature; a type.  "if only we knew the sort of people she was mixing with”.  synonyms: type, kind, nature, manner, variety, class, category, style.  Informal:  a person of a specified character or nature.  "Frank was a genuinely friendly sort.”  synonyms: person, individual, soul, creature, human being.  Archaic:  A manner or way.  "in law also the judge is in a sort superior to his king."   COMPUTING:  the arrangement of data in a prescribed sequence.  PRINTING:  a letter or piece in a font of type.  Verb:  verb: sort; third person present: sorts; past tense: sorted; past participle: sorted; gerund or present participle: sorting:  Arrange systematically in groups; separate according to type, class, etc.  "she sorted out the clothes, some to be kept, some to be thrown away.”  Synonyms:  Classify, class, categorize, catalog, grade, group.  Resolve, settle, solve, fix, work out, straighten out, deal with, put right, set right, rectify, iron out; answer, explain, fathom, unravel, clear up. Informal: sew up, hammer out, thrash out, patch up, figure out look at (a group of things) one after another in order to classify them or make a selection. "she sat down and sorted through her mail."  Resolve (a problem or difficulty).  “The teacher helps the children to sort out their problems."  Synonyms:  Resolve, settle, solve, fix, work out, straighten out, deal with, put right, set right, rectify, iron out.

·         STRAIGHTEN:  straight·en ˈstrātn/Submit:  Verb:  Straighten; third person present: straightens; past tense: straightened; past participle: straightened; gerund or present participle: straightening.  Make or become straight.  "She helped him straighten his tie."  Synonyms:  Make straight, adjust, arrange, rearrange, (make) tidy, spruce up.  Make tidy or put in order again.  “He sat down at his desk, straightening his things that Lee had moved."  Synonyms:  Put/set right, sort out, clear up, settle, resolve, put in order, regularize, rectify, remedy.  Stand or sit erect after bending.  “He straightened up, using the bedside table for support."  Synonyms:  Stand up (straight), stand upright,  (of a vehicle, ship, or aircraft) stop turning and move in a straight line.

·         SHINE SHīn/Submit  Verb   shine; third person present: shines; past tense: shone; past participle: shone; gerund or present participle: shining; past tense: shined; past participle: shined.  (of the sun or another source of light) give out a bright light.  "The sun shone through the window."  Synonyms:   Emit light, beam, radiate, gleam, glow, glint, glimmer, sparkle, twinkle, glitter, glisten, shimmer, flash, flare, glare, fluoresce.  Glow or be bright with reflected light.  "I could see his eyes shining in the light of the fire."  Synonyms:  Gleaming, bright, brilliant, illuminated, lustrous, glowing, glinting, sparkling, twinkling, glittering, glistening, shimmering, dazzling, luminous, luminescent, incandescent.  Direct (a flashlight or other light) somewhere in order to see something in the dark.  “An usher shines his flashlight into the boys' faces."  (of a person's eyes) be bright with the expression of a particular emotion.  “His eyes shone with excitement."  Synonyms:  Glowing, beaming, radiant, happy.  Be very talented or perform very well.  “She shines at comedy."  Synonyms:  Excel, be outstanding, be brilliant, be successful, stand out.  Paragon, model, epitome, archetype, ideal, exemplar, nonpareil, paradigm, quintessence, beau ideal, acme, jewel, flower, treasure.  Make (an object made of leather, metal, or wood) bright by rubbing it; polish.  “His shoes were shined to perfection."   Synonyms: Polish, burnish, buff, wax, gloss .  Noun:  A quality of brightness, esp. from reflected light.  “Use shoe polish to try and get a shine.”  Synonyms: Light, brightness, gleam, glow, glint, glimmer, sparkle, twinkle, glitter, glisten, shimmer, beam, glare, radiance, illumination, luminescence, luminosity, incandescence.  An act of rubbing something to give it a shiny surface.  Plural noun: shines.  "Tom's shoes got a quick shine from a boy with a buffing cloth."  Offensive:  A contemptuous term for a black or dark-skinned person.

·         STANDARDIZE:  stand·ard·ize  ˈstandərˌdīz/Submit  Verb:  Third person present: standardizes; past tense: standardized; past participle: standardized; gerund or present participle: standardizing; verb: standardise; third person present: standardises; past tense: standardised; past participle: standardised; gerund or present participle: standardizing:  Cause (something) to conform to a standard.  "The editors failed to standardize the spelling of geographic names."  Synonyms:  Systematize, make consistent, make uniform, make comparable, regulate, normalize, bring into line, equalize, homogenize, regiment . adopt (something) as one's standard.  “We could standardize on U.S. equipment."  Determine the properties of by comparison with a standard.

·         SUSTAIN:  sus·tain səˈstān/Submit   Verb  Third person present: sustains; past tense: sustained; past participle: sustained; gerund or present participle: sustaining.  Strengthen or support physically or mentally.  “This thought had sustained him throughout the years."  Synonyms: Comfort, help, assist, encourage, succor, support, give strength to, buoy up, carry, cheer up, hearten.  Cause to continue or be prolonged for an extended period or without interruption.  “He cannot sustain a normal conversation."  Synonyms: Continue, carry on, keep up, keep alive, maintain, preserve, conserve, perpetuate, retain.  Antonyms:  Sporadic (of a performer) represent (a part or character) convincingly.  “He sustained the role with burly resilience."  Bear (the weight of an object) without breaking or falling.  “He sagged against her so that she could barely sustain his weight."  Synonyms:  Bear, support, carry, stand, keep up, prop up, shore up, underpin.   Undergo or suffer (something unpleasant, esp. an injury).  “He died after sustaining severe head injuries."  Synonyms: Undergo experience, suffer, and endure.  Uphold, affirm, or confirm the justice or validity of. "The allegations of discrimination were sustained."  Synonyms: Uphold, validate, ratify, vindicate, confirm, endorse.  Noun:  MUSIC  An effect or facility on a keyboard or electronic instrument whereby a note can be sustained after the key is released.

 There’s no denying that the definitions to these words are correct and comprehensive.  As a normal person with some vocabulary, our minds sometimes encounter a selection process to apply the correct meaning, sometimes misinterpreting and thereby creating a wrong or misguided result.  One thing I can attest is that by attempting to simplify ideas, it oftentimes generates complexity with a never ending barrage of information.  One of my co-workers complained, “If this is so lean, why is it so freaking complicated and asked to LEAN the LEAN PROCESS!”

 Good point.  So in my studies of 5 S, I stumbled upon the Japanese version:

1.       Seiri
2.       Seiton
3.       Seison
4.       Seiketsu
5.       Shitsuke

And this is what I found in defining them:

·         Seiri.  Tidiness – Throw away junk, don’t keep what you don’t need.  Rule of thumbs, if you don’t miss trash it, or store it the hell away. 
·         Seiton.  Orderly.  Organize for efficiency.  Set things in proper places for quick retrieval and storage. 
·         Seiso.  Clean.  Everybody’s a janitor.   If you see trash on the floor, pick it up, and just don’t stop there, be clean at home, in public and at work!
·         Seiketsu.  Standardize a routine that maintains the first three concepts (ala Karate Kid.  Rule number 1 "Karate for defense only."  Rule number 2 "First learn rule number one.")
·         Shitsuke.  Discipline.  Don’t be lazy.  Do your job and do it well.

With that example, compare English version of 5 S then the Japanese.

My vote is the Japanese, simple to pass on to rank and file where concepts are easier to remember and implement. 

When asked why the English version was used to substitute the Japanese version, I was told because it was simple to remember.  I argued back, then why do we continue to use words like Kaizen, Kanban, Muda, Mura and Muri? 

My goal in implementing continuous improvement is results with the least amount of words possible.  Sometimes using a foreign language provides a clear story to tell than English which I’ve learned so far can be quite complicated.  I think the 6 S that we need to implement is SIMPLICITY!!!


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