Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Power of Being Organized

I visited two Japanese factories this week and I was impressed on how extremely organized their production lines where. This got me thinking about the Japanese manufacturing line, the Montessori classroom and Google - and the power of being organized.

One of the principles of Lean manufacturing is 5S, a philosophy and a way of organizing and managing the workspace, especially a shared workplace (like a shop floor or an office space), and work flow with the intent to improve efficiency by eliminating waste, improving flow and reducing process unevenness.

5S is comes from a list of five Japanese words which, transliterated and translated into English, start with the letter S:

Phase 1 - Seiri (整理) Sorting: Going through all the tools, materials, etc., in the plant and work area and keeping only essential items. Everything else is stored or discarded.

Phase 2 - Seiton (整頓) Straighten or Set in Order: Focuses on efficiency. Arranging the tools, equipment and parts in a manner that promotes work flow. For example, tools and equipment should be kept where they will be used (i.e. straighten the flow path), and the process should be set in an order that maximizes efficiency. For every thing there should be place and every thing should be in its place. (Demarcation and labeling of place.)

Phase 3 - Seisō (清掃) Sweeping or Shining or Cleanliness: Systematic Cleaning or the need to keep the workplace clean as well as neat. At the end of each shift, the work area is cleaned up and everything is restored to its place. The key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work - not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.

Phase 4 - Seiketsu (清潔) Standardizing: Standardized work practices or operating in a consistent and standardized fashion. Everyone knows exactly what his or her responsibilities are to keep above 3S's.

Phase 5 - Shitsuke (躾) Sustaining the discipline: Refers to maintaining and reviewing standards. Once the previous 4S's have been established, they become the new way to operate. Maintain the focus on this new way of operating, and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways of operating.

Seeing this in implemented in Japanese production line, reminded me of some of the principles at the Montessori classroom. It is amazing how many similarities there are between them.

All materials in a Montessori classroom are kept in order.
1) There are only essential items.
2) For every thing there is place and every thing is kept in its place which is normally labeled.
3) At the end of each task, the learning area is cleaned up and everything is restored to its place.
4) The materials are standardized and have a way for the child to check their own work.
5) This clean, tidy, calm and child friendly environment is maintained in every classroom around the world.

But what does this have to do with Google? I can think of two things

1) Being organized:
Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

2) The Montessori classroom:
Both of Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin attended Montessori school in their childhood. My guess is the have learned something about the power of being organized then.

And I think I need to take a closer look at my office desk and our office space tomorrow...

Photo by Trenton Schulz