Friday 30 March 2007

My 5S Journey

In May, 2003, at the peak of the SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) crisis in Singapore, I came across an interesting article in the Straits Times where our then deputy prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong exhorted Singaporeans to learn from the Japanese; especially their sense of civic consciousness and responsibility. The article mentioned something which I have have have been working with for the past 20 years – the Japanese technique of Good Housekeeping and Workplace Organisation known as 5S. (Actually, for some unknown reason, they mentioned only 4 and dropped the last one, Shitsuke, which was actually the one most relevant to the article. But never mind.)

"When it comes to cleanliness, the Japanese are hard to beat. Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong referred to them in his May Day Speech, saying that "we should do like the Japanese". Japanese workplaces are notoriously neat and tidy. The Japanese are said to live by the credo of the 4Ss ......" (Straits Times, May 11, 2003)

Having been fortunate enough to be involved in the 5S Movement in Singapore since it started in 1986, I feel I can play a small part in turning the PM's goals into reality. Through this blog, I would like to share my knowledge and thoughts about this subject of 5S; and of course, at the same time, I hope to promote my services to potential clients. As some of you may be aware, I run my own consulting business, Hoshin Consulting which provides training and consultancy in 5S and other productivity-related areas.

What is 5S?

5S is the acronym for 5 Japanese words; Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke.

  • Seiri (整理) means Clearing.
  • Seiton (整顿) means Organising.
  • Seiso (清扫) means Cleaning.
  • Seiketsu (清洁) means Maintaining, and
  • Shitsuke (no Chinese equivalent word) means Discipline.

My First Encounter With 5S

My first encounter with 5S was in 1985 when I was sent by the National Productivity Board to Japan for three-and-a-half months of training. During this time, I visited many outstanding Japanese companies and noticed that they all strongly emphasized keeping the company and its equipment clean and in tip-top condition by this technique or system known as 5S. In 1989, I was fortunate to be sent again to Japan for a 1-month training stint in Total Quality Control, where I got to visit more companies which have won the prestigious Deming Prize.

This 1984 article in the Straits Times about the first batch of trainees to Japan for the Productivity Development Project Fellowship (PDP) training caught my attention. After seeing this article, I promptly applied for a job at NPB as a trainer in the IOE (Industrial and Operations Engineering) Department. And then in September 1985, I joined the 3rd batch of trainees for PDP fellowship training in Japan. The training last three-and-a-half months from 8 Sep to 20 Dec.

The photo below was taken in 1985 at a plant called Aisin Seiki in Nishio, a company that manufactures brake pumps for Toyota Motors. I am standing, 3rd from the right. We were attached to Aisin Seiki for 2 weeks. Would you believe that we are at a rock garden right in the middle of the factory. The factory was so clean that it was a 'shock' for us Singaporeans.

When I returned to Singapore, my colleagues and I worked closely with the Japanese experts attached to NPB and we aggressively promoted 5S in Singapore; especially to the small and medium sized companies. We conducted lots of training and consultancy projects and produced training videos, as well as organized various promotional activities. We even provided training to other consultants not only from Singapore, but also the other Asean countries through what was known as the Japan-Asean Regional Training Programme. For my part in this effort, I was awarded what was called the Triple-A Award in October 1988.

After I left the NPB in 1992, I continued to provide 5S training and consultancy to companies in Singapore and the region up to today. Although, on the whole, I believe I have lost out in terms of monetary remuneration, when compared to my colleagues who remained in the NPB, (myself to be blamed for not being a very good entrepreneur), I think I gained a lot especially from the exposure to companies in other countries. My work took me to many different parts if Malaysia, like Pasir Gudang, Shah Alam, Kerteh (in Trengganu), Port Dickson, Melaka, Bangi, Kuantan, Kuching and Bintulu. I even had 2 memorable assignments in the beautiful country of Seychelles as well as more recent ones in Indonesia and Myanmar. As a self-employed consultant, my working hours are much for flexible and I could spend more time with my family and church; and indulge in my favourite pastime – blogging.

Through this blog, I hope to share and learn more about 5S which is widely applicable even in the home and public places. Of course, I hope to receive lots of contributions from my readers, including other consultants. Also, I do not intend to limit the topic to only 5S but to other subjects related to productivity and quality.

Finally, I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my Japanese teachers who have taught me so much; especially Mr Hajime Suzuki, Mr Kazuo Tsuchiya and Mr Motomu Baba.

A shot of Mr Suzuki (left) in the early days of our 5S journey.

You probably know what they say about consultants. They borrow your watch, tell you the time and walk away with it. So I must also thank those people who have lent me their watches, during these past 20 years. I hope I can return some of them through this blog; and at the same time borrow a few more.


Anonymous said...

A few years ago, I was helping a friend to send some documents to an insurance company at Middle Road. I managed to locate it and found that it was a small company. When I entered it, I was very impressed of its layout - office spotlessly clean, tables with PCs neatly arranged in a row, manager's office tucked in the rear overlooking clearly when customers came in, arch files uniformly grey, of same size, lining neatly against the wall. In short, the office was a model of good 5S management. When I left the office, I noticed a small coffee table with a large fake golden frog, placed on it, at the same time facing the main door. I had the impression the boss was not only good in his 5S management, he was also a keen fengshui practitioner.

Anonymous said...

In my working place, there was a slope leading to a soccer field above our work place. After a heavy rain, water from the pitch would gush down a drain from the field, down the slope, and finally ended up into the sea. One day one of our technical officers observed that the water draining into the sea was in actual fact very wasteful. Out of his own initiative, he arranged with the environmental people to collect the water from the barricaded drain to water plants and trees in public areas on daily basis, but before that he persuaded the department to build a small barricade to dam the water before reaching the sea. His effort won recognition from the Port for saving a valuable resource - water.

Anonymous said...

At one time, my work required me to travel frequently to Japan. I am always very impressed by the Japanese people's civic consciousness. When they are not well, they always wear a face mask in the subways so that they will not spread their germs to other commuters.

Lam Chun See said...

I was conducting some 5S trg at a local co. when the boss shared this with the class. He said that when Japanese housewives sweep they front porch, they sweep the dirt inwards, i.e. towards their house. And they will even sweep the public road in front of their houses. No wonder LHL says they are difficult to beat.

Anonymous said...

For my first visit to Japan, we went to a museum in Kyoto and as usual I made a trip to the toilet. I was astonished by the cleanliness of it, toilet bowl sparkling, walls, floor, spotlessly clean and flushing cisterns in top condition. I thought to myself, it must be those a one-off thing, until we went to a small fishing town called Wajima. Because of the Winter, the wind from the Japan sea was really biting, we all went into a convenient stall to take cover. Again I need to go the store toilet to ease myself, and I found the toilet condition absolutely clean, as good as the previous one in Kyoto. There was no suprise this time around. This is no co-incidence, cleanliness is part of the Japanese way of life.

Anonymous said...

During my business trips to Japan, I noticed that some trees were tied and stablised by ropes around them. This act reflects that the society is nature loving and disciplined.

Anonymous said...

In earlier years, Singapore used to locate its police force in big district stations. Later on Singapore implemented the Koban system, the Japanese way of decentralising the police force into small police posts. It spreaded to all HDB housing estates, not only enhancing the security of these places, but also improve rapport between the citizens and the police. It is truly a big success.

Anonymous said...

One day while on business trip in Tokyo, I wanted to dispose a piece of wrapper but could not find a rubbish bin to throw it into. I went across to some shops, still no rubbish bin in sight. Finally I saw a bin just inside a shop entrance and I threw it in. I was wondering to myself, why is that there are many rubbish bins located in public areas in Singapore but not in Tokyo? I believe the authorities want the Japanese to be more disciplined and responsible when disposing their waste items, not to rely on the govt too much.

Lam Chun See said...

When I was travelling around Tokyo in 1985, I did notice some cigarette buts on the overhead bridge. Their infrastructures also tended to be older than ours. But I remind myself that Tokyo is older and much bigger and more crowded city than us.

Anonymous said...

Talking of holidaying in Japan, I was on a look-out for litters on buses and trains, but I hardly found any, the same went with Kyoto, Kanagawa, and Wajima. The cleanliness of temples was legendary set against the backdrop of winter, the sights were unbelievably beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Basically Japanese are nature lovers and there is a saying that a thing of beauty is a joy forever. In Singapore the National Parks does a wonderful job, taking care of all public plants, trees and landscapes to the fullest. There should be a national movement to promote the love of nature to Singaporeans, and in time to come, the national landscape of the country could be a national icon of beauty to its people.

Fat Cat said...

There was a saying that Singaporeans had gone soft and had forgotten the painstaking efforts by their father and their grandfathers in building the country.
Along came SARS to jolt people from their slumber. So, a crisis is not necessarily a bad thing. At least, it got people to reflect on their actions and what they could possibly do better.

PChew said...

Hi Chun See, were you engaged by DHL in 1997 to teach 'Quality and Productivity Management' to the staff?

PChew said...

Ooops! I mean engaged by DHL in 1992.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes. I did. You were in the class? I think I didn't do a good job.

PChew said...

Not me, but my son was in the class. He worked for DHL then. I was viewing your 5S corner. He came to see and recoganised you in the picture.

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