As you practice the previous 3 S’s regularly, you will naturally progress to the 4th S which is Seiketsu. Seiketsu means maintaining the uncluttered, neat and clean condition that you have achieved in practicing Seiri, Seiton and Seiso. It means preventing the condition from backsliding to the previous condition.
For example, after doing Seiri, you may find that new junk reappears in no time. And then you have to do Seiri again. After a while, you start to ask yourself; “Why do these unnecessary items turn up so often? How can I prevent them from reappearing so quickly?”
Likewise, after you have done Seiton, the whole place looks neat and tidy. But before long it gets messed up again, and so you ask yourself; “Why does this place get messy so quickly? Can I prevent it from getting untidy so quickly?”
Similarly it’s the case for Seiso.
Hence, in Seiketsu, we often have to adopt a problem solving approach to maintain the clean and tidy condition. In this sense, Seiketsu is more difficult than the previous 3 steps. It requires the use of our brains more than our hands.
Let’s consider an example from the home, in this case the kitchen. You may find that frying produces a lot of oil mist which is difficult to remove from the walls of your kitchen. You then decide to install a cooker hood to extract the oily fumes. But of course you need to ensure that the cooker hood is well-maintained and functions properly. But this is not enough to remove all the fumes and so you next think of changing your kitchen walls to tiles which are easier to clean. Another measure you may want to take is to switch to non-stick frying pans which do not require much oil. And finally, you could decide to eat less fried food and switch to steaming instead.
All these measures that you come up with make it easier to maintain the clean condition of your kitchen falls under Seiketsu.
Another example is from the public roads. In Singapore, the government has very strict rules for earth-moving trucks which travel on public roads. Before any truck leaves the construction site, its wheels must be washed to remove the mud. At the same time, these trucks are fitted with covers to prevent the earth from spilling onto the roads; although I often see trucks filled to the brim with the flaps not fully closed. Finally, construction workers have to clear away any mud that is inadvertently carried out onto the main road outside the construction site.
I hope my Malaysian friends do not get offended if I use Kuala Lumpur for comparison. When I was last there, (which was at least 10 years ago; maybe the situation has changed) I saw a lot of construction going on. I also saw a lot of dried mud outside construction sites. When a vehicles passes by, it kicks up a cloud of dust. As a result the air was quite hazy. But my Malaysian friends tend to put the blame on the forest burning habits of their fellow countrymen and neighbours in Indonesia.
Finally, let me share with you an actual case from one of my clients. The place in question is a small office in the warehouse. When the staff embarked on 5S, they soon found that their equipment like fax machine and printers become dusty quite quickly. Initially they were quite puzzled as to where the dust came from because their office was air-conditioned. On closer examination, they realized that the dust came from the warehouse outside where lots of movement of forklift trucks took place. The dust found their way into the office through the single door which was opened frequently because of the human traffic.
The 5S team then brainstormed for ideas on how to reduce the frequency of opening and closing of the door. Finally they decided to change some procedures so that production and delivery staff need not come into the office so often. They put a box near the counter outside their office for the production and delivery personnel to deposit their documents like production orders and gate passes. They also provided a chop and staplers and other facilities near the outside counter. They even provided a sofa for people to wait outside instead of coming into the office.
These and other measures helped to cut down on the amount of dust entering the office and thus made it easier to maintain the cleanliness of their office and office equipment.
On a broader scale, Seiketsu also encompasses the routines that you put in place as part of the 5S system in you workplace. This could include doing regular checks and inspections of the 5S conditions.
But of course all these measures will not work unless people cooperate. And that brings us to the final S which is shitsuke or discipline, which I will touch on next time.