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The five Ss: Number 4: Seiketsu (standardization)

Quality Tools > Tools of the Trade > 47: The five Ss: Number 4: Seiketsu (standardization)


So far we have covered the first three tools of the five Ss: Seiri is organization, which includes putting away things away that are not needed and keeping close those that are used often. Seiton, or neatness, ensures that the things you use are tidily put away so they can be quickly and easily retrieved. Seiso is not just cleaning, but a whole attitude that includes ensuring everything is in perfect condition.


The fourth S is Seiketsu, which means ‘standardization’. This cuts across Seiri, Seiton and Seiso, stitching them together and ensuring that all techniques and methods are clear and well-understood by all.


As humans, we have a tendency to personalise the things we use. When we change them ‘to suit our special needs’ we are really doing two things. In changing them, we are saying ‘this is me’, in the same way we will re-decorate a new house so it feels more like ours. By doing this, we are also shutting out other people, in effect saying ‘You are not like me. I am special.’


There are places for individuality in the workplace, but in the methods, tools and processes we must share with other people, we must forego our personalisation  tendencies in favour of helping each other understand things, sharing a common view. If we can do this, we build a greater sense of community and feel more a part of the larger group. Paradoxically, studies have shown that people who can let go of their sense of self are actually happier. The unhappiest people are almost invariably also the most selfish.


For everyone to understand a standardised system, they should be trained on it, and perhaps regularly tested to ensure adequate understanding. The design of the system should ease learning. It is very easy to design complex systems that are difficult to learn and remember. Include testing of any standardised system in the same way that you would test a new product with its intended customers.


A particular technique of Seiketsu is visual management. Our vision is our most complex and dominant sense, and visual management plays directly to this strength. Consider what we can see: location, distance, shape, brightness, colour, contrast. Visual management leverages all of these so that when we are looking for something it stands out. Try this: think of the color red. Now look around you and see how red things jump out at you.


Colour systems should employ high contrast. Thus yellow and blue go well together, for example with blue lettering on a yellow background. Blue and green do not have enough contrast and signs using these will be difficult to read. Red and yellow tend to be more ‘forward’ colours, whilst blue and green tend to fade more into the background. So reserve the red end of the spectrum to make things stand out. ‘Red for danger’ is probably no coincidence.


Where painting signs and so on, do so neatly (Seiton), using masking tape and stencils to guide the brush. Use the right paint for the surface you are painting. Floors, for example, need special paint. Use standard fonts and font sizes and standard colours.


Colours can be used on people, too, with different coloured overall, hard hats, badges and so on to indicate job function or position. This, for example, will allow you to stand in the middle of the floor and see where the electricians are working. It also makes clear when someone is doing a job which they are not qualified to do.


Visual controls include work instructions, hazard warnings, indicators of where things are kept, equipment and tool designations, cautions and reminders, and plans and indicators of what happens when. Whenever people need reminding, a visual control should be there to help them. Labels should be use to show such as degree of precision of tools, types of chemicals and oils, when machines were last inspected (and when the next is due), temperature tolerances, responsibilities, and so on.


Uses colour in the office, too, to help identify things. Use coloured binders, tags, document holders, papers, Post-it Notes, and so on, each colour having a standardised meaning. You can also use coloured tape or paint marks to indicate pencil types, contents of drawers, etc.


Knowing where to look is the first step of standardisation. You should be able to turn your head or hand and go straight to where things you need are are kept, whether it is in a storecupboard, on a rack or in a computer. Signs on the items to be looked at should be clear and visible, even from a distance, if people will be looking for them from a long way off. Use hanging signs, large lettering, colour-coding and so on.


The next step is being able to find the specific item you are looking for. If I am looking for a 6mm wrench, it should be clearly labelled as such and on the proper hanger. If I want a spectrum analyser, it should be on the shelf in its correct place, with appropriate labels.


Signs and indicators should not only tell people what is right, they should also indicate if it is wrong. A spanner rack may include a notice: ‘Do not use on older imperial systems’. Mark valves with arrows to show the direction to turn. Clearly mark ‘on’ and ‘off’ positions on switches.


Seiso, cleaning, is important with signs, as well as equipment. A dirty sign is almost as bad as no sign. Also, when signs get chipped or worn, repair the damage.


Standardisation makes abnormalities and unusual situations stand out. If you put a set of cleaning machines in a neat row, with a place for each (as Seiton), then if one is missing it will stand out. Likewise, if inspected parts all have a label placed on them in a standard and visible place, you can easily spot when one is missing and hence has not been tested. Coloured labels also allow such as items which have failed the inspection to stand out.


There is a lot of scope for creativity in standardization, for example in using positioning markers, transparent covers that protect but also give visibility, liquid crystal and other electronic signs that change with changing conditions, arrows to show routes, and so on.


As with all the Ss, Seiketsu requires responsibility. In particular, Seiketsu may have people working full-time in managing standards and ensuring that they are complied with. A standard that is not checked up on is not a standard—it is simply a guideline.


Seiketsu in the office is very important, with such as standardisation of documents, naming conventions, indications of general office supplies, ownership of computers and so on. Although you can get overly-bureaucratic, this should not be used as an excuse for sloppiness. Finding the right balance is a matter of understanding, experimentation and, of course, clear standardisation.


Next time: Shitsuke (discipline)


This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Institute for Quality Assurance

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