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Pen and 5S program

Writing reports as well as creating graphs and tables, which are essential tasks, typically require the use of a pen. Recently, computers and tablets have replaced the role of pens. Abundant fonts and various colors expressed on a computer are visually appealing to the viewer. However, the pen remains an indispensable tool to artists. When one intends to write a memo regarding an impromptu idea or when one intends to write a letter to an important person, the pen is typically used naturally. Feeling the pressure of the pen while writing, drawing, and directly expressing one’s thoughts through the ink that oozes out may be a basic desire of human beings.

People typically head home after finishing their daily work. They share their daily events with their family while having a hot meal with them. Meanwhile, some people spend their evenings by having quick meals, chatting online with friends, or watching their favorite videos on YouTube. Regardless of the activity, the main aim is to relax the body and mind to prepare for tomorrow in the comfort of one’s home. However, does a pen have a home to return to? A pen has a small body; therefore, it can be placed anywhere. As such, the pen can be found lying on a desk or buried in paperwork, awaiting to be used next.

5S is a practical program for solving such situations. In this program, only items necessary for work should be present in the workplace; subsequently, those items must be returned to their original location when they are no longer required. This is an effective management method for creating appropriate mechanisms.

Why unnecessary items occur?

To realize a new workplace, the location is initially considered. Subsequently, the items necessary for a job will be prepared, e.g., the number of desks and chairs required. The purchase of unnecessary items should be avoided to reduce cost as well as when the allocated budget is insufficient. However, during the start of a job, unnecessary items are unavoidable in the workplace, e.g., incompletely written documents that are not discarded. Another example includes a piece of stationery that is purchased because it is regarded as cute but has been left unused due to its impracticality. Fluctuations in daily work can generate unnecessary items. Such items should not be left unattended. Only necessary items should be present in the workplace. The operation that realizes this state is called Seiri, which represents the first “S” in the 5S program.

Masaki Imai, who popularized the word Kaizen worldwide, defined Seiri as follows.

“Seiri means classifying items in the workplace into two categories – necessary and unnecessary - and discarding or removing the latter from the workplace.”

Hence, one must consider reasons that contribute to the occurrence of unnecessary items. Based on the relationship between an item and a workplace, the following three phenomena may cause unnecessary items to occur.

  1. Not introduced appropriately (which causes unnecessary items to be present in the workplace);
  2. Not returned appropriately (which causes unnecessary items to remain at inappropriate locations);
  3. Not discarding items (i.e., not discarding unnecessary items).

Regarding the first aspect, new hires are initially provided with a desk and an email address, which are necessary to them. However, the necessity of items in the workplace may not be considered comprehensively. Consequently, they may be unused and become cluttered in the workplace.

The second aspect pertains to items present in a workplace. Unlike humans, who return home after a day’s work, these items may be left at any location in a workplace. Not having an item returned to its original location may render it difficult for the next person, who intends to use it, to locate it.

The third aspect pertains to discarding an item from a workplace. When a person contributes to a job and then leaves the company, he/she will be missed. Gifts as well as kind words will be exchanged. However, this does not apply to items. Hence, items that are unnecessary should be identified and discarded appropriately to avoid clutter.

Professor James C. Kralik of Harvard University in the United States, states that "items in Japan have souls.” In Japan, memorials are held for items such as needles, combs, and dolls. This concept is similar to that of lean management. More details are available in 5S technical books. Nonetheless, one must be conscious of the mind when performing a task using the tools provided. Only then can one contribute to sustainability, which is the topic of interest in the current society.


[1] Masaki Imai. (1997). Genba Kaizen- A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Magagenet, McGraw-Hill.

[2] Tie Sato. (2019). Japanese People Theory of Harvard (Harvard no Nihonjin Ron), Chuokoron Shinsha (in Japanese).

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Koichi Murata is a professor at the Department of Industrial Engineering &; Management, College of Industrial Technology, Nihon University, Japan. His research interests include operations & production management, kaizen, lean, visual management, sustainable supply chain and others. Dr. Murata is an Editorial Board Member of some international journals, Advisory Board Member in international conferences, and has published articles in international academic journals. He was interviewed for the Associated Press (AP) about future society & industry.