A Brief History of 5S

“There is a place for everything
 In earth, or sky, or sea,
Where it may find its proper use,
And of advantage be,”

A place for everything and everything in its place – this is the underlying philosophy of 5S, the lean practice that has its roots in Japan.  Over the years, we have done quite a bit of research to learn more about 5S, and recently became interested in the history of this practice.

5S itself came into being after World War II, when Toyota’s founder Sakichi Toyoda, his son Kiichiro and Taiichi Ohno, the company’s chief engineer, visited several U.S. companies, including Ford Motor Company and the Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain.  Partly out of their observations from these visits, they began development of Toyota’s Total Production System, which eventually led to the formation of the 5S practice, among many other lean practices.5s-history1

But did you know that in Venice, Italy, in the 1300’s, the Venetian Arsenal was producing ships using lean techniques that included standardized parts, rework reduction, a moving assembly line and continuous improvement principles that were used to make processes better and more effective?  Assets needed to produce ship parts were concentrated in one area with specialized teams assembling the different parts of the ship.  Where most ships from that era, took months to build, the Venetian Arsenal was turning out about one ship per day using their vastly superior methods.

If you are into cooking, you may be familiar with the French term “mise en place”, which means “putting in place”.  This is a practice used in professional kitchens to organize all the materials and tools a chef needs at the point of use so the chef can concentrate on cooking instead of wandering around looking for ingredients and kitchen utensils.  Credit for “mise en place” is often given to Georges Auguste Escoffier, France’s preeminent chef at the beginning of the 20th century.  He is also the guy responsible for codifying the five mother sauces.  (which of course are white, brown, velouté, Hollandaise and tomato)

Mise en place

For another take on 5S, in 1827, Charles A. Goodrich, an American writer and Congregational minister, popularized the motto, “a place for everything and everything in its place” when he wrote and published an article call “Neatness”.  It espoused the importance of keeping an ordered farm as a means of economy and comfort and also as a remedy for evil.  Although Goodrich is credited with the writing down the phrase, it roots can be found in other religious texts including the poem above attributed to St. Augustine.

It goes to show that lean practices are just a continued refinement and improvement of practices and ideas that were already in use – which is the heart of continuous improvement.  I’m sure there are other historical examples of the use of 5S principles from other countries and eras that could be found with a little more research.   If you have any good ones, we’d love to hear about them.

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