Everything You Need to Know About 5S

It's a known fact of life: no one can ever thrive in a disorganized, messy, and otherwise jumbled space. It's just not possible. The same applies to the modern workplace.

Enter Lean manufacturing and the "5S methodology".

Originally from Japan, the 5S methodology enables businesses to create safer, more organized, and ultimately more productive workplaces through the implementation of five key steps—hence the name "5S".

Commonly used in the manufacturing industry, the 5S methodology applies to many other sectors and services. Just think about administrative processes: how much time can you waste every week looking for information or files in a cluttered structure?

In this blog, we're going to cut through the noise and tell you everything you need to know about 5S, including:

Ready? Let's dive right in.


The Origin of the 5S Methodology

5S began as part of the Toyota Production System—a "Just-In-Time" manufacturing system focused on achieving the complete elimination of all waste in the pursuit of the most efficient methods. At its core, this type of manufacturing intends to only produce the amount of product needed, when it is needed.

Initially, theToyota Production System (TPS) was a closely-guarded secret, but the massive economic boom experienced in the 1980s drew massive interest from foreign corporations, wondering how Toyota, the leading manufacturer in Japan, was able to produce so many products, so quickly, and at such a high level.

However, it was not until a few years later that the five pillars of the visual workplace were devised by one Hiroyuki Hirano, a concept that would gradually transform into the 5S methodology we know today.

Saying that the 5S system has gained massive traction over the years would be an understatement. Today, 5S is widely considered one of the foundational elements of lean manufacturing and has inevitably found its way to the modern workplace.

At its core, lean manufacturing involves the use of many tools, including:

What is 5S, Exactly?

Simply put, 5S is a systematic approach to workplace organization. Existing under the lean manufacturing umbrella, 5S is designed to improve workplace efficiency, eliminate waste, and maximize productivity through visual management, which is also known as visual control.

As you must have guessed, there are five major steps in the 5S system. Each "s" stands for a Japanese word, which has been translated into English to make it easier to understand.

Lean 5S Methodology

The 5S Principles:

  • Seiri — Sort
  • Seiton — Set in order
  • Seiso — Shine
  • Seiketsu — Standardize
  • Shitsuke — Sustain
  1. Sort: The process of sorting what is needed and not needed in the workplace. If something is not important to your operating procedures, don't let it take space or create confusion.

  2. Set in Order: The process of organizing whatever remains by neatly arranging and identifying parts and tools for ease of use. Here's a sentence that summarizes this step: a place for everything and everything in its place.
  3. Shine: This process involves tidying up the workplace. Seiso means cleaning and inspecting the work environment regularly, including all the tools, products, and machinery.
  4. Standardize: This section standardizes the processes above (sort, set in order, and shine). In essence, this is where you take the first three S's and make rules for how and when these tasks will be performed.

  5. Sustain: This involves sustaining new practices and conducting audits to maintain discipline throughout the cycle. The aim here is to improve continuously, so form a habit of always following the first four S's.

It's quite clear that these steps feed into each other, so the sequence must be followed to the letter.

  • Eliminating all unnecessary items in Step 1 (Sort) will provide the space needed to organize the items in Step 2 (Set in Order).

  • Then, once the workplace is visually organized, grime, dirt, and other stains can be removed in Step 3 (Shine).

  • These changes to employees' job duties and workstations should be adequately documented and standardized through Step 4 (Standardization). This ensures everyone is reading from the same script.

  • Lastly, those changes won't amount to much unless discipline is installed and progress is tracked consistently—as dictated by Step 5 (Sustain).

And with discipline, a sense of purpose, and a clear mindmap of the entire work environment, employees will continue to apply all the steps, returning to step 1.

Structured follow-up through Active Supervision Tours is an effective way to create the conditions for a successful continuous improvement process.


Is There a 6th "S" in the 5S Methodology?

In recent years, there's been some debate on whether or not a 6th "s" should be introduced—safety

Some argue that safety is an integral part of the lean 5S. Others are skeptical about it and suggest that it warrants a much more concise focus.

Regardless of whether you implement the 5S or the 6S, safety remains one of the main performance axes of today's businesses and should be part of every operational excellence program, lean or not.


What are the Benefits of 5S?

Over time, the 5S methodology leads to a string of benefits, including:

  • Improved quality performance
  • Fewer accidents/heightened safety
  • Improved morale and staff involvement
  • Better waste management
  • Increased productivity
  • Higher efficiency and fewer machine downturns

Let's look at each of these in detail:


1. Improved quality performance

With the implementation of 5S, there is a designated place for everything that is needed in the workplace. All the items fit in their own space and are clearly identified.

This minimizes errors in the use and handling of materials, as well as wastage due to waiting, unnecessary movements and transportation according to the Lean "muda" principle.

With the right material easy to find, the quality of work is improved.


2. Fewer accidents/Heightened safety

With the alleviation of clutter, it is obvious that any and all kinds of dangerous and hazardous conditions will become visible.

In the end, what you get is an ergonomic layout that prevents stressful and "dangerous" movements that often lead to slip and fall accidents, improving safety and healthcare in the workplace.


3. Improved morale and staff involvement

Making it a routine to implement proper procedures and discipline in the workplace to avoid backsliding is one of the main goals of the lean 5S.

This practice improves the chances of avoiding dark, dirty, and disorganized workspaces, all of which can lead to low morale and decreased participation among employees.


4. Better waste management

A clear and organized workplace with proper labeling provides workers with the flexibility to replace damaged items in the designated places. This goes a long way in minimizing the total number of lost tools, products, and equipment.

Further, the appropriate management of equipment also minimizes damages that are likely to occur to various parts of the products during the production process.


5. Increased productivity

As we mentioned, 5S helps in eliminating waste in terms of tools, items, machinery, and equipment; and, in turn, processes, systems, time, and efforts.

All of this subsequently leads to improved productivity, increased uptime, and enhanced overall profitability.


6. Higher efficiency and fewer machine downturns

Thanks to the effective organization of the workplace, employees and managers have a clear view of what equipment they use, when, and how often.

Therefore, they can seamlessly :

  • Store most-used items closer to the floor
  • Order missing equipment in advance
  • Integrate predictive maintenance to prevent machine breakdown


Implementing 5S: What to Do and What Not to


In this section, we're going to dig through the exact steps needed to implement lean 5S. We'll base them around the 5S's, so they are easy to grasp and remember.


1. Seiri — Sort

In the seiri stage, you're going to use the red tags campaign—a tried-and-tested strategy used to identify potentially unnecessary items in the workplace, evaluate their viability, and treat them appropriately.

For starters, ask yourself these three questions about any item in the work area:

  • Is this item really necessary?
  • If necessary, do you need this amount?
  • If necessary, must it be located here?

Once you've gotten solid answers to these questions, take action by:

  • Keeping them in a red tags area for a particular timeframe to see if they're necessary
  • Throwing away or discarding them
  • Changing their location
  • Leaving them in the same place


2. Seiton —Set in Order

Here, you have to go out of your way to ensure everything is in its place and readily available to any user.

"Set in order" is about finding the best place for each item you keep in the workplace, taking into account frequency of use and space requirements.

For example: for a small item that you will use very frequently, you want to have it within easy reach.


3. Seiso — Shine

The third S means keeping the workplace safe and devoid of health issues (think: spilled chemicals, dust, etc.).

Here's how you can implement this step:

  • Figure out what you're going to clean up.

  • Designate your work area into "cleaning areas," and then assign people to be in charge of those specific cleaning segments.

  • Drill down on the cleaning methods: who, where, when, how, and what.

  • Properly store the cleaning tools, keeping them in areas where they are easy to access, use, and return.

  • The final step is incorporating a concise, repeatable, and well-thought-out cleaning inspection.


4. Seiketsu — Standardize

To establish clear visual standards when implementing the " Standardize" step:

  • Identify the exact locations for each item, using floor markings, shadow boards, and labels

  • Identify all items and their needed quantity


5. Shitsuke — Suivi (maintenance)

You already know what this step entails: making a habit of maintaining the correct work, safety, and health procedures.

To do this, you must:

  • Assign a specific person to maintain the needed conditions to keep the initial 3S's at a constant.

  • Integrate a daily maintenance schedule to avoid obvious setbacks.

  • Make it a routine to check the level of maintenance happening at the premise

Feel free to use 5S slogans, newsletters, posters, or visual panels. Even better, consider going on a benchmarking exercise to other companies (or departments).

This allows you to know what you're doing right, where you're going wrong, and what can be done to make 5S implementation a lasting success.


The Key Takeaways - Final Tips for a Sustainable 5S Program in the Workplace

1. Commitment to operational excellence

Every effort must be made to sustain the initial improvements and to avoid slipping of standards. The team leaders and first-line managers have a role to play to institutionalize 5S so that it becomes an accepted new way of life.

They can achieve this through frequent active supervision rounds, supported by a good daily management system (DMS) like UTrakk.


2. Top management support

Commitment will remain an illusion if the top management fails to support the program in its entirety. As such, senior management needs to have a clear understanding of the benefits of 5S and align them to the underlying business strategy.

That's the only way to achieve consistent success with the 5S lean manufacturing tool.


3. Performance measurement and recognition

The third and final tip is to independently measure 5S performance in each work area. Ideally, this should entail setting up an honest and fair system to reward teams that nail down a successful 5S strategy.

Measuring the performance of Lean manufacturing tools such as 5S is not exactly a cakewalk, but it can be done using checklists, active supervision tours, and score sheets.

Once you have the audit results, post them up in public areas to create an atmosphere of self-belief and confidence amongst workers. What you get in the end is a team that's ready and willing to improve continuously, all while eclipsing the set S5 standards and procedures.


Ready to Implement the 5S Concept in Your Organization?

Who said 5S implementation has to be a time-consuming, strenuous, and energy-sapping endeavor? At Proaction International, we think otherwise, and we're willing to help you craft a 5S strategy firmly geared toward operational excellence.

Our lean manufacturing experts are cut out for this—and nothing makes us happier than seeing you soar above the competition with a clear action plan backed by highly-efficient tools, cutting-edge management processes, robust communication procedures, and continuous improvement culture.

Helping business leaders to build a 5S implementation plan that helps them attain a sustainable performance improvement is our forte.


Ready to become an industry leader through operational excellence? 



The Proaction International Team
Topics: Operational Excellence