An Overview of the 5S's Lean Practice

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5S is a lean practice used to keep production workspace orderly and keep the workforce committed to maintaining order. 5S represents the five Japanese words seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke. Interestingly, they can easily be translated into the five English words sort, set, shine, standardize and sustain.

Japanese terms
  1. Seiri – Put things in order
  2. Seiton – The proper arrangement
  3. Seiso – Clean (keep polished)
  4. Seiketsu – Purity (maintain clean)
  5. Shitsuke – Commitment instilling attitude/atmosphere to maintain 5S
English terms
  1. Sort – Get rid of what is not necessary
  2. Straighten – Everything has a place and is in it
  3. Shine – Keep clean machine/workplace
  4. Standardize – Systems and procedures to maintain 1 – 3
  5. Sustain – Maintain systems/procedures (1 – 4)

5S is a visually-oriented system of cleanliness, organization, and arrangement (as Figure X-1 indicates) designed to facilitate greater productivity, safety, and quality (Figure X-2).

A diagram indicating 5S is visually oriented. Figure X-1. 5S is visually oriented

5S began in Toyota in 1960 with the aim to make workplaces better organized, more orderly and cleaner permanently to achieve higher productivity and a better working environment.

The method of 5S is one way to engage people and contribute to culture change. It engages all employees and it is a foundation for more on the job self-discipline, better working environment and better products.

Figure X2. 5S facilitates greater productivity, safety and quality Figure X2. 5S facilitates greater productivity, safety and quality

5S was developed by Hiroyuki Hirano to improve the industry’s operations. A number of companies beat the odds and encourage strong, positive cultures. DanaherOpens in new window and ToyotaOpens in new window are two of the better known examples.

5S is a foundation for more discipline actions. If workers cannot even put a tool back in its designated location, will they follow standards for production? It’s visual nature that makes things that are out of place stick out like a sore thumb.

And, when properly implemented and supported, it builds a culture of continuous improvement. The benefits of 5S are:

  • Cleaner and safer work areas: when a work area is clean and organized tripping hazards and other dangers are eliminated.
  • Less wasted time through more workplace organization: when tools and materials are accessible and in order, workers need less time to “go get” this means less to time to search for what they need.
  • Less space: when unneeded items are eliminated and the needed ones are organized, the required floor space is dramatically reduced.
  • Improve self-discipline: the 5S system, especially its visual nature, makes abnormal conditions noticeable and makes ignoring standards more difficult.
  • Improve culture: when 5S is applied systematically, it encourages better teamwork and enthusiasm.

People like to work in a well-organized and clean environment. They feel better about themselves and better about their work, and they restore the self-discipline that is found in winning teams.

Markovitz (2012) said “5S is the foundation of leanOpens in new window”. It’s not just about “cleaning your room” or being faster at finding your stapler, with all the triviality that implies.

In reality, the decisions that 5S forces you to make—and the discipline it imposes—It is the basis for spotting waste, for creating systems that enable work to flow more efficiently and for helping to clarify “standard work” in the complex, highly variable office environment.

To be sure, applying 5S yields time savings from not having to search for information, but the more significant benefit comes from surfacing abnormalities and waste in processes so they can be fixed. Some people will claim that 5S isn’t really important for knowledge workers unless they’re sharing an office space or a desk with someone else.

    Research data for this work have been adapted from the manuals:
  1. Dennis P. Hobbs. Lean Manufacturing Implementation: A Complete Execution Manual for Any Size ...
  2. Jorge Luis García-Alcaraz, Aidé Aracely. Lean Manufacturing in the Developing World: Methodology, Case Studies and ...