Initially introduced as part of Toyota’s Lean manufacturing methodology, 5S has since become a core building block for most of the Lean methods and tools used today.
5S is built on the idea that great results begin with a clean, organized workplace, and is often one of the first Lean methodologies that organizations implement, as it focuses on improving the workplace in its current state by finding and eliminating waste and optimizing productivity.
Here, we’ll explain what the 5S methodology is and how it forms the cultural foundation for building a comprehensive Lean strategy.
What is 5S?
5S is typically defined as a system for creating a clean, organized workspace that makes it easy to identify abnormalities and waste so that employees can do their jobs efficiently, effectively, and without the risk of injury.
The 5S method offers a framework for building a visual management process. Inexpensive tools like floor tape and operations manuals can be used as guides to analyze the work environment and identify areas of potential improvement.
It’s important to understand that 5S is more than an effort to build housekeeping into company culture. When you work in a place that’s a disorganized mess, it makes it difficult to identify when something isn’t right. This isn’t just about physical organization—5S provides employees with the mindset and tools they need to streamline processes and add value.
Additionally, the 5S system can have a significant impact on safety, particularly in industries like manufacturing or healthcare. A cluttered workspace can introduce safety hazards that could put employees and customers at risk.
5S Online Video Course
As part of our growing School of Lean library, our 5S course will guide you from the basics to being able to implement the 5S methodology within a few days.
Through this course you will learn how to make lasting changes as well as how to decide where to start making improvements.
Free 5S Introduction Video
What Are the 5 Elements of the 5S Lean Methodology?
The 5S principles are represented by a set of Japanese words, each starting with the letter "S," and describe the process of creating and maintaining a workspace.
- Sort (Seiri) Seiri is all about preparing your workspace. All equipment and work supplies must be arranged neatly, and the workspace should be free of any unnecessary objects. The goal is to reduce clutter, making it easier to find the items you need to complete your work.
- Set in Order (Seiton) Here, the goal is to maximize accessibility, free up space, and prevent accidents by placing equipment, tools, and materials in their optimal locations.
- Shine (Seiso) Shine is a step toward cleanliness. By keeping the tools, equipment, and machinery clean, you’re taking a step toward creating a safe, waste-free work environment that encourages productivity.
- Standardize (Seiketsu) Here, the goal is to develop and implement a set of standards for maintaining the sorting, organizing, and cleanliness procedures outlined in the previous steps. The idea is to ensure that all departments, branches, and employees reap a consistent set of benefits.
- Sustain (Shitsuke) This last “s” aims to maximize an organization’s potential by removing any obstacles that hinder productivity. In other words, the goal is to keep things going.
How to Practice 5S
While initially designed for manufacturing, 5S can be applied to a wide range of industries, from software development to healthcare and education—in fact, many people even use these principles at home.
Here’s how you might work through the 5S principles in your own organization:
- Find an area that can benefit from 5S. Don’t try to take everything on at once. If the goal is to organize your office, you might start by tackling your desk or a closet. Once you’ve identified an area you’d like to improve, add that action item to your documentation.
- Determine what problem you’d like to solve. While anyone can take advantage of 5S, you don’t want to practice the methodology without anchoring it to a goal. If you’re distracted by clutter, maybe the goal is to work in a more organized environment. Or, if you’re constantly searching for tools, you may need to rethink where you’ll store those items so they’re always within reach.
- Conduct a 5S audit. Maintaining a 5S system depends on conducting regular audits, which focus on three main tasks: determining whether known problems have been addressed, standards are being met, and taking stock of what hasn’t yet been standardized.
- Take “before” pictures. Take a few pictures of your space before making any changes. While most smartphones allow you to take decent pictures these days, make sure you open the windows to take advantage of any natural light so you can see the details in the images. Additionally, you may want to add markers that help you stand in the same place when you take your “after” shots.
- Summarize your improvements. Upload your “before” and “after” images to assess the results. At this stage, you’ll determine whether further changes need to be made—in which case, you’ll begin the cycle again. Otherwise, you’ll document processes so that you can maintain the new standards.
In the end, 5S is more than a cleaning initiative: it provides a foundation for building a successful Lean strategy. It’s also a cost-effective solution for streamlining internal processes, preventing mistakes, and creating a culture where everyone is responsible for maintaining a clean and safe environment. 5S empowers employees to take ownership of their working conditions, which encourages them to be proactive in eliminating waste in any form. This sense of ownership can improve productivity, profitability, and company morale.
To learn more about developing your own 5S system in the office, the warehouse, or anywhere else, watch our 5S video courses from our School of Lean Library.
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