5S for Workplace Organization

What is 5S?

5S, the brainchild of Hiroyuki Hirano from Japan, is widely considered as being the basis for Lean Manufacturing as it is concerned with stability and standardisation to bring about improved safety, quality, delivery performance and cost control.

Why a basis for Lean?

Lean Manufacturing is a methodology derived from the Toyota Production System (TPS) which originated in post World War II Japan. It came about when Kiichiro Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno amongst others explored means of making a high variety of quality cars at minimal cost, given the lack of capital expenditure available at the time. The fundamental principle of TPS is to increase productivity and generate product flow through the value stream by a discplined and focused effort on eliminating waste. The foundation for TPS is stability, i.e. minimal process variation, this being achieved by standardisation of work practices.

What is Waste?

Waste (Muda) in "lean" terms is described perfectly by Wikipedia as being any expenditure of resources for means other than the creation of value for the presumed customer. Waste can include anything from excessive motion and transport of materials to defects, over-production and inventory. Most literature now describes the 8 wastes, although Toyota have classified many more.

What are the 5S's?

5S is a systematic approach to workplace organisation. The 5S's are:

  1. Sort (Seiri) - sort out what is needed and get rid of what isn't
  2. Set (Seiton) - a place for everything and everything in its place
  3. Shine (Seiso) - clean and maintain so always looks like the photo
  4. Standardise (Seiketsu) - make it the standard and instil discipline
  5. Sustain (Shitsuke) - audit the system and improve it (start again)

NB. It should be mentioned for accuracy that Toyota uses 4S. Sustainability, the fifth "S", is already encompassed within the TPS continuous improvement culture.

Beside the improvements on safety, quality, delivery and cost mentioned above, there are also additional behavioural benefits associated with 5S, such as increased pride and sense of ownership in the workplace, increased discipline and higher employee motivation.

Where does 5S succeed?

Hirano is repored to have said that good workplaces begin with 5S and bad workplaces fall apart beginning with 5S. So why is this?

5S only works when there is top-down commitment from senior management to operator level. Without this any 5S programme is doomed from the outset. Also there needs to be an infrastructure in place for sustainability and continuous improvement (time and resources, ideas scheme etc.) otherwise the best you'll achieve is 4S before the system stagnates.

5S will not work if it is not correctly understood. It is not simply a tidying up exercise and if it is believed as such then the programme will only succeed to the second "S" before eventually being considered a failure. It works when management understand 5S as being fundamental to good performance rather than secondary to it.

5S succeeds in environments where there is discipline and self regulation in place to ensure standards are kept, this being owned by the workforce itself. Standards are typically maintained through a simple daily auditing system of different areas, or zones, with a person or small team being responsible for each.

Even with all this in place, long term sustainability will only be possible if the system is continually measured and improved and if members of senior management carry out periodic inspections of each area. One common error by senior management is never being visible on the factory floor.

How to Implement 5S

1. Sort

The first step, "Sort", begins with selecting a dedicated area for focus (could be an office environmnent, not only a factory floor) and assigning red tags to items that are either no longer needed or their usefulness is unknown.

A quarantine area needs to be assigned for all red tagged items if they cannot be thrown away immediately, or if there is a lot of uncertaintly as to whether items are still required. This both frees up space in the workplace and provides time to decide whether to keep or discard the items in question. There's a tendency at this stage for "magpies" to want to hang onto stuff that hasn't been used for a long time. Critical reflection is required to ensure that emotional ties do not get in the way of logic.

2. Set

The second step, "Set", involves finding a place for everything that is left over after "Sort", keeping in mind work place effectiveness, safety and ergonomics. The following questions should be answered:

  • Where should the item be located? Ease of access is required. Keep passageways clear and avoid cables and piping on floor.
  • How large and heavy is the object? Avoid reaching, bending and lifting where possible.
  • How frequently is the item used? Organise by frequency of use and keep frequently used items close to hand.

Set involves providing means for organising items such as shadow boards, shelves, cabinets and containers. It also involves implementation of visual management to highlight to anyone whether a normal or abnormal state exists. The simplest of examples is a petrol gauge in a car. Green signals good, red signals bad. Another would be floor markings and labels indicating where an item should be found if not being used.

3. Shine

The third step, "Shine", requires items and the workplace to be cleaned and in a good state of repair. It is also about inspecting, as during inspection you will tend to find risks to safety and quality, for example due to damaged tools or faulty equipment. Shine does not just apply to material objects, but also people. Ensuring good condition of the correct clothing and that the correct PPE is being worn is equally important. For example gloves, hard hats, safety glasses and steel toe caps.

4. Standardise

The forth step, "Standardise", is about putting in place procedures and ensuring that a workplace is always how it should be. It provides visual management aids and daily checks in order to easily recognise whether the standard developed in the first three steps is being maintained. Visual management display boards in the work areas, creation of an address system and labelling of all equipment are key parts of this step.

5. Sustain

The final step, "Sustain" is essentially about involving and motivating all members of the organisation in assuring that the standards are applied and improved through employee empowerment and autonomy. Lean Manufacturing is as much about engaging and empowering the full intellectual capacity of the organisation as it is about tools and methods. The PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) or Deming Cycle is the methodology adopted by most lean organisations for continuous improvement activity.

Sustain not only involves daily auditing of the workplace by those that work in it, but also periodic inspections by all management levels. For example by local managers on a weekly basis to ensure all checksheets are signed off, and by the senior managers on a monthly basis.

Many companies have recognition or reward schemes in place to encourage healthy competition between work areas or between factories within the same organisation. This also serves to help generate and turn improvement ideas into action.



It is strongly recommended to take photos along the 5S journey to use as part of a storyboard or PR brochure and as a reminder of what the state of the organisation could revert to if the commitment is not sustained.

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Comments 4 comments

nancydodds1 profile image

nancydodds1 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi its very nice about 5S for workplace organization. Nice explanation. You can advice me by visiting my hub about mortgage Calculator.

sigmastatguy 7 years ago

Great article. 5S is powerful in business but can be used in the home as well. Check out an article on this topic at


LeanMan profile image

LeanMan 6 years ago from At the Gemba

5S is one of the main building blocks of the lean manufacturing philosophy, no company out there should shy away from implementing 5S if they want to be successful in their business.

TroyM profile image

TroyM 6 years ago

News to me, thanks for the tips! Getting ready for 2011 and this sounds like a neat addition to my arsenal of organizational tips.

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