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KAIZEN MANAGEMENT: 5S and Gemba Organization

Updated on January 6, 2014

What is 5S?

5S is a Lean Kaizen philosophy that promotes a disciplined approach to problem solving within an organization through a systematic process of waste identification and elimination, standardization and organization of work processes. It includes, but is not limited to house-keeping so as to set the ground for further improvement of the gemba.

5S for Managers

In this series of Kaizen articles for the manager, we look at the 5S Kaizen philosophy. Managers need to grasp the basic tenets of 5S in order to reap the full benefits of the Kaizen in their organisations. 5S is the foundation of all Kaizen activities on which all other events stand and without a proper foundation, the Kaizen initiative will fail.

This article will explain what 5s is in a simple yet powerful way. You will learn that the 5S philosophy goes beyond just cleaning and organizing the workplace.

5S and Gemba Organization

Qualities of the Gemba

  • The Gemba is defined as the real place where real work takes place in an organisation.
  • It is the place where value is added to a product as per the customer's specification.
  • The Gemba is a place of action and learning through creative problem solving.

The 5S Philosophy

The 5S methodology is a deep philosophy that goes beyond just making the workplace clean. Most Kaizen practitioners confuse 5S with house-keeping or cleaning only. 5s is a simple way of instilling discipline in the workforce while at the same time motivating them to creatively solve problems at the gemba.

Benefits of the 5S process

The 5s approach to Gemba management has several advantages:

  • Instils discipline in the workers
  • Space reduction
  • Inventory reduction leading to freed up capital
  • Clean and pleasant work environment
  • Health and Safety is enhanced
  • Production through-put increases due to flow enhancement
  • Quality increases when abnormalities are identified and rectified

Summary of the 5s Steps

The 5s process has five main steps which are as follows:

  • SORT - all the material within the area where the 5S process is must be interrogated to determine whether there is a need for it. Anything that is not needed at the gemba is removed to be stored, disposed or destroyed.
  • SET IN ORDER - the remaining material is kept in an organised manner that makes it easily identifiable and reachable.
  • SHINE - involves thorough cleaning with an aim of identifying abnormalities for correction. It also sets the standard that should be there in the gemba daily.
  • STANDARDIZE - once the preceding three steps have been established, standards have to be set in order that training and sustenance can be achieved.
  • SUSTAIN - the standards that have been established need constant maintenance so that the gemba does not fall back into a chaotic state. This is done using 5S audits which are done by the people who work at the shop floor.


Caution: Do not use 5S as a standalone system

5S is a part of a set of tools that are used in the lean transformation. Just like any other tool, it has its place and should only be used at the right time for the right purpose.

Management preparation for a 5S Program

5S activities are a starting point for any kaizen program because of the following reasons:

  • The spectacular gains that are achieved during the exercise help to get buy-in from the general workforce.
  • Training of the critical mass of workers to drive the kaizen initiative can be done within a short time
  • Team cohesion is achieved when workers are involved in any joint activity.

As a manager, it is important that you carefully select and prepare your team well for the 5S program before you start. This is because a lot of time and effort will go into the project and it can end up being a waste if proper preparation is not done. There are several steps that must be taken when starting a 5S program:

  • Management decision
  • Getting buy-in from staff (with the help of union reps)
  • Team selection
  • Training

Management decision to do 5S

The has to be a clear and deliberate decision by the top management to apply the 5S philosophy to the improvement of the work place and empowerment of the workers. Without the support of the decision makers, the likelihood of failure is very high. The initiative started by line managers are not any good if the company policy does not encourage it.

Staff buy-in

The program must be sold to the general workforce for it to get any kind of support. In unionised companies, the shop steward should be given a clear picture of what the program is all about and the intended result. Workers must be made to understand that the program will result in a better working environment for them. If for any reason they think that it will burden them more than their present jobs, they are likely to either sabotage your effort or passively resist.

Team selection

The team you select will determine whether you will achieve success or failure. You should only pick team member who will add value to your efforts and not joy riders.

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