What is 5S?
5S is a method of visual management that identifies waste, eliminates it from the workplace, and allows work to flow unhindered by missing tools, unclear processes, and cluttered workspaces. It’s much more than just cleaning! When setup correctly, 5S can yield tremendous efficiency gains from the contributions of employees maintaining standards and making improvements on a daily basis.
The five S’s are English translations of the original Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. Together, they capture the five essential principles of 5S. Take a look below.
The Five S’s of 5S:
- Sort – keep only the essential tools and items on-hand; remove everything else
- Straighten – make sure all items are organized and have a designated home
- Shine – regularly clean and tidy-up the workplace so that work is unambiguous and unhindered
- Standardize – set standards throughout the organization for how to accomplish the first three S’s
- Sustain – sustain the first four S’s and conduct audits to maintain discipline
The Purpose of 5S
The goal of 5S is to make it easier for employees to work. This is accomplished by eliminating clutter and making workspaces make sense: every tool has a home, areas are clean and organized, items are labeled and identified, etc.
A workplace that is maintained in this way exposes waste and allows abnormalities to be immediately identified.
The remainder of this page overviews each step in 5S.
Step 1: Sort
The first step in 5S is to go through everything in a work area and remove every item that isn’t needed. If you haven’t done this in a long time, you may be shocked at what you find. Without regular sorting, a vast array of items can build up and clutter the workplace.
Some questions to ask about individual items while going through this process include:
- What is the purpose of this item?
- When was it last used?
- How frequently is it used?
- What quantity is needed?
- Who uses it?
- Do regulations require that we keep it?
- Does it really need to be here?
Since the value of certain items may be unclear, it’s best to do Sort as a group activity.
If the item is obviously not needed, it’s time to remove it from the workplace. Consider the following options:
- Repurposing the item
- Giving the item to another department
- Selling or recycling the item
- Archiving or storing the item
- Throwing the item away
These items can be “red tagged” and placed in a red tag location for a period of time before disposal. This allows for other employees to reclaim the item if there is another use for it. It also gives other stakeholders opportunity to review the item before removing it entirely.
If the usefulness of an item is questionable, you can always red tag it and decide later if it should be returned to the workplace.
Step 2: Straighten
Now that all unneeded items have been sorted and removed from the workplace, it’s time to organize or “straighten” what remains. These are the essential items that required to get your work done.
There’s a saying you may have heard that applies here: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” By designating a specific home to every item in the workplace it can be found quickly. And if it is misplaced, you’ll know right away from visual cues.
Not only are you trying to organize items, but you’re trying to locate them in the most efficient arrangement possible. Overtime, regular straightening of the workplace can lead to tremendous productivity gains.
You may find certain organization concepts and products useful when straightening, including:
- Labeling items or instructions
- Adding color-coding
- Bin or shelving systems
- Floor tape
- Shadow boards
Step 3: Sweep
Sweep, or sometimes called “shine,” has to do with regular cleaning of the workplace. However, it involves much more than just housekeeping.
Cleaning up a dirty environment does not add value to a business, but over time an insightful workforce will ask why it is getting dirty in the first place.
This is the heart of sweeping, and it leads to further process improvements and optimization.
In addition to making opportunities for improvement visible, sweeping also increases safety and prevents equipment breakdown.
Many organizations schedule sweeping into daily routines with rotating responsibilities and simple checklists to track completion.
Step 4: Standardize
The fourth step has to do with standardizing the methods applied in sort, straighten, and sweep. It also typically involves agreed-upon criteria for regular 5S auditing.
Standardization is useful because it clarifies organization-wide approaches to 5S.
- Setting a color-coding standard for tools by work area.
- Creating a standardized 5S audit checklist.
- Establishing a common tool layout for areas with related processes.
- Creating a standardized label format.
An organization with good standardization allows for workers and visitors alike to follow established standards regardless of what department or location they are in.
Step 5: Sustain
The task of sustainment requires that 5S become much more than an annual “spring-cleaning.” It’s about creating discipline and new habits. 5S has to be practiced again and again until it becomes part of the cultural fabric of an organization.
The simple, cheap, and high-impact nature of 5S is one of the reasons why it’s the first Lean tool that organizations adopt. But if an organization doesn’t have the discipline to sustain 5S, it probably doesn’t have any business practicing Lean at all.
Lean requires discipline and follow-through, but anyone can do it—it just requires commitment.