Lean 5S Methodology Overview

5S Lean Methodology: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain

If you’ve heard about lean before, you’ve likely also heard about 5S. It’s been around a long time (ever since Henry Ford) and is a strategic starting point for many organizations learning lean.

In this article you’ll discover:

An overview of 5S methodology
A history of 5S programs
Reasons for why you should begin your lean journey with 5S
A detailed summary of sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain
How to implement 5S
5S training resources

Overview of 5S Methodology | What is 5S?

5S methodology is a set of five workplace organization practices that work together to achieve two primary goals:

Workplace efficiency
Abnormality detection

Each of the five practices start with the letter S and are inspired by a similar word in original Japanese (see below).

Japanese NameTranslated NameSimplified NameDescription
SeiriSortSortSorting is the practice of eliminating all of the unnecessary items from a work area. The only items that remain after sorting activities are those necessary for doing the work and “adding value.”
SeitonSet in OrderOrganizeSet in order has to do with organizing all of the remaining items and tools so that they can be accessed efficiently and always be found and accounted for.
SeisoShineCleanShine is initially about cleaning the work area but more accurately has to do with inspecting for problems. As you clean machines and areas, you stand a better chance to detect problems and abnormalities.
SeiketsuStandardizeRoutinesStandardize first deals with standardizing the cleaning activities performed during “shine” so that they can be performed routinely with minimal ongoing effort. Standardize also has to do with standardizing the application of the first 2S’s: sort and set in order.
ShitsukeSustainDisciplineSustain means to maintain discipline in carrying out 5S activities. Various audits, meetings, and other techniques are typically used to promote 5S discipline.

Even though 5S methodology has been around for a long time, many companies continue to misunderstand what it is, how it is used, and how it fits into the bigger picture of lean manufacturing practices and principles.

Video Introduction to 5S Methodology

5S is not complicated to understand or even to practice. The key is to do it everyday, with everyone participating, and in every place within your organization.

In this way, 5S connects deeply with the continuous improvement philosophy of kaizen.

Watch our introductory video for a six-minute overview of 5S.

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A History of 5S Programs | Origins of 5S

The modern version of 5S is an English adaptation of an original program that has been popular in Japan for decades. There are five S’s in 5S due to the alliteration of the Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.

Each of the five Japanese words have added meaning in Japanese culture that is difficult to capture in English translations. This is perhaps a reason for some of the confusion around the English equivalents, especially with “standardize” and “sustain.” (See Michel Baudin’s explanation).

Henry Ford’s CANDO Program

Some people believe that the Japanese program was inspired by an original five-step program promoted by Henry Ford called CANDO.

  • Cleaning up
  • Arranging
  • Neatness
  • Discipline
  • Ongoing improvement

Variations of the 5S Words

Some of the imperfections of translating five Japanese words into English have led to variations of the 5S terms.

For example, “sweep” is commonly interchanged with “shine,” and “straighten” is commonly interchanged with “set in order.”

Regardless of the words that are used, we maintain that the function of these terms matters more than the title you give to them! How much does it matter what words you use as long as you: 1) still reap the intended benefits of 5S, and 2) can understand each other when speaking about 5S?

Reasons for Starting Lean with 5S

It is commonly expressed by consultants and lean literature that “if you can’t do 5S, you probably don’t have the discipline to do anything else.”

There is some merit to this! 5S is a rite-of-passage for organizations learning lean.

Aside from the fact that 5S programs are a common and easy introduction to lean practices, there are other good reasons for adopting 5S methodology early in your lean journey.

#1 It flushes out old mindsets and culture

While it is true that 5S leads to a physical transformation of your workplace, it also inspires an invisible transformation in the thinking and behavior of everyone working there.

When sorting and removing junk that doesn’t belong, organizing what remains so it’s easy to use, and taking pride in your work areas with regular cleaning, you also dislodge old beliefs, excuses, behaviors, and mindsets.

#2 You have to engage everyone

5S must involve every person in the organization for it to succeed. You have to engage everyone!

This is to your advantage in developing a lean culture of kaizen and continuous improvement.

If your intent is truly to develop and grow people (as it should be!), you can develop a kaizen culture of improvement “everyone, every day, everywhere” with 5S!

#3 It’s cheap and easy to do

You need almost no upfront investment of money to get started with 5S. All you need is some knowledge and time.

While you can purchase 5S supplies to support your efforts, many organizations discover a wealth of reusable materials, equipment, tools, and supplies already inside the building the moment they begin to 5S and sort.

In the majority of situations, you’re only limited by your creativity–not your wallet!

It’s also easy to do. In fact, in 30-60 minutes our 5S Productivity training course can prepare anyone with the skill and confidence needed to get started now.

#4 It’s the basics; it never goes away!

No matter what else you do that’s “lean,” you will never outgrow your need to 5S on a daily basis.

Entropy never takes a break causing mess, confusion, and equipment breakdown. Therefore, you’ll forever need to sort, set in order, and shine at your organization!

#5 It creates peace of mind and clarity

An orderly and clean work environment does help to reduce stress and confusion in the workplace.

The stress and confusion in many organizations is largely due to the disarray of information, tools, and materials. The clutter and clogging of a production floor creates needless searching, movement, transportation, defects, and other wastes.

It’s not necessary and should not be considered “normal” to struggle and stress at work. 5S methodology is a major first step for organizations to get control back of their environment.

The Meaning of Sort

5S methodology begins with the simple practice of sorting out all the unneeded items in a workplace.

Get rid of all the junk and clutter:

  • trash
  • extra inventory
  • broken equipment
  • extra tools
  • outdated signage
  • unfinished work
  • leftover materials
  • etc.
5S Methodology Sort
The opportunity for sorting out needless tools and junk is endless! Source: 5S Training

When finished, you should only have the tools, materials, and items that are essential to doing the work. Everything else should be returned to where it belongs, sold, recycled, or in the dump.

By eliminating excess clutter in the workplace, efficiency is enhanced. Less time is wasted searching for tools or walking around obstacles. Quality is also improved, since every unusable item is removed from the workplace.

Although the presence of all the junk used to hide problems and make abnormalities hard to detect, you should now be able to see clearly what’s going on in your workplace.

Everything that doesn’t belong is eliminated!

Pro Tip: Consider using a red tag system or question mark box to assist your sorting efforts!

Using a red tag is simple. It’s a red paper tag that is placed on any item of questionable use. The tag describes basic characteristics of the item.

It is then placed into a red tag holding area, where it is held until evaluated for final disposition. If something is tagged in error, there’s opportunity to catch it and return it to the workplace.

5S Red Tag Example
Red tagging is a simple but helpful tool for sorting methodically.

A simpler version of this concept is the use of a “question mark box” as illustrated by Felipe Marques at Torre.

The Meaning of Set in Order

Now that all the junk is removed, it’s time to arrange the remaining items into the best configuration for performing work. That’s why the second practice in 5S methodology is “set in order,” although some people also call it “straighten.”

Tool foam, hooks, labels, signs, floor tape, holsters, and more are all used to give every item a home. Whatever it takes to end tool homelessness!

5S Methodology Set In Order
Set in order gives a home to every item so it is never lost and the workplce remains efficient. Source: 5S Training

A famous lean saying applies: “A place for everything, and everything in its place!”

If there is not a unique place designated to every item, the item will eventually become misplaced. This leads to reduced efficiency and the introduction of quality problems.

The Meaning of Shine

There is a common misconception that 5S methodology is simply about good housekeeping. This is all the more the case when it comes to the third practice shine.

Shine (or also known as “sweep”) has to do with cleaning all workspaces, equipment, tools, floors, etc. so that they are shiny clean.

But it goes further than that.

5S Methodology Shine
The essence of shine is inspection! The point is to find problems. Source: 5S Training

When performing shine, many discoveries are made:

  • electrical wiring is damaged
  • a machine is dripping lubricant
  • another machine generates chips, sawdust, or other debris
  • the nuts and bolts of a fixture are loose
  • etc.

Each of these discoveries are opportunities for improvement and abnormality prevention.

If 5S methodology is assumed to be no more than general housekeeping, these looming problems will go unresolved and business will continue as usual.

It’s important to appreciate the fact that standardization in general is central to lean manufacturing methodology. It is not limited to 5S; it applies to everything!

The Meaning of Standardize

Standardization is necessary so that you don’t backslide to the old status quo. Therefore, standardization is applied to the first three S’s of 5S methodology to ensure that sorting, setting in order, and shining is maintained indefinitely.

Originally, standardize applied to only shine activities, so that cleaning standards were defined for how to keep the workplace shiny clean. Over time, others expanded the concept to include sort and set in order.

Examples of standardization include:

5S Methodology Standardization
Standardization is essential to making 5S methodology stick. Source: 5S Training
  • Color codes and indicators
  • Labels
  • Tool and station layout
  • Material and machine models and brands
  • Cleaning solutions
  • You name it!

It’s important to appreciate the fact that standardization in general is central to lean manufacturing methodology. It is not limited to 5S; it applies to everything!

The Meaning of Sustain

All of your achievements practicing the first four S’s of 5S are worthless if you do not sustain them moving forward. Therefore, the last practice of 5S is sustain.

Sustainment is everyone’s responsibility, but it is especially the responsibility of management.

Each team member must believe in and adhere to 5S standards. And every manager must make sure they “walk the talk” and provide emphasis and attention to these basic practices.

5S Methodology Sustain
You must change how you think to be successful with 5S! Source: 5S Training

Follow-ups, audits, ongoing training, visual 5S boards, and more can all assist in the discipline of sustainment.

How to Implement 5S Methodology at Your Organization

There is not necessarily one way to implement 5S. Your plan must take into consideration the size of your organization, its unique culture, and how prepared your workforce is to engage in continuous improvement activities.

Get total management support

You must get buy-in from every level of management in your organization or else 5S will fail. Or, at best, it will be just for looks and not create a true culture of kaizen and continuous improvement. It’s not enough for top leadership to merely agree that 5S is a good idea. Everyone must have some ownership and skin in the game!

Implement quickly

It’s important to introduce 5S fast enough that you don’t lose momentum. Smaller organizations might rapidly implement 5S fully in a couple weeks. Larger organizations might cascade 5S through multiple areas, perhaps requiring 1-3 months to reach initial completion.

Implement strategically

Consider starting in a smaller scale “pilot” area that then becomes an example for the rest of the organization. Also take into consideration working first in areas with motivated employees who will be strong advocates of the change.

Leave no one out

Senior leaders, management, frontline operators, engineering, maintenance, and other supporting departments all must participate and collaborate to be successful. No one is too busy, too important, or without some kind of responsibility to ensure 5S succeeds.

Have a communication plan

Tell people in advance what will happen as you carry out your 5S implementation plan. Communicating well is necessary to acquire buy-in and effectively engage all participants and stakeholders. Most leaders make the mistake of under communicatingwhat they think is obvious or take for granted (e.g. “but I already told them once!”). Don’t make this mistake!

Teach and train

It will take much training, learn-by-doing, and reinforcement for 5S to function well. Make sure your teams are adequately trained prior to any focused 5S event or else your teams will work inefficiently, be confused, or run into roadblocks on the day of the event due to poor preparation and planning. Furthermore, take time to train all frontline supervisors and team leaders separately and before training all frontline operators.

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5S Methodology Training

Training is not an area you want to slack off in when it comes to rolling out 5S at your organization!

Since 5S requires the participation and support of every person in your organization, there is not one person who can be excluded from training in 5S.

Warning: if you do exclude groups or senior leaders from going through training, you inadvertently send the message that 5S has less importance or that 5S does not have everyone’s full support.

Additionally, if you’re starting with a focused 5S event, you need everyone to be skilled and ready to go the day you kick it off. You don’t want to waste time in training when you could be making change on the production floor.

Tip: we recommend training management first before the rest of your workforce. This can be done to help acquire buy-in up front.

Tip: the training of management should be a “train the trainer” event in which production management not only learns 5S but is also taught how to then teach their teams. Frontline operators ultimately look to their immediate supervisor for direction and leadership. By making your frontline team leaders and supervisors coach and trainer (as opposed to delegating lean to an outside department), you stand the greatest chance of achieving alignment and buy-in throughout your organization.

To train associates well you need training that is…

Highly repeatable,
Engaging and fun, 
And that minimally burdens managers and trainers.

While PowerPoint presentations, books, and external trainers are available training options, nothing quite beats the effectiveness and affordability of high quality video training.

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Start a 30-day trial of the Lean Smarts Academy and preview our 5S Productivity course.