How to Make Sense of 5S vs 3S vs 6S and 2 Second Lean

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What is 5S?

  • Methodology designed to promote efficiency and abnormality detection and control.
  • Five practices coming from Japanese words 
    • Seiri – Sort
    • Seiton – Set in Order
    • Seiso – Shine
    • Seiketsu – Standardize
    • Shitsuke – Sustain
  • Origins in Henry Ford’s CANDO program
    • Cleaning Up
    • Arranging
    • Neatness
    • Discipline
    • Ongoing Improvement

Renaming 5S

  • Sort
  • Organize
  • Clean
  • Routines
  • Discipline

What is 3S?

  • Simplified methodology popularized by Paul Akers and the 2 second lean movement. Akers is hotly against 5S, which creates some confusion.
    • But does FastCap sort, organize, clean, and have routines and disciple? You better believe it!
  • Sort, Sweep, Standardize (first two are the same, 3rd one is different).
  • Daily routine, with the whole goal of keeping the rope tight (you hear this often) and finding problems. Leads into various improvement activities or 2 second lean improvements.
  • Standardize is not merely cleaning routines. Neither is it merely sorting, setting in order/organize. It’s everything!
    • Labels
    • Layout
    • Work instructions and training
    • Color coding
    • Identification
    • Process and method
  • Standardize in the 3S model expands the concept beyond just routines into the broader issue of standardization at large.
  • While the use of 3S is not limited to small organizations, Paul Akers to second lien model is generally popular among small organizations. this emphasis on standardization I think works in their favor because many smaller organizations are very lacking in the area of standardization in general. by engaging everyone in the practice of standardization and forming consensus over how work is conducted, tremendous clarity and teamwork can be established.
  • Akers/Glebe: if the only thing a company did was 3S, they would be light years ahead of all the competition.

What is 6S?

  • 5S + Safety
  • There is some popularity to this, and debate. Why add safety when safety is assumed and already being addressed by the original 5S’s?
  • Some people argue it’s merely rebranding by consultants to stand out.
  • Heard rumors of 7S for security, and more. But you got to draw a line somewhere!


  • As a leader, you should know 5S!
    • It’s historical
    • It’s present in any successful lean organization whether or not they claim use of a different model.


(Note: Transcript is auto-created by YouTube. It lacks punctuation and contains errors)

You’re listening to episode 3 of the lean smarts podcast and today we’re going to talk about something that might inspire some debate we’re going to talk about how to make sense of 5s versus 3s versus 6s and even how two-second lean is involved particularly with the 3s now this is a subject of discussion that reminds me of some of the debates that i had with my older brother growing up or rather he had with others about mac versus pc because it feels kind of similar people can get pretty heated about which s program is better or more right or more authentic than another s program so we’re going to talk about three of them 5s 3s and 6s methodology today and explain what they are some of their distinctives how they’re different um and what they share in common so it’ll be an interesting episode especially because there’s confusion people get confused about these and i was confused actually for quite some time when i first got started between the the differences of 5s and 3s in particular now just to remind you there’s a bunch of great resources at there’s a terrific lean 101 page about 5s that has a ton of explanation a ton of resources i should mention a free 5s productivity course a home edition that’s fun and comical some downloads some guides and template you know documents and of course there is a premium course inside the lean smarts academy as well with a whole lot more inside so check out linksmart it’s a lot of supporting material when it comes to the topic of 5s and its many derivatives so as we get started what is 5s let’s quickly overview it well 5s is a methodology designed to promote efficiency and abnormality detection the ability to distinguish when something is different than standard and visually at a glance another lean phrase that is often talked about or mentioned that is really in the same category as 5s in a lot of ways is visual workplace or even visual management the concept of being able to look out in a work environment and know at a glance the status of what’s going on and what’s correct what’s out of place what’s efficient on time or not on time 5s has something to do with the ability to visually manage a workplace in the gemba and that’s important now there’s five practices and they come from japanese words and that’s why they’re s programs the first one is seti and i’m not a native japanese speaker so i’m gonna do my best i’ve heard some variations on them too but seri which is to sort in english to get out all the stuff you don’t need next is seiton which means to set in order or to straighten to organize and arrange things so it’s efficient and there’s home locations and you can detect when something’s missing next is say so which is to shine or some people say sweep that’s to clean and also to inspect and to find problems as you clean next is seiketsu which means sanitized but is most often translated as standardized in english and then lastly there’s shih tzu k which means to sustain so those are the five s programs but some people do believe that actually the earlier origin of 5s is not actually japanese it’s henry ford henry ford had a can do program in which there’s five practices the first is cleaning up then arranging and then neatness then discipline and lastly ongoing improvement so there you can see some commonality between henry ford’s can do program and then the now classic 5s methodology so there there could be some connection there of what toyota learned from henry ford but then reapplied and interpreted in their own way in japan now i’m also going to share another way of naming the five practices because i’ve noticed that sometimes forcing all of these ideas to start with words that begin with s can be a little bit cumbersome so these five titles might be more helpful to kind of understand what they are so the first one just keeping it as sort to get rid of all the things you don’t need next instead of set in order you might more appropriately call it organize that is kind of what you’re doing you’re organizing things and arranging things how they should be next instead of shine you could say primarily that the beginning point is to clean and you look for problems as you go next instead of standardize which is problematic in some ways and we’ll look at that today you might say routines their first and foremost cleaning routines or shining routines but also other routines perhaps of how you support sorting and setting order and then lastly discipline instead of sustain because you do have to have long-term discipline to be successful with 5s so those renamed titles might be useful to you and i do like to say that the function always matters more than what you call it who cares what what the name is if you’re missing the function these words might get closer to the the function and intent of what the words represent so that’s a quick overview of 5s methodology what then is 3s what is 3s methodology well 3s is a simplified version that from what my experience is that it’s been popularized very much by paul akers and the two second lean movement not because paul invented it in fact he would say that he discovered it from another different japanese company and grabbed that because he loves the simplicity of it and has ran with it really well and really far and there’s a bunch of other organizations now that will say that we do 3s here we don’t do 5s we do 3s which sometimes creates debate and then sometimes creates confusion too so that’s why we’re talking about this what is 3s methodology well it contains three words three practices and they are to sort to shine or sweep and then to standardize so it skips over the second s of set and order and it does not include the fifth s of sustain it does the first the third and the fourth so then what does that mean or or even what does that say about fast cap paul akers company and other companies that are doing 3s does that mean that fastcap is not setting and order their tools and equipment that they would say that organization is unimportant it has no role or purpose in our organization absolutely not i mean of course they’re still organizing and setting and order stuff and you see that just watch any youtube video a fast cap and it is pretty obvious that they are absolutely setting an order uh also are they sustaining do they have ongoing discipline and follow-up on what they’re doing in the organization in terms of 3s or 5s yeah you better believe it they do have sustainment of their practices and long-term discipline so it’s an interesting observation just to see that although fast cap and two-second lean adopting organizations might say that we do 3s they’re still doing 5s the the second order is still happening and the sustainment is still happening but internally the language of the organization is 3s and there might be some pros and cons to that but it’s working well for quite a few of these organizations so what are some of the differences then between 3s and 5s is it simply that they don’t include two of the other words or are there more differences well i can see that there are primarily two one is that 3s is commonly performed as a more unique daily routine in which employees come to work in the morning and they’ll spend 20 minutes 30 minutes maybe an hour and they begin with just 3s they sort get rid of stuff they don’t need they shine and clean up anything that needs you know to be cleaned up looking for problems as they go and they develop standards in their workplace and environment now that doesn’t take 60 minutes typically but the rest of their time they’ll move into a time of continuous improvement of might call it two second lean activities or kaizen and it starts though with just those three practices so the mindset is not to wake up go to work and set things in order necessarily or sustainment activities although you might argue that scheduling this daily routine is a way of sustainment but the training of people is to sort and shine and standardize and then move into different and unique about organizations making use of 3s but then the more significant difference that confused me for a long time a number of years ago was the difference with standardize it took me a while to realize that when paul akers is talking about standardized he’s not limiting the idea of 3s standardized to just shining to just cleaning um you know standards and routines but actually he’s talking about standardization as a whole the entire concept of standardized processes so when employees are practicing 3s in the morning they’re not just following cleaning standards and cleaning you know cleaning up the bathroom and other areas of the company but rather they could be printing or creating new labels or writing a 8-step simple process to train on a process or to you know update something so that it matches some other physical or information standard in the organization they’re just they’re practicing standardization in general at large so it’s it’s not a subset 5s standardizes in a way a sub sub category under the larger umbrella of the idea of standardization which is super foundational and important for any company that’s going to succeed long term with kaizen and continuous improvement so whereas a 5s company when they talk about standardized it’s primarily about the routines to clean and shine and inspect uh 3s when it talks about standardize from my observation is more about standardization at large which is actually extremely valuable i actually think that because there’s quite a few smaller organizations that are running with the two-second lean 3s idea that they probably benefit immensely from training and teaching on standardization because a lot of small organizations have a gap there and could benefit immensely from the development of internal standards of all of their processes of layouts of color coding of identification of methods what steps what sequence what ways do you get the work done all of those standards are in a lot of smaller organizations and some bigger ones they’re underdeveloped and there are problems and challenges that are experienced because of the lack of standardization but by building it into the 3s model i think these companies benefit a ton because it’s not limited to just cleaning it’s actually applied to all these other areas that are of big necessity so hopefully this helps to clarify the difference between 5s and 3s if you’ve had any confusion and question about it that standardized thing did trip me up for a long time until i realized that 3s and the majority of times i hear it talked about is really talking about the bigger idea of standardization in general that’s a primary difference and you know i do think that there is some merit to something i’ve heard paul aker say before or even greg leave at xylem design that if the only thing you did as a company was to 3s to sort and get rid of junk and clutter so you’re not tripping to shine and keep the place just immaculate and clean and then to develop standards on a continuous basis in your company you would be so far ahead of a vast number of other organizations because these things are just not done not done enough or well enough and i think that’s true in a lot of ways so 3s can be very powerful and transformative and also let’s remind ourselves that the companies that are known for doing it they’re still organizing they just officially are packaging these practices in a different configuration and perhaps that’s okay as long as they’re gaining the benefit and performing well then what’s to argue with it at least that’s kind of my take on it so now we’ve talked about 5s methodology we’ve talked about 3s and how it’s different let’s also talk about 6s what is this thing this 6s what is the sixth one well the most common one to add as a sixth program or rather practice is safety and there is some popularity to this and some debate about it and the the debate is about you know why should we add safety as a separate added concept to 5s methodology when safety is already one beam practiced and two assumed in the previous five practices of 5s methodology so that’s kind of the arguments there and for some people it matters a big deal he said like no like safety is so important it comes first and so therefore it it needs to be represented in our 5s program in the company it’s like okay that’s that’s great um at the same time anyone who’s doing 5s should really be thinking about safety as well along the way and anyone who’s doing 5s well is being safe as they go so i think that this comes down to really vocabulary and language every company has its own language and that’s kind of part of the fabric of your company culture right culture includes language and how you talk i grew up in southern california and i talk funny sometimes when i’m around people where i live now in tennessee in the south the other south the the first south perhaps um i sound funny because culturally i grew up with a certain language and lingo to say what’s up and other surfer terms so language is part of your organization in your culture you need to be able to understand each other if 6s works for you and it is boosting and helping your safety mindset as a company then great if you’re using 5s and you can still accomplish safety goals and be work safe at work then great i think it’s really up to you what you choose so philosophically if you want safety added and go with 6s or philosophically if you think that safety is always a priority and it should just be assumed by by everyone that it’s always number one then maybe you run with 5s i will say that as a leader and someone who values your lean education otherwise why would you be listening to this podcast in the first place you should know what 5s methodology is because it’s historical it is been around a very long time it’s very dominant and it does capture all of the concepts of the other two versions if you accept that safety is built into 5s so you should have a working understanding of 5s whether or not you’re doing 3s or 6s instead and also because especially for those companies doing 3s you’ve got to organize at some point if you’re going to be efficient and detect abnormalities so you will be setting an order you may not talk about it like that when you talk about 3s but your working understanding of the necessity to organize should be there and somehow it needs to come through the practices and behaviors of your organization even if you’re doing 3s instead so please know 5s methodology that’s my whole point here to wrap this up again there’s some great resources at if you visit the show notes for any of these episodes i’m going to include references to these resources and additional links so check it out at um again there’s a free course a 5s productivity home edition course with some comedy included that is well loved by many on youtube at least and there’s also a free preview of the 5s productivity course inside the academy that does go deeper than the home edition version you can find that at don’t forget too that the lean smarts community which is totally free it includes the best of the best in my opinion youtube videos there’s an entire youtube listing of videos and you can search by terms lean terms meaning you can look up all the videos that are relevant to 5s or even specific practices of sorting or setting an order or shining and locate those rather than sifting through youtube at large and and weeding through politics and star wars and your toddler’s favorite shows right you can find just the lean stuff if you go to the lean smarts community i also do recommend the book succeeding with 5s it’s pretty short it’s very descriptive and helpful so it’s a good read if you’re a book and we’ll talk again soon