What Is 5S?
5S organizes individual workstations or departments. The objective of 5S is to
increase efficiency at the micro-level by keeping the workplace neat, orderly and accessible. The results
are visually dramatic and also increase pride and morale.
Visual Control uses visual (and other sensory devices) to guide everyday decisions such as "When should I cross this street?."
Conceptually, Visual Control is not the same as 5S but the two ideas are closely linked and often used together.
The table below summarizes the five elements. Most elements are straightforward and self
explanatory. The five words are a convenient mnemonic device. They derive from equivalent Japanese words which also start with an "S". Each, however, involves much more than the word
alone implies. Click on each word for more detail.
Sort through and sort out junk, seldom-used items and necessary items.
Clean and paint and clean regularly.
Set locations; use boundaries & addresses to assure recoil.
Define and standardize work processes, 5S activities and tasks.
Make 5S a way of life, institutionalized in the organization.
(Click on titles for more...)
There are many variations of 5S, mostly of minor importance-- for example, different
translations of the original Japanese. The extent of the organization effort also varies. Some
versions are little more than a cleanup while others involve time and motion studies or
layout. Safety is often included as a step to eliminate unsafe conditions and enhances
What Does 5S Accomplish?
5S improves efficiency at the micro-level. It can eliminate searching for tools, for example.
It may eliminate wasted steps or long reaches that are ergonomically hazardous. Since workers
themselves analyze and rearrange their own workplace, it forces each worker to think about their
activities. It develops the "Kaizen Mind." For more on the possible range of improvements in
safety, absenteeism, productivity, space and wasted motion, see
The Payoff from 5S. Our page on "A Tidy Workplace" reports on some academic research
that verifies some of these benefits.
How To Implement 5S
In our view, initial implementation should be fast and simple with a bias for action.
Strategos offers Kaizen events that can
execute an initial implementation in one or two days with significant results. Advanced
techniques and refinement then comes in a second phase several months later.
(More 5S Implementation...)
When To Implement 5S
This is a point for debate. Many firms start their Lean Journey with 5S. Setting
implementation priorities involves many
factors. It may be best to start with an element having faster and more verifiable savings.
The other side argues that, initially, 5S can be relatively easy to implement and has direct
benefits. Moreover, it establishes a standard of discipline that begins the cultural change
necessary for other elements of Lean Manufacturing.
Ultimately, there are many paths to Lean and it is probably more important to just start then
it is to find the "correct" path.