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5S is the name of a workplace organization methodology that uses a list of five Japanese words which are seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke.Transliterated or translated into English, they all start with the letter "S". The list describes how to organize a work space for efficiency and effectiveness by identifying and storing the items, maintaining the area and items, and sustaining the new order for initiatives taken. The decision-making process usually comes from a dialogue about standardization which builds a clear understanding among employees of how work should be done. It also instills ownership of the process in each employee.

Phases of 5S

There are 5 primary phases of 5S: sorting, straightening, systematic cleaning, standardizing, and sustaining. Additionally, there are three other phases sometimes included; safety, security, and satisfaction, which further add to the 5S methodology of Improvement.


Sorting (Seiri)

Eliminate all unnecessary tools, parts, and instructions. Go through all tools, materials, and so forth in the plant and work area. Keep only essential items and eliminate what is not required, prioritizing things per requirements and keeping them in easily-accessible places. Everything else is stored or discarded. Only useful and productive things, methods, practices shall prevail.


Stabilizing or Straightening Out (Seiton)

There should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. The place for each item should be clearly labeled or demarcated. Items should be arranged in a manner that promotes efficient work flow, with equipment used most often being the most easily accessible. Workers should not have to bend repetitively to access materials. Each tool, part, supply, or piece of equipment should be kept close to where it will be used – in other words, straightening the flow path. Seiton is one of the features that distinguishes 5S from "standardized cleanup". This phase can also be referred to as Simplifying. [1]


Sweeping or Shining (Seiso)

Clean the workspace and all equipment, and keep it clean, tidy and organized. At the end of each shift, clean the work area and be sure everything is restored to its place. This makes it easy to know what goes where and ensures that everything is where it belongs. Spills, leaks, and other messes also then become a visual signal for equipment or process steps that need attention. A key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work – not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.


Standardizing (Seiketsu)

Work practices should be consistent and standardized. All work stations for a particular job should be identical. All employees doing the same job should be able to work in any station with the same tools that are in the same location in every station. Everyone should know exactly what his or her responsibilities are for adhering to the first 3 S's. Discipline is most important for standardization.


Sustaining the Practice (Shitsuke)

Maintain and review standards. Once the previous 4 S's have been established, they become the new way to operate. Maintain focus on this new way and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways. While thinking about the new way, also be thinking about yet better ways. When an issue arises such as a suggested improvement, a new way of working, a new tool or a new output requirement, review the first 4 S's and make changes as appropriate.



A sixth phase, "Safety", is sometimes added. There is debate over whether including this sixth "S" promotes safety by stating this value explicitly, or if a comprehensive safety program is undermined when it is relegated to a single item in an efficiency-focused business methodology.



A seventh phase, "Security", can also be added. In order to leverage security as an investment rather than an expense, the seventh "S" identifies and addresses risks to key business categories including fixed assets (PP&E), material, human capital, brand equity, intellectual property, information technology, assets-in-transit and the extended supply chain.



An eighth phase, “Satisfaction”, can be included [citation needed]. Employee Satisfaction and engagement in continuous improvement activities ensures the improvements will be sustained and improved upon. The Eighth waste – Non Utilized Intellect, Talent, and Resources can be the most damaging waste of all.


It is important to have continuous education about maintaining standards. When there are changes that affect the 5S program such as new equipment, new products or new work rules, it is essential to make changes in the standards and provide training. Companies embracing 5S often use posters and signs as a way of educating employees and maintaining standards.


The Origins of 5S

5S was developed in Japan. It was first heard of as one of the techniques that enabled what was then termed ‘Just in Time Manufacturing’. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 5-year study into the future of the automobile in the late 1980s [2] identified that the term was inappropriate since the Japanese success was built upon far more than components arriving only at the time of requirement. John Krafcik, a researcher on the project, ascribed Lean to the collective techniques being used in Japanese automobile manufacturing; it reflected the focus on waste in all its forms that was central to the Japanese approach. Minimised inventory was only one aspect developed by Hiroyuki Hirano within his overall approach to production systems. [3] Many Western managers coming across the approach for the first time found the experience one of enlightenment. They had perhaps always known the role of Housekeeping within optimised manufacturing performance and had always known the elements of best practice. However, Hirano provided a structure for improvement programs. He pointed out a series of clearly-identifiable steps, each building upon its predecessor. Western managers, for example, had always recognised the need to decide upon locations for materials and tools and upon the flow of work through a work area; central to this (but perhaps implicit) is the principle that items not essential to the process should be removed – stored elsewhere or eliminated completely. By differentiating between Seiri and Seiton, Hirano made the distinction explicit. He taught his audience that any effort to consider layout and flow before the removal of the unnecessary items was likely to lead to a sub-optimal solution.


Equally the Seiso, or cleanliness, phase is a distinct element of the change program that can transform a process area. Hirano’s view is that the definition of a cleaning methodology (Seiso) is a discrete activity, not to be confused with the organisation of the workplace and this clearly helps to structure any improvement program. It has to be recognised, however, that there is inevitably an overlap between Seiton and Seiso. Western managers understood that the opportunities for various cleanliness methodologies vary with the layout and storage mechanisms adopted but by breaking down the improvement activity in this way it is quite clear that the requirements for the cleanliness regime have to be understood as a factor in the design aspect of Seiton. Interestingly, as noted by John Bicheno, [4] Toyota’s adoption of the Hirano approach, is ‘4S’, with Seiton and Seiso combined – presumably for this very reason. The improvement team must avoid the trap of designing the work area and then considering the cleanliness or tidiness mechanism.


Hirano also reminded the world of the Hawthorne Effect. We can all introduce change and while people in the business consider the change program to be under management focus the benefits of the change will continue, but when this focus has moved (as is inevitably the case) performance will once more slip. Western managers, in particular, may have benefitted from the distinction between the procedural or mechanical elements, Seiketsu, of keeping these matters in focus and the culture change, Shitsuke, which is most definitely a distinct approach to bringing about a new way of working. A number of publications on the subject in the West have questioned whether this culture can really be tackled as part of an exercise of relatively limited scope. [5] The broader kaizen, or continuous improvement, approach is built, among other things, upon the company’s valuation of all members of the workforce. If employees don’t feel valued within the overall company culture, perhaps the change required falls outside the limits of a Housekeeping improvement program.


The Evolution of 5S

Many Western companies now promote Hirano’s approach with a sixth ‘S’ added for Quality. Not unnaturally, there is some debate over this, with devotees on both sides of the argument. The sixth S serves a fundamental purpose – it reminds everyone of the need for Quality. A key lesson taught by Japanese automobile manufacturers, and one central to the Toyota Production System, is that traditional levels of performance must be not only exceeded, but replaced by a completely different perception of the scale of what is acceptable. Rather than managing defects in percentage terms, Western managers heard of management in ‘parts per millions’, with single-figure levels of defects being the goal. Given that a 1% failure rate equates to 10,000 ppm the scale of improvement to be sought as part of the adoption of Lean was, to say the least, spectacular.


This improvement in quality levels could, of course, only be achieved with a complete re-definition of processes and culture within Western manufacturing. This includes issues such as ‘Design for Manufacturing’ and the fundamental change from Quality Control to Quality Assurance (that is, the Quality department role moving from inspecting and highlighting problems to guaranteeing methods and procedures to eliminate errors). Housekeeping, of course, is central to this and adding a sixth ‘S’ highlights this.


The contrasting view, and the one taken by Hirano in establishing this approach, is that each and every ‘S’ is a phase. As noted earlier, a major lesson for Westerners was Hirano’s 5S methodology breaking the program down into a series of steps. The sixth ‘S’ does not add to this; Quality is not a phase, it is an objective – along with productivity and the others described above. Moreover, it is an objective of each and every phase. Adding the sixth ‘S’ might be perceived as recommending a program carrying out the sorting out, organising, cleanliness, procedural and cultural steps and subsequently building in Quality, which of course is not possible. If all the objectives have not been built in throughout each element of the definition of the new way of working then they can not be applied as an additional phase.


The Objectives of 5S

Hirano identified a range of benefits from improved housekeeping, all of which can be regarded as falling within the Lean portfolio – that is, they are all based around the elimination of waste in one form or another.


The most obvious benefit from items being organized in such a way (i.e. that they are always readily available) is that of improved productivity. Production workers being diverted from production to look for tools, gauges, production paperwork, fasteners, and so on is the most frustrating form of lost time in any plant. A key aspect of Hirano’s organisation approach is that the often-needed items are stored in the most accessible location and correct adoption of the standardisation approach means that they are returned to the correct location after use. Another element of Hirano’s improved housekeeping is improved plant maintenance – workers ‘owning’ a piece of plant, responsible for keeping it clean and tidy, can take ownership for highlighting potential problems before they have an impact on performance. (Of course, this brings with it the interface with preventive maintenance and the need for clarity in the ‘assignment map’, that is – who does what. The division of tasks between production workers and specialist maintenance engineers varies with the nature of the business, but ownership rests within the business unit rather than within the ‘service provider’.)


The next aim is perhaps Quality. The degree of impact of dirt in a manufacturing environment, obviously, varies with the nature of the product and its process but there are few, if any, areas where dirt is welcome. Even if it is only in the form of soiled documentation accompanying the goods to the customer this can send a very negative message about the company and its culture. In other cases dirt can have a serious impact on product performance – either directly or indirectly, perhaps through compromising the integrity of test processes. Of course, 5S does more than address dirt; an inappropriate layout can result, for example, in product damaged through excessive movement or through the use of tooling other than that defined as the standard. Standardisation is a theme of Hirano’s approach, overlapping to a considerable extent with, for example, that of Ohno. A Standard Operating Procedure for tool certification is much easier to achieve if the tool to be certified is always in a clearly-marked location.


Another goal is improved Health & Safety. Clear pathways between workbenches and storage racks can minimise accidents, as can properly-swept floors. As with Quality, a well-organised, clean and tidy facility lends itself more readily to standard practice. Hirano also described how an environment in which the workforce has pride in their workplace can contribute to a considerable extent in a number of ways including customer service. Improving the layout of the facility merges with the concept of visual management; if workers can see the status of plant and of work in the facility, thus removing the need for complex tracking and communication systems, then benefits will accrue. 5S can also be a valuable sales tool when potential customers visit; a well-organised, clean and tidy facility sends a message of a professional and well-organised supplier.

One point made by all practitioners is that the adoption of 5S must be driven by goals. An article in the journal of the UK’s Institute of Operations Management written by Mark Eaton and Keith Carpenter of the Engineering Employers’ Federation noted that “the successful implementation of 5S requires that everyone understand why it is being used and what the expected results are. As with all Lean techniques the aim is improvement in business performance; the adoption is not an end in itself..


See also



  1. ^Deploying Lean Principles to ERP Implementation Projects , Alexander Hankewicz
  2. ^ Womack, James; Jones, Daniel; Roos, Daniel (1991). Machine That Changed The World. Productivity Press. ISBN978-1847370556 .
  3. ^ 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace, Hiroyuki Hirano, ISBN 978-1563270475
  4. ^ The New Lean Toolbox, John Bicheno, ISBN 978-0954124410
  5. ^5S - The Housekeeping Approach Within Lean , Ian Henderson


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