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What Is The 5s System? Your Guide To Workplace Organization

Is 5s the system you need to organize your workspace? Learn about the system's structure and the benefits of introducing 5s into your organization.

Nicky Liedtke
by Nicky Liedtke | June 09, 2022 | Reading time: 10 minutes

What Is The 5s System?

Imagine a tidy, well-functioning workspace that is free of clutter, safe, and allows your employees to perform their tasks efficiently. Whilst running a business, keeping tabs on everything is not always easy and can be a challenge. However, there are systems that have been developed to help you organize your workspaces and sites in collaboration with your workers. The 5s management system is one of them.

Having originated in Japan, 5s stands for the 5 words beginning with S that describe the system’s core structure. They are generally translated as follows:

  1. Seiri (整理)​​: Sort
  2. Seiton (整頓): Set in Order
  3. Seiso (清掃): Shine
  4. Seiketsu (清潔): Standardize
  5. Shitsuke (躾): Sustain

The words describe a five-step process that companies use in order to make their processes more efficient. The system is a lean manufacturing tool, similar to Gemba walk or the Kaizen approach that provides a clear and structured framework for workplace efficiency. The 5s sequence is vital, as the steps presuppose each other.

5s originated in Japan, like many other productivity tools, such as Kanban, and was created by the founder of Toyota: Sakichi Toyoda. He and his son spent years developing a smooth manufacturing process in order to cut costs, be more time efficient and increase worker productivity. This was to be achieved by micro-managing and organizing every step of the production process.

5s or the "just-in-time manufacturing process", as it was originally called, is generally seen as a precursor of lean management strategies and has proven itself time and time again in various industries: from manufacturing to design.

In this guide, you will learn more about:

1. The 5s methodology and principles

2. Why you should start implementing 5s

3. How to integrate 5s into your operations

3.1 How to create an implementation plan

3.2 The sixth ‘S’ and what it signifies

4. Which tools facilitate 5s implementation

5. How you can measure your 5s successes

A clean and tidy office space

What Are the Five Steps and Principles of the 5s Methodology?

As previously mentioned, the 5s system is characterized by the names of the five steps that define the methodology each beginning with an S in the Japanese language. They range from seiri (sort) to shitsuke (discipline) and each has detailed instructions tied to them.

1. SEIRI (整理)

Seiri is traditionally translated as sort but also relates to general tidiness and organization of the workspace. Here, all items deemed unnecessary are removed from each area. During implementation, workers and inspectors are encouraged to ask themselves whether there are any unneeded tools, materials, or parts obstructing the space. If yes, these will be removed.

2. SEITON (整頓)

Following the tidying and eliminating the first step of the 5s principle, seiton focuses on all the elements that are leftover in the now uncluttered space. These are to be set in order and organized for maximum efficiency. Where should certain tools and parts be placed in order to be the most useful for the production chain?

3. SEISO (清掃)

Step three, seiso, stands for cleanliness but doesn’t just stand for the general cleaning of the now tidied area. Of course, after tidying and organizing, it is still necessary to remove the trash, and thoroughly clean and wipe down everything, however, it is more important to set a new cleanliness standard. This way a safe working environment is more easily obtained, as leaks, for example, can be easily identified.

4. SEIKETSU (清潔)

After all previous steps have been completed successfully, their implementation and completion need to be standardized and implemented daily. This is easily achieved by employing a schedule and a checklist that employees can use to orient themselves.


Shitsuke, the final step, is often translated as discipline or sustain. It essentially requires that all new habits and every hitherto completed step of the 5s system are to be ingrained and incorporated into the company culture. 5s is supposed to be a habit for each and every employee. In order to ensure the upkeep of the 5s principles, you can assign responsible personnel, employ checklists for documentation and track your progress as you continue the cycle.

Benefits of Implementing the 5s System

There are numerous benefits that can be obtained from implementing the 5s lean management system into your organization. Not only do the 5 principles encourage you to continuously improve and follow a set routine, but 5s also actively involves workers in the improvement processes that better their working conditions. This way you can set a holistic betterment into place from which you, your employees, and your company benefit.

By implementing 5s, companies can minimize errors and generally move towards a more efficient production that keeps workers safe and supports production quality. These are 5 of the main benefits of a 5s implementation:

  1. Less Clutter

    The key benefit of an implementation of the 5s principles is perhaps rather obvious but nonetheless significant: it reduces clutter and provides a clean working space. This prevents tools and other materials from getting lost or being damaged, keeps workers safe, and increases hygiene and workplace organization.

  2. Increased Productivity

    By employing the strategies lined out in the 5s methodology, focusing on the workspace and its general cleanliness, you can expect your processes to become more streamlined and improved. By wasting less time trying to locate tools and equipment, as everything has its dedicated space, time spent working is increased. This, in turn, boosts productivity significantly and can lead to better quality and higher revenues.

  3. More Discipline

    By following strict standards and rules and integrating employees into the application of the 5s principles, you increase worker discipline that benefits everyone. After a while, tidying, storing everything in its rightful place, and cleaning become second nature and ingrain themselves into the process.

  4. Waste Reduction

    The employment of the 5s methodology can also result in a significant waste reduction. Tools and materials no longer get lost or can be repaired or replaced efficiently. By focusing on cleanliness and structure, damages can be minimized and faulty machines identified quicker before they turn into a bigger issue.

  5. More Safety

    The 5s program makes the workspace and areas a much safer environment for employees. Hazardous substances, for instance, can be identified and stored away safely. Additionally, due to everyone being diligent and attentive to spills and general untidiness, workers are less likely to slip, for example, trip over unattended material or use faulty equipment.

  6. Improved Machine Uptime

    By keeping an eye on machines and every other type of equipment, breakdowns can be reduced significantly. Any issues will be spotted long before they become critical and thus save you time and money in the long and short run.

Two employees discussing in production line

How to Implement 5s in Lean Manufacturing: Step by Step

The easiest way to implement 5s is to continuously ask your employees questions as they work through the 5 steps. This encourages honest responses and helps determine where there may be shortcomings. As the 5s principles are already conveniently divided into steps and a fully thought-out structure, it becomes convenient to work off every aspect effortlessly.

Nevertheless, it is beneficial to set up an implementation plan that you can follow. It assesses where and to which extent your organization is in need of 5s, how to best perform training, and how to begin implementing the 5s principles sustainably.


  1. Assessment

    Before you begin the implementing 5s, assess its need for your company. Include your employees in this process and ask them specific questions, such as: are they happy with the workplace organization? Have there been past issues with locating equipment or documents? Have there been any accidents due to spills or loose equipment? Is there any unlabeled storage? Is everyone aware of the roles they need to fulfill in order to keep everything tidy? Is there a standard operating procedure (SOP) in place?

    If you or any of your employees answered yes to any of these questions, it might be worth it to begin using 5s in your workplace and reaping the benefits of an organized workspace.

  2. Training

    Involving your employees in every step of your 5s journey remains crucial. Before you begin implementation it is therefore vital that you explain to them your objectives and outline what you hope to achieve for the company by implementing the new system.

    Explain the 5s system in detail, describe its benefits, and provide proper training to ensure that your expectations will be met. Use hands-on instructions and demonstrate the 5s steps clearly in a workspace, involving your employees in the process.

    You also have the option to hire 5s experts to execute your training for you. Depending on the size of your company and the number of employees you might consider this option as time-efficient, though more costly.

  3. Action Plan

    If the training has been carried out and everyone knows what is expected of them it is time to take action. Before you begin, you can take pictures and document the current status of the workspace that you wish to improve. Afterward, you follow the 5s steps by:
    • sorting and separating everything into ‘necessary’ and ‘unnecessary’ categories.
    • organizing all necessary items and equipment so they are easily and conveniently accessible. Label boxes, folders, and drawers so that even people unfamiliar with the workstation can find their way around it.
    • cleaning the workspace and bringing it to shine according to the seiso principle. Be diligent and thorough. Since the cleaning needs to be repeated daily or at other regular intervals, the first cleaning has to be the most thorough one.
    • standardizing the previous steps after completion. Ensure that employees perform all three steps regularly. Establish schedules and regularly inspect and audit all work areas for compliance with the new regulations. You can tweak routines over time if you notice that certain practices aren’t working.

    If things are going well and you can notice success in your 5s strategies, you might even consider expanding your lean management system. You could do so by fine-tuning your existing system, adding a 6th S to the 5s principles or trying out other techniques that complement 5s, like the six sigma approach.


    Over time, the 5s system has been supplemented with an additional S, standing for safety, as safety is especially important for any workplace. The additional step transforms the 5s system into the 6s system or 5s+ approach and generally focuses on regularly performed risk assessments and helps establish preventive measures to avoid the most common hazards.

    5s Tools and Software That Help With Implementation

    There is an assortment of tools and methods you can use to implement 5s/6s into your company and processes. Some of these help with the planning and implementation stages others with sorting. In order to get a feel for which tool your organization would benefit from, give them each a try to get a feel and then decide whether they are useful to you at this stage in your business. You can always return to them or replace a chosen tool with another. Remain flexible and open to change, otherwise, continuous optimization will be unattainable.

    1. 5s Red Tags
      If you have spent time researching 5s, you will likely have stumbled upon the so-called 5s red tag procedure. This procedure is an invaluable sorting tool that helps tag useless or unnecessary items in the workspace. This visual management aid sends a clear signal to anyone involved that the tagged items are unwanted.

      Red tags are especially useful if the area in question is particularly large and difficult to monitor, especially if employees work in shifts or change workspaces often. Further, if you have many items that need to be sorted, red tags can be helpful in keeping track of everything that has already been assessed.

      If your organization is comparatively small, you may not need red tags, but you could always give them a try or opt for a different visual tagging method.

    2. PDCA-Cycle
      PDCA stands for the so-called Plan-Do-Check-Act-Cycle often used in quality management and for problem-solving. Using this cycle you can complement your 5s strategy and address any issues that may arise during one of the four steps:
      • Plan: Identify an area that needs improvement and decide on a strategy to address said issue effectively.
      • Do: Implement your plan in a small “pilot”-area in order to test its efficacy and not disrupt the regular workflow.
      • Check: Review all changes made. Did they yield results? Was the impact expected?
      • Act: If an improvement has been detected, it is time to incorporate the plan in a larger area.
      The PDCA cycle is meant to repeat itself: if anything does not go according to plan or if something yields unexpected results, regroup and start anew.

    3. The "5 Why" Root Cause Analysis?
      Also originating in Japan, as many lean management strategies do, the "5 Why" method asks questions to get to the root cause of a problem in order to address it appropriately. The questions are all “why” questions and are supposed to feed into each other. This means that one question is always preceded by the answer to a previous question.

      However, the process is not strictly limited to just 5 questions – you can ask fewer or more, depending on your needs. It is also important to keep in mind that there may be more than one root cause and to keep digging in order to solve problems holistically.

    4. 5s Checklists
      Checklists are a useful tool for most businesses and they can also support your 5s implementation efforts effectively. There are many different kinds of checklists that can help you to create ever more efficient processes and take your company to the next level, such as:
      • Preventive Maintenance Checklists: The old adage rings true, also in business and production, when we say: Prevention is better than cure. Keep your processes running smoothly by using a checklist for your preventive maintenance efforts to keep machines and equipment running for as long as possible.
      • 5s Audit Checklists: Audit checklists, especially in the context of 5s and manufacturing help you track your efforts and inspect processes efficiently.

      There are many types of software that make the creation of checklists easier and help you keep track of every filled-in checklist effortlessly. Explore our checklist maker and form builder or browse our ready-made manufacturing templates.

    How to Measure 5s Success

    The main reason for implementing 5s is, of course, to be able to gain something from the lean management tool. But how do you measure the performance of your 5s system? Improved efficiency may be a nice tagline, but how exactly can you measure that? Here are 5 steps that can help you keep track of your efforts:

    1. Set SMART goals. By now you have probably already heard about S.M.A.R.T. goals, aka goals that need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. By defining measurable goals you can directly assess whether your efforts were worthwhile or if your system needs adjusting.
    2. Make an effort to automate data gathering. This way you can easily track your progress and measure, for example, how many parts are being produced now that a machine has been moved closer to the finishing station.
    3. Don’t be impatient and allow for enough time for changes to come into fruition. Sometimes overnight results are possible, but in order to fully assess the usefulness of a change, give it time.
    4. Lastly, it is vital that you don’t get too caught up in the data and focus on what’s important. It may be that some part of your organization is inordinately efficient, however, if this does not impact your bottom-line production (or your profits), such a change is not necessarily helpful.

    5. A tidy desk

      Frequently Asked Questions

      What is the 5s System?

      The system is a lean manufacturing tool, similar to Gemba walk or the Kaizen approach that provides a clear and structured framework for workplace efficiency. The 5s sequence is vital, as the steps presuppose each other.

      What Are the Benefits of the 5s System?

      • Less Clutter
      • Increased Productivity
      • More Discipline
      • Waste Reduction
      • More Safety
      • Improved Machine Uptime

      What Are the Five Steps of the 5s System?

      • Seiri(整理): Sort
      • Seiton(整頓): Set in order
      • Seiso(清掃): Cleanliness
      • Seiketsu(清潔): Standardized
      • Shitsuke(躾): Sustain

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      Nicky Liedtke

      Nicky Liedtke

      Passionate about literature and writing of any kind, Nicky graduated with a master’s degree in cultural and literary studies in German, English and French and is now putting her writing and research skills to the test at Lumiform, growing and learning together with the company.

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