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What Is 5s methodology? Using 5s at work

Learn what 5s is and why 5s methodology can help you organize and improve your business

Nicky Liedtke
by Nicky Liedtke | June 09, 2022 | Reading time: 9 minutes

5s methodology is a valuable tool for organizing and streamlining your workplace. By adhering to 5s principles, you can save time and your workers can be more efficient. It also helps make work environments safer for all involved.


Table of contents


1. What is 5s?


2. What are the 5s principles?


2.1. Seiri


2.2. Seiton


2.3. Seiso


2.4. Seiketsu


2.5. Shitsuke


3. Why should you use 5s methodology?


4. What is 5s in lean manufacturing?


4.1. Assessment


4.2. Training


4.3. Action plan


4.4 What is the 6th S in the 5s methodology?


5. Which tools help implement 5s methodology?


6. What is 5s success?


What Is 5s?


The 5s system is your path toward a workplace which is free of clutter, safe, and efficient. Whilst running a business, keeping tabs on everything is not always easy and can be a challenge. That is why the 5s management system was developed, to make it easier for you and your workers to improve the workplace together.


5s methodology originated in Japan; 5s stands for the 5 words beginning with S that describe the system’s core structure. They are


  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

Taken together, this is a five-step process that companies use in order to become more efficient. The system is a lean manufacturing tool, similar to Gemba walk, Kanban, or the Kaizen approach , that provides a clear and structured framework for workplace optimization. The order of the 5s sequence is vital, as the steps must follow each other.


5s 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. They accomplished this by micro-managing and organizing every step of the production process.


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


A clean and tidy office space

What are the 5s principles?


The 5s principles characterize the 5s system. Each principle begins with the letter S in the Japanese language, and together, they comprise 5s methodology. They range from seiri (sort) to shitsuke (discipline), and each have detailed instructions tied to them.



1. SEIRI (整理)

Seiri, which is traditionally translated as sort, relates to general tidiness and organization of the workspace. In this step, 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)


The second 5s principle, seiton, focuses on the elements left over in the now uncluttered space. These are to be set in order and organized as intuitively as possible. 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 refers to more than cleaning your area. In addition to removing trash and thoroughly cleaning everything, however, it is important to set a new cleanliness standard. This makes working environments safer, since it becomes easy to identify issues.



4. SEIKETSU (清潔)


Seiketsu refers to the standardization of every previously completed 5s step, all of which need to be implemented daily. You can make this simpler by employing a schedule and a checklist that employees can use to orient themselves.


5. SHITSUKE (躾)


Shitsuke, the final step, is often translated as discipline or sustain. It essentially requires that all new habits and every prior step of the 5s system be ingrained and incorporated into the company culture. 5s must become a habit for each and every employee. In order to apply the 5s principles most effectively, you should delegate implementation to responsible personnel, employ checklists for documentation, and track your progress as you continue the cycle.



Why should you use 5s methodology?


There are many ways your company can benefit from implementing the 5s lean management system into your organization. Not only do 5s principles encourage constant improvement and a sustainable routine, but 5s methodology also actively involves workers in the improvement processes that better their working conditions. This way, you can make sure everyone in the company is aligned with your goals.


5s organization minimizes errors and facilitates more efficient production that keeps workers safe and supports production quality. Here are 5 of the main benefits of 5s implementation:


  1. Less clutter

    The key benefit of the 5s principles is that 5s processes reduce clutter and provide a clean working space. This way, tools and other materials will not be lost or damaged, and your workplace becomes safer and more hygenic.

  2. Increased productivity

    The strategies laid out by 5s methodology streamline and improve productivity. When you waste less time tracking down tools and equipment – since everything has a dedicated space – time spent working is increased. This boosts productivity significantly and can lead to better quality and higher revenues.

  3. More discipline

    By following strict standards and including your employees when adopting 5s principles, you institute a sense of discipline that benefits everyone. After a while, tidying, storing everything in its rightful place, and cleaning become second nature.

  4. Waste reduction

    It can also lead to significant waste reduction. Tools and materials no longer get lost, so they will need replacing less often. Since just-in-time manufacturing focuses on cleanliness and structure, you can minimize damages and identify faulty machines before they turn into a bigger issue.

  5. More safety

    5s lean manufacturing makes your workspace a much safer environment for employees. Improving organization means that hazardous substances, for instance, can be identified and stored away safely. When everyone is diligent and attentive to spills and general untidiness, workers are less likely to slip, trip over unattended material, or use faulty equipment.

  6. Fewer malfunctions

    By keeping an eye on machines and other equipment, breakdowns can be reduced significantly. Any issues will be spotted long before they become critical, saving you time and money.

Two employees discussing in production line

What is 5s in lean manufacturing?


Implementing 5s in your company works best if you 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 is easy to work on every aspect in sequence.


Nevertheless, it helps to set up an implementation plan for yourself to follow. It assesses where and to which extent your organization is in need of 5s methodology, how to best perform training, and how to begin implementing the 5s principles sustainably. A 5s implementation plan has three phases.



Assessment


Before you begin implementing 5s, decide which aspects your company needs. 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 their role in maintaining an orderly workplace?
  • Is there a standard operating procedure (SOP) in place?

If the answer to any of these questions was yes, it might be time to consider introducing 5s processes to your workplace and reaping the benefits of an organized workspace.



Training


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


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


You also have the option to hire 5s lean manufacturing experts to execute your training for you. Depending on the size of your company and the number of employees, this might save you time, though it is more costly.



Action plan


Once training has finished 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, introduce 5s 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 workspacete and bringing it to shine according to the seiso principle. Be diligent and thorough. Since your goal is to maintain cleanliness standards, the first cleaning has to be the most thorough one.
  • standardizing the previous steps after completion. Ensure that employees perform all previous 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 observe that the 5s processes are working, 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 methodology, like the six sigma approach.



What is the 6th S in the 5s methodology?


Over time, 5s has been supplemented with an additional S, which stands for safety, as safety is vital to 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.



Which tools help implement 5s methodology?


There are many tools and methods you can use to introduce 5s/6s in your company. 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 each one a try 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 for the best results.


  1. 5s red tags
    If you have already researched 5s lean manufacturing, 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. Physically marking items sends a clear signal that the tagged items are unwanted.
    Red tags are especially useful if the area in question is large and difficult to monitor, for example if employees work in shifts or change workspaces often. Further, if you have many items that need to be sorted, red tags can help you keep track of everything that has already been assessed.

    If your organization is comparatively small, you may not need red tags, but another visual tagging method could help demonstrate 5s principles.

  2. PDCA
    PDCA stands for the so-called Plan-Do-Check-Act-Cycle often used in quality management and for problem-solving. PDCA gives you opportunities to complement your 5s strategy during each of its four steps:
    • Plan: Identify an area that needs improvement and create a strategy to introduce said improvement.
    • Do: Implement your plan in a small “pilot” area in order to test its efficacy without disrupting the regular workflow.
    • Check: Review all changes made. Did they yield results? Was the impact expected?
    • Act: If you noticed an improvement, 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 yields unexpected results, regroup and start anew.

  3. The "5 Why" root cause analysis?
    Another management system originating in Japan, the "5 Why" method asks 5 questions to get to the root cause of a problem in order to address it appropriately. Each of these is a “why” question and feeds into the other questions. 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 how complex the problem is. It is also important to keep in mind that there may be more than one root cause, so you should keep digging in order to solve problems holistically.

  4. 5s Checklists
    Checklists are useful tools for most businesses and they can also support your 5s management efforts effectively. When introducing 5s workplace organization, you could benefit from
    • preventive maintenance checklists: preventing a problem is better than curing one. Keep your processes running smoothly with a checklist for your preventive maintenance efforts to keep machines and equipment running for as long as possible.
    • 5s audit checklists: Audit checklists help you track your efforts and inspect processes efficiently.

    There is no shortage of software that makes it easy to create checklists and helps you keep track of your business effortlessly. Explore our checklist maker and form builder or browse our ready-made manufacturing templates.


What is 5s success?


The main reason for implementing 5s methodology is, of course, to benefit from 5s processes within your company. But how do you measure the performance of your strategy? 5 ways to get the most out of the 5s system are to


  1. set SMART goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals are goals that are 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. automate data gathering. Automated data gathering makes tracking your progress easy and allows you to measure, for example, how many parts are being produced now that a machine has been moved closer to the finishing station.
  3. remain patient and remember that it takes 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. focus on what’s important. Not all data is relevant and it may be that some part of your organization has become more efficient; however, if this does not impact your bottom-line production (or your profits), the change may not matter.

  5. For help bringing 5s methodology to your company, you can use Lumiform as a way of formalizing and tracking new protocols. Making sure all your changes are followed consistently is easy and even paperless when you use our fully digital templates to conduct inspections.


    A tidy desk

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is 5s?

    The 5s system is a lean manufacturing tool, similar to Gemba walk or the Kaizen approach, that provides a clear and structured framework for workplace efficiency. Following each step in sequence is vital, as the 5 stages depend on each previous stage.

    What are the benefits of the 5s system?

    Following 5s methodology can help

    • reduce clutter
    • increase productivity
    • improve discipline
    • reduce waste
    • make workplaces safer
    • improve machine uptime

    What are the five steps of 5s

    • 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

    Nicky is a content writer and researcher for Lumiform. With her content writing and copywriting experience, she creates high-quality content across a variety of relevant topics. She aims to promote workplace safety, sustainable operational excellence, and continuous improvement in her articles. She is passionate about communicating how technology can be used to have a positive impact on the environment and helping organizations reduce paper waste and achieve their business goals.

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