5S is one of the first tools that can be applied in a company that is starting down the path of a continuous improvement culture. A 5S implementation helps to define the first rules to eliminate waste and maintain an efficient, safe, and clean work environment. It was first popularized by Taiichi Ohno, who designed the Toyota Production System, and Shigeo Shingo, who also put forward the concept of poka-yoke.

The 5S methodology is easy for everyone to start using. It doesn’t require any technical analysis and can be implemented globally in all types of companies, ranging from manufacturing plants to offices, small businesses to large multinational organizations — and in both private and public sectors. Its simplicity, practical applicability, and visual nature make it an engaging aid for operators, directors, and customers alike.

The 5S Methodology 

The 5S methodology is divided into 5 steps essential for achieving its goals. We will discuss each step in detail.

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The first step in the 5S methodology is to sort. This step involves identifying the necessary items in your workspace and eliminating any excess or unnecessary items. This helps to reduce clutter, minimize distractions, and streamline the workspace.

  • Set in Order:

The second step is to set it in order. This step involves organizing the necessary items logically and systematically. This includes assigning a specific location for each item and labeling them for easy identification. This helps to reduce search time and eliminate the need for excess inventory.

  • Shine:

The third step in the 5S methodology is to shine. This step involves cleaning and maintaining the workspace. This includes regular cleaning, inspection, and maintenance to ensure everything is in working order and defects-free.

  • Standardize:

The fourth step in the 5S methodology is to standardize. This step involves creating a set of guidelines and procedures for maintaining the workspace. This includes documenting the previous three steps and establishing a regular schedule for their implementation.

  • Sustain:

The final step in the 5S methodology is to sustain. This step involves creating a culture of continuous improvement, where the previous four steps are consistently followed, and the workspace is continually optimized.

Steps to operational and process excellence

Benefits of 5S Methodology: 

The 5S methodology provides numerous benefits to organizations that adopt it. Some of the benefits include:

  1. Improved productivity
  2. Reduced waste
  3. Enhanced safety
  4. Increased employee satisfaction
  5. Improved customer satisfaction
  6. Improved quality
  7. Reduced costs

Why Use the 5S Methodology?

5S is a methodology for creating an organized and productive workspace by sorting, straightening, shining, standardizing, and sustaining. Using 5S as a foundation, advanced processes and tools to implement lean production can be developed.

5S is the perfect tool to identify the first improvement projects in your company to eliminate waste. Although sometimes viewed as a housekeeping technique, it is actually an innovative management system that helps people think lean, paving the way for the adoption of Lean principles in the organization. Understanding the 5S methodology is one of the foundations of Six Sigma principles, and can be extremely beneficial for organizations of all kinds.

A Black Belt uses 5S to find waste, reorganize workflows, and promote a culture of continuous improvement as part of the Six Sigma toolbox. Their proficiency in fusing Six Sigma methodologies with Lean principles helps them to direct enterprises toward improved output and quality. A Six Sigma Black Belt starts the process of optimization by deliberately implementing 5S, laying the groundwork for extensive changes and long-term success.

And here’s the best part: implementing 5S is a breeze! With this logical, step-by-step guide, you’ll learn what the big deal about 5S is, how to devise an action plan for 5S implementation, and how best to wield this powerful tool for improved productivity, elimination of wasteful processes, and all-around development!

Pro Tip: For more on harnessing the principles of Six Sigma for workplace and personal productivity, here’s an insightful article that investigates ways to enhance performance using the principles of Six Sigma.

Before 5S Implementation

Before 5S Implementation

After 5S Implementation

After 5S Implementation

Implementation Strategies: 

Implementing the 5S methodology requires careful planning and execution. Some effective strategies for implementing the 5S methodology include:

  1. Form a dedicated team to oversee the implementation process.
  2. Provide adequate training to employees to ensure that they understand the methodology and its benefits.
  3. Start with a pilot project and gradually expand to other areas of the organization.
  4. Establish clear metrics to measure the success of the implementation.
  5. Continually monitor and improve the methodology to ensure its effectiveness.

5S Implementation Plan

Step 1: How Well is Your Business Doing?

Our cartoons above help illustrate how 5S can benefit your organization. Before you get started, let’s perform a test. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you may find 5S really useful and effective:

  • Do people in your workplace struggle to locate documents or files, whether in physical or digital format?
  • Are there loose, sagging electrical cables in the workplace?
  • Are there files, drawers, and cabinets that are unlabeled, or do they contain unmarked content that is hard to identify?
  • Is valuable space taken up by useless items?
  • Are there papers in your workplace that are not used and are gathering dust?
  • Does everybody know how to keep the workplace organized and are fully aware of their roles and responsibilities?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, 5S may be exactly what you need!

Step 2: The 5S Methodology: Broken Down

The 5S Methodology

What Does 5S Stand For?

The name 5S refers to a set of five terms borrowed from Japanese, all beginning with the letter S when transliterated. The equivalent terms in English also begin with an S. In essence, these five terms represent the five steps toward operational and process excellence:

  • Sort:

    Separate required tools, materials, and instructions from those that are not needed. Remove everything that is not necessary from the work area.
  • Store:

    Sort and organize all tools, equipment, files, data, material, and resources for quick, easy location, and use. Label all storage locations, tools, and equipment.
  • Shine:

    Set new standards for cleanliness. Clean and remove all trash, grease, and dirt. Everything must be clean, tidy, and neatly put in its appropriate place. Cleanliness provides a safe workplace—and makes potential problems noticeable, e.g., equipment leaks, loose parts, missing guards, loose paperwork, or materials.
  • Standardize:

    Engage the workforce to systematically perform steps 1, 2, and 3 above daily, to maintain the workplace in perfect condition as a standard process. Establish schedules and set expectations for adherence.
  • Sustain:

    Make 5S part of your culture, and incorporate it into the corporate philosophy. Build organizational commitment so that 5S becomes one of your organizational values and everyone develops 5S as a habit. Integrate the 5S methodology into the performance management system.

Step 3: The Action Plan

You can start implementing 5S by providing training to your staff to understand the system. This may be followed up with one-day sessions with each employee or team to ensure they are on the same page as far as implementation is concerned.

In the first one-day session, employees should look be ready to meet the first three 5S requirements:

  1. Take a picture of the current status of your workplace.
  2. Sort to separate anything that is needed and necessary from what is not needed.
  3. Organize the things you need so that there is a place for everything and everything has a place. You should be able to find anything in just a few seconds.
  4. Clean the workplace and get rid of things that make it difficult to maintain cleanliness, such as boxes on the floor that prevent you from being able to clean the entire surface — label them and store them in labeled drawers, instead.
  5. Prepare an action plan for the items you aren’t able to deal with that day, but will be able to in the near future. This could include selling items you no longer use, donating them, recycling, or throwing them away.
  6. Take a second picture after the entire day’s work, for review.

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Step 4: Standardize

During the second one-day session, two weeks later, employees should take the third picture and compare it to the first two shots. Many organizations set up peer audits to check how the 5S principles are being met as well as to ensure the plan is moving forward. Work together to define ways to standardize the improvements over time: organize cleaning schedules, define roles and responsibilities, and prepare written procedures or diagrams to help everyone remember what to do.

Step 5: Sustain

During the third one-day session, two months later, check to see how your workplace looks and schedule another peer review. This way, you can make sure the 5S are sustained by ensuring defined schedules are being met and everyone is following the procedures.

Tools for 5S

  1. Red Tags: These are used to label items that are no longer needed or are not in use. Red tags help in the sorting process.
  2. Shadow boards: These are used to organize tools and equipment. The shadow board has an outline of the tool or equipment, making it easy to identify if something is missing.
  3. Visual controls: These are used to make it easy to identify the correct location for tools and equipment. Examples include color coding, labels, and signs.
  4. Cleaning checklists: These are used to ensure that the workspace is clean and tidy. The checklist helps in maintaining the shine aspect of 5S.
  5. Standardized work procedures: These are used to ensure that everyone follows the same process for performing tasks. Standardized work procedures help in the standardization aspect of 5S.
  6. Floor marking tape: This is used to mark boundaries, aisles, and storage locations. Floor marking tape helps in the set-in-order aspect of 5S.
  7. Kanban systems: These are used to manage inventory levels. A Kanban system helps maintain the right inventory level, ensuring no waste of resources.
  8. Visual management boards: These are used to display key performance indicators (KPIs) and progress toward goals. The visual management board helps in sustaining the improvements made through 5S.

5S and Lean Manufacturing

5S methodology is a crucial tool within the Lean Manufacturing philosophy, which aims to maximize value while minimizing waste. The 5S system provides a structured approach to organizing the workplace, improving efficiency, reducing errors, and increasing productivity. By reducing waste and optimizing workflow, 5S supports the overall goal of Lean Manufacturing, which is to create value for the customer while minimizing resources and time. Incorporating 5S into the Lean Manufacturing process can help organizations achieve continuous improvement and sustainable success.

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1. What is the 5S methodology?

The 5S methodology is a workplace organization system that aims to improve efficiency and eliminate waste by maintaining a clean and organized work environment. The 5S's stand for Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

2. What is the purpose of 5S?

The purpose of the 5S methodology is to improve workplace efficiency and productivity by creating a clean, organized, and safe work environment. It aims to eliminate waste, reduce errors, and increase employee satisfaction by providing a clear and structured system for organizing workspaces and materials.

3. What is the 6th S?

While the 5S methodology traditionally consists of Sort, Set in order, Shine, standardizing, and Sustaining, some practitioners have added a sixth "S" - Safety. Safety is a critical component of workplace organization, and ensuring that employees work in a safe environment is essential for their well-being and productivity. Including Safety as the sixth "S" ensures that it is given equal importance and consideration in the overall workplace organization system.

4. How does 5S relate to kaizen?

The 5S methodology is often used as a foundational tool within the Kaizen continuous improvement philosophy. The 5S system provides:

  • A structured approach for identifying and eliminating waste.
  • Reducing errors.
  • Improving productivity, which are all critical components of the Kaizen approach.

Using 5S supports and reinforces the ongoing Kaizen mindset of constant improvement.

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