Implementing the 5S Methodology: The first steps towards Workplace Efficiency

Implementing the 5S Methodology to Achieve Workplace Efficiency

Luciana Paulise

Last updated February 24, 2017


5S is one of the first tools that can be applied in a company that is starting to get into the continuous improvement culture. It helps to define the first rules to eliminate waste and maintain a work environment that is efficient, safe and clean. 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.

Quality tools and techniques

The good news is that 5S easy for everyone to start using, as it doesn’t require 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, the private and public sectors. Its simplicity, practical applicability, and visual nature make it an engaging aid for operators, directors, and customers alike.

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.

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-round 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.

Step #1: How Well Is Your Business Doing?

Let’s perform a test, first. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you may find 5S really useful and effective:

  1. Do people in your workplace struggle to locate documents or files, whether in physical or digital format?
  2. Are there loose, sagging electrical cables at the workplace?
  3. Are there files, drawers, and cabinets at the workplace that are unlabeled or with unmarked content that is hard to identify?
  4. Is valuable space taken up by useless items?
  5. Are there papers in your workplace that are not used and are gathering dust?
  6. 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

5S Method

What Does 5S Stand For?

The label ‘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 5 terms represent the five steps toward operational and process excellence, and are elaborated as follows:

Steps to operational and process excellence

  1. Sort: Separate tools required, materials, and instructions from those that are not needed. Remove everything that is not necessary from the work-area.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 work-area and makes potential problems noticeable, e.g. equipment leaks, loose parts, missing guards, loose paperwork, materials.
  4. Standardize: Engage the workforce to systematically perform steps 1, 2, & 3 above daily, to maintain the workplace in perfect condition as a standard process.  Establish schedules and set expectations for adherence.
  5. Sustain: Make 5S part of your culture, and incorporate it into the corporate philosophy. Build organizational commitment so that 5S becomes an organizational “value” or expectation so 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\team to ensure they are on the same page as far as implementation is concerned.

In the first one-day session, employees should look forward to and be expected to meet the first 3S requirements:

  1. Take a picture of the current status of your workplace
  2. Sort: 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 under 30 seconds (Store)
  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 –store them in drawers, instead. (Shine)    
  5. Prepare an action plan for the stuff that you cannot arrange that day, but will be able to in the near future. As a means of disposal, you could consider selling them on the marketplace, have someone pick them up for free, or schedule a review as a reminder.
  6. Take a second picture after the entire day’s work, for review.

Step #4: Standardize

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

Step #5: Sustain

On the third one day session, 2 months later, check how the workplace looks like with another peer review and make sure the 5S are sustained by checking if defined schedules are being met and procedures followed by everyone .

Pro-Tip: Learn how to apply these principles and get a certification to show for it with a professional Lean Six Sigma Certification Course!

Are you ready to begin? Good luck!





About the Author

Luciana is a business consultant and founder of Biztorming Training & Consulting. She holds an MBA from CEMA University, a top-ranked institution at Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is also a Quality Engineer certified by the American Society of Quality (ASQ). She has participated as an examiner for the National Quality Award in Argentina. She is also a columnist for Infobae (Argentina), Destino Negocio (Spain) and the Influential Voices program for the ASQ (US).


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