What is 5S

October 31, 2019


Firstly, 5S is not just tidying up and labelling boxes.  It is a methodology for organising your workplace based on lean principles in order to increase efficiency, minimise waste (time and materials) and reduce defects. The 5S’s are:

  • Sort

  • Set

  • Shine

  • Standardise

  • Sustain

Essentially it is used to take ensure items not used at the workplace are taken away (sort), the needed items are arranged as to help with ease and balance of the workplace (Set), to keep the workplace tidy (shine), to make things standard and consistent (standardise) and to keep up the effort and continually improve (sustain).


Occasionally it is referred to as 6S with the additional ‘S’ refereeing to safety.



Working out what you do and don’t need.  In this stage you need to be ruthless. I bet if you were to look around your office or home you could easily find things that you have kept and not used for over 12 months – we are all secret hoarders and you will need to fight the urge to keep things.

  • Start by identifying any items not used and remove them.

  • Use tags on items that you believe are not required and set dates to clear these items out of the work area if they remain unused.

  • Sometimes it helps to mark out areas to put unwanted items so that they can be assessed, re-deployed if necessary or disposed of.


In this ‘S’ you should be thinking about how the items are arranged in order to make it simple for the operatives to use the items and identify their location and status quickly.  Essentially piling everything into a box (like your toolbox at home no doubt) means rummaging through everything to find what you need. This is not ideal and it is better to lay things out that make this task easier.

  • Set the location of items.  Shadow boards for example show exactly what items should be there and identifies if it is missing/in use.

  • Set the place the item/s will be kept and the amount of an item you will keep in place. 

  •  Make sure people keep the rules set (i.e returning tools after use)


You should keep the work site clean and tidy.  If you do this you can easily see what is out of place, defect risks or other things that could be inhibiting efficiencies and creating waste. E.g. it is easier to see a spill or leak in a clean workplace.


Once you are sure on what you need and where you need it set standards so that people are clear what is needed in respect of cleanliness etc.

  • Doing this creates excellent visual management

  • It highlights defects in process quickly.

  • It makes one area similar to another so everyone immediately understands or if staff move around frequently they are familiar.

  • Set checklists and timetables and mark out responsibilities so that it is clear and measurable.

  • Use photos so that everyone can see what it should look like.


Don’t stop when you have made the changes.  It takes time to establish new routines and ways of working.  Equally if you are committed to continually improving you need to return and repeat the sort, set and shine stages often.

  • This is the hardest ‘S’ to do.  Lots will get to here and revert back to old habits.

  • Keep everyone on message.

  • Keep everyone engaged.

  • Sort issues properly and get to the root cause.


Remember, 5S is not just about tidying your workplace but it is a tool to help you ensure you understand what needs to be in place to support people doing their job.  You should strive to minimise clutter and focus on what helps reduce waste.  If you have consumable items you should aim to have them replaced when, or just before, they run out so that workers do not have to go off looking for replacements.  The most important thing is to take 5 at the end of the day re-setting ready for the next shift. 


Have a go: Set 5 minute windows to tackle a workstation and break down each 'S' into 5 minutes.  I imagine if you spent 5 minutes on a workstation removing everying that wasn't needed you would have an immediate and positive impact on producctivity.  This is an easy way of getting started. 


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