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What is 5S?

What Is 5S?

As a leader, you’re always looking for new ways to increase productivity in your company. It can get complicated when we try to define what productive means. The definition of productive can vary from person-to-person. But, the company’s perspective is usually pretty clear.


Productivity is the economic measure of output per unit of input.

In layman’s terms—to be productive we must accomplish more by doing less.

The 5S system is a step-by-step way to transform a workplace from one of disorder and clutter to an organized and productive one. 5S helps you to improve worker safety, productivity, quality, and efficiency.  And, it accomplishes this by removing what’s called the Eight Wastes


Do you recognize any of these Eight Wastes in your workplace?

8 Workplace Wastes


Common Workplace Wastes

  1. Defects: These are products or services that deviate from customer specifications. Most people only think of the scrap cost associated with a defect. The costs of problem-solving, materials, labor hours, paperwork and decreased customer retention are much higher than the scrapped item.
  2. Inventory Waste: This is the number of raw materials, work in progress or finished goods that a company is holding. Each piece of inventory carrying a cost and is likely gathering interest. There are additional costs from overproduction, storage, transportation costs, damage, loss, and paperwork.
  3. Movement and Energy Waste: Just because an employee is moving doesn’t mean they’re working. Think of all the wasteful steps in a current process in your facility. Are employees forced to take unnecessary steps to perform their job function? Employees that exert more energy on non-value added processes like lifting, retrieving or searching produce less. They’re also at higher risk of injuries.
  4. Processes with No Value-Add: Are employees spending time and energy doing work that isn’t part of their job? For example, are they sanding or polishing areas that aren’t visible in its final form? Not only does that cost time and labor, but there’s also increased material and equipment usage. The more a company uses the equipment, the more costs are associated with maintenance, service, repair, and replacement.
  5. Overproduction: This is often considered the worst of the seven wastes. Producing products or services too fast or too often has its own set of problems. Overproduction leads to unreliable processes, unbalanced work cells and inaccurate predictions of future orders. Overproduction is also responsible for holding up capital in raw materials, stocked items, and finished goods. As a rule of thumb, companies should avoid overproduction by balancing supply to demand.
  6. High Transportation Costs: The cost of transportation in manufacturing is always a loss to the bottom line. There’s a reason why many suppliers are within close proximity to their plants. By limiting transportation distances, companies can minimize the costs of overproduction, transport, storage, damage, loss, and material handling fees.
  7. Waiting and/or Wasted Time: How often do you notice employees standing around? Are they waiting for a previous step in the process to be completed? Are they waiting for parts, supplies or products to arrive? Are they waiting for clear instructions on their next step? The cost of waiting is huge and you can never recover those costs. There are ways to reduce waiting costs. For example, you can implement standard operating procedures (SOP). SOPs ensure clear communication, improve time management and minimize transport between work cells.
  8. Non-Utilized Talents: Under-utilizing the talents of employees is a huge waste of energy and innovation in the workplace. Ask yourself, what standard systems does our workplace use to ensure we are maximizing our people talent?


By removing waste and developing standardized processes, you can achieve a clean and organized workplace.

5S assesses everything in the current workplace. Then, removes what’s unnecessary and performs ongoing housekeeping tasks. Finally, 5S provides storage solutions that allow workers to be more productive and less stressed. The system is about more than just changing processes. It’s a way of changing behaviors for the better.

The key to productivity and success is to enable employees to have a personal stake in their job. To do that, employees must have ownership over their positions. Through clear direction, improved habits and standardized practices, employees can become more confident in their abilities. Confidence inspires problem-solving and attention to detail, which are key ingredients for highly productive work environments.


What are the origins of 5S in the workplace?

5S was developed in Japan as part of the Toyota Production System manufacturing method. On a visit to the U.S., three representatives from Toyota were observing the processes of two major companies— Ford Motor Company and Piggly Wiggly. The enormity of the operations impressed them. They were surprised at the amount of waste that was occurring at Ford, however, they noticed wasted steps that had been leading to overproduction, layoffs and rehires.

At Piggly Wiggly, they were very impressed with their inventory management system. They noticed that the company ordered only what was needed (Just in Time Inventory) rather than storing excess items.  

So, they gathered information from the two companies and returned home. They began to analyze the waste that existed in their own plants. They viewed their labor costs, inventory management and lost production hours. They examined their profit margins and total production costs. Then, they created a system that addressed waste through the use of repeatable and replicable processes. These were the now-famous origins of a simple five-step process that has helped thousands of companies succeed. The 5S solution has been used all over the world and continues to find new evangelists each year.

5S can be used in any workplace and in any industry. These are just a few examples of work environments where 5S is making a positive difference every day:


Manufacturing Services Government Healthcare


Automobile Manufacturing




Transportation Offices


Medical Device Manufacturing

Aerospace Plumbing Public Works Departments Hospitals
Foundries Auto Mechanics Military Institutions Surgery Centers
Safety Equipment Manufacturing Body Shops Utility Departments Laboratories

5S can improve worker safety, productivity, quality and efficiency in any workplace.


The Phases of the 5S System

Each phase of the 5S system has its own processes. Let's take a closer look at each phase.


Sort Icon Step One: Sort (Seiri)

This first step removes all unnecessary items from the workplace with red tags. The reviewer will assess the workplace and attach tags to items that aren’t needed. This part of the process eliminates clutter and frees up space.


Set In Order Icon Step Two: Set in Order (Seiton)

After red tagging certain items, the next step is to find efficient storage solutions, like labelled holders and tool organizers. A place for everything and everything in its place.

The Set in Order phase ensures all members of the team know exactly where and how specific items are stored.

Questions to ask during the 5S Set In Order phase:

  • What is needed to get the job done?
  • Where should it be located?
  • How many of the items do I need?

Once a space is organized, it's time for step three.

Shine Icon Step Three: Shine (Seiso) 

The Shine phase focuses on cleaning the workplace. This results in a more positive and brighter workplace. Sparkling spaces make defects become more obvious, and areas that are in need of repair can receive much-needed service and maintenance.

Employees are also motivated to be more productive in cleaner workspaces. Who wants to work in a dirty area? Workplace cleanliness is often linked to increased morale and job satisfaction.

By developing regular cleaning habits, you can be sure that every work area is ready for use. Color-coded cleaning tools and equipment helps keep them where they belong. This cuts down on time searching or preparing equipment for use. The cleaning phase also makes non-conformance to 5S standards much more visible.

The next step is to begin to systematize your setup so that it becomes a longterm solution to productivity problems in your workplace.


Standardize Icon Step Four: Standardize (Seiketsu)

By implementing this step, you’re able to maintain the first three steps. Now you can communicate the procedures, responsibilities, and expectations to your team. By standardizing procedures, you ensure that the desired procedure changes remain in place.  What’s more, you can make sure the ineffective conditions of the past don’t resurface.

Finally, let's look at what is perhaps the most important step, sustaining.


Sustain Icon Step Five: ​Sustain (Shitsuke)

Without proper support, the Sustain phase can be difficult. Workspaces have been cleared of clutter. They are cleaned and procedures are clearly set in place. The company must now work together to keep these changes in place. It must become part of the company culture to be effective.

Routine inspections are absolutely necessary. Inspections make sure the company doesn’t fall into old habits and routines. There’s another important aspect of 5S. It’s important to remain flexible and adopt new procedures as your company’s needs change.

(Want help with your 5S audits and inspections? Click here to download our free, customizable templates.)



Who can benefit from using the 5S system?

For most production managers, productivity is more than numbers on a spreadsheet. You tend to look at productivity from a holistic viewpoint. You look for:

  • Improved accuracy.
  • Increased efficiency.
  • Stronger company foundation.
  • Greater economic success.
  • Happier and less stressed staff.
  • Better quality in the products and services you provide to your customers.

The answer to much of this pain in your environment lies in implementing an effective and sustainable 5S process.


Right now, if you've made it this far, you're probably asking yourself one question:

How do I get started with 5S?

This free book will help you easily plan, manage and sustain your 5S implementation.

5S Success book

Request your free copy of 5S Success Mindset.