What is 5S?

5S is a Japanese concept that originates from the 1950’s production system in place at Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan. Though it has evolved, the system focuses on cleanliness, organization, and reducing waste/non-value added activity while fostering productivity, safety and efficiency. It builds a culture of continuous improvement by encouraging all team members to employ more self-discipline on the job and to create a cleaner/safer workplace.

Typically, 5S  is a two phase process of improvement (initial implementation & refinement) conducted by the team members who work within the specific area it is being implemented. The challenges that an organization faces when implementing a 5S system are adhering to the changes, incorporating them into the day-to-day, and ensuring they are being followed by the entire organization.

So what are the 5S’s, you ask?

  • SORT – Criteria is established for how to identify items that are unused, how to dispose of them, and cleaning the area being implemented. Floor space will free up once all the obsolete items have been removed.
  • SET IN ORDER (SIMPLIFY) – Find a home for everything by deciding where to place each item based on ergonomics and easy retrieval. Items should be labeled, have their own space on a shadow board, and all team members should be in agreement as to how/when items should be returned to their proper place.
  • SHINE (SYSTEMATIC CLEANING) – Includes inspecting, identifying & implementing performance check points, conducting daily cleaning, and visual checks of the work area. After initial implementation has been completed, the daily cleaning routine should not require a lot of effort or time.
  • STANDARDIZE – Ensure that all team members know exactly what is expected by establishing a routine check for each work area. A multi-level audit system needs to be implemented where each “level” within an organization has a role to play. If new methods of completion of work are determined, they must be documented.
  • SUSTAIN – The most important of the 5S’s; this is where the 5S practices are refined and done so on an on-going basis. Scheduled, routine checks should be implemented by team leaders or people outside the immediate work group.

Once a 5S system has been implemented, one of the most rewarding benefits of it is that problematic processes become easier to detect the more they are refined. When team members see that their wasteful practices have been eliminated and what they are doing makes a difference, the system will provide a sense of pride throughout the culture, and above all else, ensure smarter work.