When processes and operations are running continually, it’s easy for the environment to get out of control. Key information is miscommunicated. Tools, equipment or materials get mislaid and lost. Visibility disappears. In turn, you create waste and your work gets more difficult. Toyota developed 5S to overcome these challenges. But, what is 5S and why should you care?

What is 5S?

5S is a workplace organization method that uses 5 different stages. The 5S’s stand for five Japanese words, one for each stage of the approach:

  • Seiri
  • Seiton
  • Seiso
  • Seiketsu
  • Shitsuke

Translate these to English and you get:

  • Sort
  • Set in order
  • Shine
  • Standardise
  • Sustain

So, you can now see why it is called 5S!

What is 5S? Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardise, Sustain

5S is a concept within the Lean Six Sigma methodology.

It was developed by Toyota as they eliminated waste and developed their manufacturing capability. Whilst Toyota used it on car manufacturing lines, it has now been used across many different industries and situations. However, it still focuses on organising the workplace to get the job done well and maximise efficiency.

You might like to read more about how Toyota set up TIM WOOD to identify and eliminate the 7 wastes.

Let’s dive into each stage to find out what is 5S in detail and how to use it.

1. Sort

This is about sorting out the current working environment. You’re looking to understand what is needed… and what is not. You need to challenge everything to find out it’s intended purpose and how often it gets used. In fact, you’ll probably be surprised at how much “stuff” is present which just isn’t required or is barely used.

Remove the unnecessary tools, equipment, materials or furniture. Decide if these unnecessary objects are still needed or can be thrown away. If an item is still required, store it sensibly and inform the people that do use it.

This will immediately free up space and declutter the workplace.

2. Set in order

Following the “Sort” stage, your environment should only be filled with useful and regularly used objects. Now, you need to find a permanent home for these items.

Clarify where the different pieces of equipment are needed. Ideally, store objects near to where they are used. This helps keep the output of the 5S exercise alive in the longer run.

Generally, people find the most convenient place to leave things when they complete work or get pulled away for whatever reason. As you are “setting in order”, you should consider this. Maybe you could store something so that it is natural to put it back in it’s place when finished?

You may also want to move or relay workstations as part of this stage so that the flow is further simplified.

It’s essential to use the team’s experience here. Not only is this a key stage to build buy in, but it also means that you’ll avoid silly mistakes from being made.

3. Shine

The next stage is to focus on cleaning the area. Often, the shine stage can be forgotten, particularly once the busy day to day operation is in full action.

Clean and maintain the tools and equipment. Clean floors, desks and surfaces so that they are free from litter and dirt. Also, make sure lights are fully working to provide the right task lighting. The Shine stage of 5S allows you to run the day to day processes effectively, efficiently and safely.

You also need to consider how to maintain the “shine” after the 5S project has finished. Examples of this include providing the right cleaning materials (and a suitable place to store them!). Also, ensuring maintenance instructions and support contact details are readily available.

4. Standardise

Here, you want to set systems, processes and routines in place to keep the 5S output alive.

Add labels and signage to help show where everything lives. This will bring a mentality of “a place for everything and everything in it’s place”.

Shadowboards for tools and equipment can be useful to visually show where something lives. Equally, floor markings are great for larger,  movable objects such as pallets, pallet trucks, roll cages and forklifts.

Taking photos can be useful to recall what each area should look like. It’s easy to print and display these photos next to the relevant workstations or areas.

You may want to set up SOPs – or Standard Operating Procedures – to help keep on top of the different processes. These can be for both the day to day processes which will be useful for training and retraining. SOPs are also great for less frequently used processes. With these, the routine never gets embedded as strongly, simply as they’re not done so frequently.

5. Sustain

Finally, the Sustain stage is about continuing to keep it alive. However, you should also consider how to keep changes in place as you go through each stage.

Without successfully sustaining the change, you’ll soon find the operation drifts back into chaos. Soon, all of the good work will disappear, along with the benefits.

To help you sustain, you could:

  • Communicate with the wider team so everyone is aware of the effort and mentality.
  • Document the benefits and “plus points” that the team have observed.
  • Set up checklists to regularly review if everything is still in order.
  • Celebrate success for ongoing compliance.

What are the Benefits of 5S?

Organising work areas using 5S can bring some strong benefits. Also, you’ll find these benefits are instant and immediately realised. Benefits of 5S include:

  • Simplified work flows.
  • Higher productivity and less wasted time and money.
  • 5S projects are simple and quick to run and implement.
  • Improved safety.
  • An engaged team who buy into the change.

Who Should Use 5S?

In short, anyone and everyone!

5S is a very simple approach to make an improvement. Also, implementation is quick as it focuses on aspects within your circle of influence and control.

Therefore, anyone can do 5S as long as there is a guide or coach to direct through the process. Without this leader, it’s easy to miss important stages out as they seem insignificant or a waste of time. Often, the “Shine” or “Standardise” stages can be overlooked. Essentially, the “Sort” and “Set in order” stages have such a big physical and visual impact that it’s easy to get carried away and stop there.

Involve a team of people in your 5S project. Bringing in a team helps to pool knowledge, experience and ideas. People who are involved in the day to day operation or process will be essential. They bring expert knowledge of the challenges as well as important information on the tools and materials used. Also, involving the operators will mean that the solution brings authority and is more likely to actually work and embed in the long run.

Getting Started with 5S

Begin by building a project brief. This will guide you to think about the essential elements before you begin. Once you are clearer on all of these elements, you can build the team. Agree timelines for your 5S project with your team. You’ll come up with different solutions if you’re planning to complete it in 1 day, 1 week or 1 month.

Once all of these elements are in place and agreed, you’re good to get started. Good luck!

Are you on Twitter? Follow us on @projectmsuccess. Always happy to chat about managing change projects.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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