A Practical Approach to 5S (Lean Part 2)

What is 5s?


After you’ve examined your manufacturing processes and discovered if and how you may require Value Stream Mapping we can move our focus to Lean 5S. More┬áspecifically, the workplace organization method that uses a list of five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.

5S, like most Lean principles, is more straightforward than people think. Translated into English, the five S’s stand for: sort (seiri), straighten (seiton), shine (seiso), standardize (seiketsu), and sustain (shitsuke). They describe how to organize a work space for efficiency by identifying and storing the items and materials used, maintaining the area and items, and sustaining the order.

While some Lean practitioners consider 5S a tool, it is much more than that. 5S is a culture that must be built into your organization aiming for continuous improvement of the working environment and conditions. It involves everyone in the organization from top to bottom. Below is a list of several questions to help you identify the state of your business as it applied to the five S’s:


  • Are you keeping only necessary items in your facility?
  • Are your items or equipment used on a daily basis kept within reach of the point of use?
  • Are there items or materials that hinder or disturb your staff?
  • Do you dispose of unnecessary items, and do you do it properly?
  • Do you have unwanted material segregated from the workplace?
  • If so, is that area clearly defined and red-tagged?
  • Have you develop criteria for disposal for unnecessary items?

Straighten (also referred to as set in order or streamline):

  • Are all necessary items arranged so they can be easily selected for use?
  • Is it easy to find and pick up necessary items and materials
  • Do you find yourself accessing multiple storage locations to locate the desired item or material?
  • Do you keep spare or unused parts separate from those you use regularly?


  • Do you clean your workplace regularly and completely?
  • Do you use cleaning as inspection?
  • Has any of your machinery deteriorated or rusted?
  • Is your workplace a safe environment?
  • Is your workplace a pleasing environment?


  • Do you maintain high standards of housekeeping and workplace organization at all times?
  • Does each process have a standard?
  • Are these standards met and maintained regularly?


  • Are regular audits performed?
  • Is your staff trained and discipline habits established?

These are just some of many questions to help you evaluate your business to prepare for 5S implementation. However, the 5S philosophy should never be confined / used as a one-time implementation methodology that then dies its own death from negligence. 5S is not a list of action items that has to be reviewed at some interval of time. Instead, it has to be practiced as a daily activity, which requires concentration, dedication, and devotion for sustaining it and ultimately making it a company-wide culture.

Such a culture change is well worth the time and effort when it results in improved profitability, efficiency, service, and safety. The principles underlying a 5S program at first appear to be simple, obvious common sense. And they are. But until the advent of 5S programs, many businesses ignored these basic principles.

Make sure your business is not one of them. For more information on Lean 5S or for help answering these questions, contact Business Development Advisor, Ralph Brown, at at 914-393-98765, or ralph.brown@hvtdc.org.