High performing processes and workplaces are always characterized by organization and cleanliness. 5S is a process for creating and maintaining a clean, safe, orderly, high performance work environment. To deploy 5S in an organization it is imperative for 100% of leadership to be on-board. Without this, it is guaranteed to fail. They must “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” along every single phase of implementation – and often that is harder said than done.

5S originated from the Toyota Production System and stands for five Japanese words that start with “S”. These five Japanese words have been translated into English as follows.

Sort – Move out the things you don’t need and ensure that you have all the things that you do need. It is often helpful to think about things in terms of material, tools, and supplies. Many times we don’t need things any longer, but they still have value to the organization – move those items to a red tag area to be dispositioned at a later time.

Shine – Physically clean the work area from top to bottom. The goal is to bring the work area back to new! This often involves improving lighting, painting ceiling, walls, and machines. Choose lighter colors to show dirt faster which will identify sustainment issues faster. Aim for the “Wow” factor!

Set in Order – You’ve probably heard the expression, “Everything has a place and every place has its thing!” This is essentially what is meant by Set in Order. The goal is to define a location for material, tools, and supplies. Locations should generally be organized by usage; high use items should be closer than low use items. Always keep ergonomics in mind!

Standardize – Create clear and simple visual cues that indicate whether or not Sort, Shine and Set in Order are being maintained. Make it visually obvious for anyone to see where items belong and what the work area should look like. Post simple and effective visual standards to which people can be held accountable.

Sustain – 5S is simple, but not easy. Many organizations have remnants of past 5S activities. As you apply 5S, you must have consistent and persistent leadership to ensure the new behaviors take root. Expectations need to be clear and accountability is key success.

Lean Partners has gained a deep understanding working with companies, particularly those in the manufacturing sector, on the following “Common 5S Mistakes”:

  1. 5S is not (just) about housekeeping
  2. 5S is simple… but it’s not easy
  3. 5S is not an event, it’s a process
  4. 5S success depends almost entirely on leadership
  5. Each 5S component has a common pitfall (learn to avoid them)


5S is one of the most powerful tools a business can implement. Our team at Lean Partners has worked with hundreds of companies in different industry sectors. The success of implementing 5S is game-changing and imperative to business sustainability. We have written a ‘must-read’ whitepaper on ‘How to avoid common 5S mistakes’. If you are thinking about 5S, read this first and it may just help your business achieve your ultimate goal.

For more information on how we can help you implement 5S in your company please contact us.