What is 5s and why is it important?

5S methodology is a set of principles created by Hiroyuki Hirano (part of the Toyota group) which, when implemented can help maximise value whilst reducing waste. It is used as a Workshop / Office visual management control system to create a tidy, efficient workspace and can be used in any work environment. The reason why it’s called 5S system is that all the steps involved start with the letter ‘S’ in both English and Japanese.

5s methodology sequence

What is the 5s technique?

Each step of the process builds upon the last one. In effect, it’s a visual management process that helps teams in the workplace improve their process whilst reducing waste and maximizing value-adding activity. This helps reduce operating costs having a positive effect on delivery and customer satisfaction.

It is also a commitment to safety. 5S is NOT a housekeeping programme.

What are the 5 steps of 5s 

Sort (Seiri)

The first step in the 5S program is for you to identify within the work area unnecessary items that can be removed or eliminated. 

  • Remove all items within the work area.
  • “Red Tag” any items that you wish to keep (items that are to go back into the work area.
  • Mark the Red Tag with the frequency of use within the process – each hour – each day – each week – each month – each year. This is to help with the eventual location of the item in relation to the process. 
  • Items frequently used should be close to hand and items less frequently used to be located in varying distances from the processing centre.
  • Dispose of unwanted items. (n.b: always take into account the residual value of these items)

5s sort desk draw example
Determine what is needed within the work area & remove what is not needed.

Set in Order (Seiton) 

Once you have completed the first step, you then will need to figure out where the items you are keeping are going to stay. It is advisable to keep an inventory of items (colour-coded where applicable) and where they are placed for future reference. Use shadow or tool boards where appropriate. Take photographs.       

5s set order
Arrange everything that is needed within the work area, so access is easy & visual.

Shine (Seiso)

Clean your workspace. A clean, safe workplace is important for the health and safety of your employees. Working in a clean environment can help improve efficiency, productivity, morale and attendance.

5s shine seiso example
Clean the 'sorted' area & create a clean working environment

Standardise (Seiketsu)

If you are then happy with the first three steps, it is then important to create a standardised list so you constantly and consistently monitor your results. Utilise diagrams and photographs to make such standards highly visual and easy to understand and audit.

5s standardise example
Create visual standards & ensure everyone knows how the work area should be maintained (sorted & shined).

Sustain (Shitsuke)

This is the final step in the 5S process. Regular reviews and visual control checks to make sure rules are being followed. The advantage of this is it can help seek new opportunities to improve, grow and improve designated areas whilst eliminating waste and eliminating redundant processes.

5s sustain example
Conduct regular audits of the work area & ensure the 5S Standard is being sustained.

What are the benefits of implementing 5S?

As part of a lean manufacturing process, 5S can have many benefits in optimising your business using a proven continuous improvement technique. It is critically important that people working within the process carry out the 5S workshops and are the people who decide what visual management control systems and storage techniques should be incorporated into their process. 

Do NOT be tempted to impose such systems without the input of the people employed in the process.

Where can 5s be used?

5S can be implemented within any business and should be embraced. We’ve helped implement 5S in many organisations big and small alongside other operational excellence techniques. These businesses operate in various sectors ranging from bakeries to manufacturing, from factory floors to office buildings.

5S is extremely simple in terms of content but deceptively difficult to implement and execute successfully. It is wholly dependent upon high levels of employee participation at all levels and a determination to become operationally excellent.

In order to go into more detail, we have broken down operational excellence into a series of chapters.
Find out how each one can help you reduce costs and improve business efficiency below


Chapter 1 > > >

Operational Excellence

Chapter 2 > > >

Lean Operations

Chapter 3 > > >

Continuous Improvement

Chapter 4 > > >

A3 Problem Solving

Chapter 5 > > >

Value Stream Mapping

Chapter 6 > > >

5S Methodology

Chapter 7 > > >

Change Management