Based on an alliterative Japanese system, the 5S system is a deceptively simple set of processes designed to increase workplace efficiency, productivity, and safety. Put simply, the system can be summed up as:

  1. Sort—arranging the working area so all items needed for work are in the area and nonessential items are removed.

  2. Set—designating locations for work items, with a place for everything and everything in its place.

  3. Shine—emphasizing cleanliness and workplace appearance through improved janitorial and preventing the work area from becoming dirty in the first place.

  4. Standardize—everyone doing the same things the same way, including work area layouts and storage spaces.

  5. Sustainability—making 5S training integral to the work culture.

Some systems now add a sixth, and extremely important, element—safety. When properly implemented, a 5S system offers multiple advantages:

  • Improved processes

  • Reduced setup and cycle times

  • Increased floor space

  • Lower accident rates

  • Less wasted labor

  • Better equipment maintenance and reliability.

Maintaining Success through 5S Training

5S is not a one-time training exercise. The fifth S—sustainability—is extremely important, as the first four have no effect unless they become part of your workplace culture. Successful 5S implementation requires ongoing, daily effort.

Many organizations have success with a “Deming cycle” of Plan-Do-Check-Act. During the planning stage, a program plan for each S is created.

During the “Do” phase, the program is put into action, with 5S training provided to every employee. After a set period, the Checking phase evaluates the efficiency of training and the degree to which 5S methodologies are accepted into the workplace culture.

The Act phase requires a thorough self-examination of what is and is not working, and corrective action is taken, leading the cycle back into the planning phase. Over time, the process becomes streamlined, with less emphasis on planning and correction and more on the effective implementation of the new system.

Pilot Projects and 5S Training

As with any organization-wide program, it’s often best to start small with 5S training. A pilot project allows you to focus on a smaller group, making it easier to identify strengths and weaknesses in the implementation process. Pilot projects also make it possible to compare changes to established processes, and have the potential to gradually introduce changes to the larger workforce.