The 5S methodology for Lean manufacturing

Two workers look at an iPad to learn about the 5S methodology for Lean manufacturing.

Creating a safe, organized workplace helps your team members to optimize productivity, efficiency, and facility output. The question is how you can develop a standardized work environment that promotes Lean manufacturing.

While there are many organizational frameworks designed to support Lean operations, one of the best for teams that work in physical spaces is known as 5S. The 5S methodology traces its roots back to Toyota Motor Corporation — regarded as having revolutionized manufacturing practices worldwide — and has been used to keep workspaces clean, organized, and safe. By adopting 5S, teams can see greater productivity and businesses can operate more profitably.

But not all business leaders and team managers understand what 5S is or why it can help them. In this article, you’ll learn all you need to know about 5S, including the concepts and benefits and how to implement it in your organization.

Specifically, we’ll discuss:

  1. Sort
  2. Set in order
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain

What is 5S?

5S is a methodology for organizing a workspace. The 5S pillars stand for “Sort,” “Set in Order,” “Shine,” “Standardize,” and “Sustain.” Some practitioners now also include a sixth S, which stands for “Safety.”

The 5S system was originally developed by Toyota and is a part of the Lean methodology. However, since its creation, 5S has been adopted by businesses across a broad range of industries.

Virtually any manufacturing company can experience benefits by using 5S. Some of these benefits include:

Even though 5S has been around for decades, some organizations are just now realizing the advantages of this proven methodology.

For example, the Indian government recently launched a new initiative to incentivize micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to adopt Lean manufacturing and 5S practices. Known as the MSME Competitive (LEAN) Program, these efforts are designed to help India’s businesses improve productivity, quality, and performance.

In addition to 5S, the program encourages the use of principles such as Kaizen, Kanban, and Poka-yoke. The Indian government is so confident that 5S will help MSMEs compete in the global marketplace that the revamped program will contribute 90% of the expenses from implementing these methodologies.

Now that we know what 5S is, let’s explore its origins.

Translation from Japanese

The 5S methodology and associated Lean manufacturing framework were developed by professionals at Toyota.

The creators of the framework were trying to solve multiple business challenges. Namely, they wanted to reduce non-value-adding time, increase work efficiency, promote safety, and optimize organizational effectiveness.

The methodology was built on these five Japanese words:

  1. Seiri
  2. Seiton
  3. Seisou
  4. Seiketsu
  5. Shitsuke

In English, these 5S keywords are translated as follows:

  1. Sort. Eliminate unnecessary actions and wasteful behaviors.
  2. Straighten. Organize the equipment, inventory, and machinery that remain.
  3. Shine. Clean, inspect, and enhance the work area.
  4. Standardize. Write easy-to-follow standards for the 5S framework.
  5. Sustain. Consistently apply the newly defined 5S standards.

Translation from Japanese

Much like the Lean methodology itself, 5S follows sequential steps — so you can’t progress to the next principle until you’ve adequately addressed the previous one.

For instance, you can’t begin cleaning and inspecting your work area until you’ve eliminated wasteful clutter and organized the remaining items.

Before you can apply the 5S principles, you first have to understand the scope of each of them. With that in mind, let’s take a look at each of these concepts in greater depth.

1. Sort

This one is straightforward — it simply means to sort the items in your workspace. Separate items by what’s needed in that area, what might be needed elsewhere, what someone else might need, and what can be eliminated.

While you’re sorting, you’ll likely find that it’s easy to identify items that belong in a given area. However, grouping items into other categories can quickly become difficult.

For instance, some items might fall somewhere between “may need” and “get rid of.” Naturally, you don’t want to discard something that may have value, but you also don’t want to bog down your facility with a bunch of useless junk.

To expedite your sorting process, we suggest asking these questions when evaluating whether a piece of equipment is necessary:

Once you’ve determined which items can be eliminated, consider reallocating them to a different department. If no other department has a need for them, you can store, sell, or recycle them.

If you’re unsure what to do with a particular item, put a red tag on it. Red-tagging is a common 5S tactic that helps you sort more efficiently while ensuring that potentially useful items don’t get discarded.

Red-tag items should be moved to a separate space, which will essentially serve as a lost and found. Team members can look through red-tagged items and claim what belongs to their workspace.

2. Set in Order

Also sometimes referred to as “straighten,” Set in Order essentially means organizing your workspace. This step will be much easier now that you’ve sorted through all the stuff that lives elsewhere.

As you straighten, you should implement a few best practices, such as:

The goal of keeping everything ordered is to avoid wasting time looking for a misplaced tool, walking to and from different areas, or delaying work because of some avoidable hold-up.

As part of these efforts, it’s a good idea to label items that can’t be stored in a container and create a permanent home for everything. A classic example involves making a shadow board for hand tools so it’s clear when a piece of equipment has gone missing.

During the straightening process, eliminating waste should be at the top of your priority list. Here, “waste” can take many forms, including:

By eliminating waste and creating a permanent home for everything, you can set your team up for success and realize your productivity goals.

Using the 5S methodology, your business can reduce costs, promote workplace safety, improve product quality, increase equipment lifespan, get more done, and optimize space usage.

3. Shine

This step refers to cleaning and polishing items. For example, your team will need to thoroughly sanitize and inspect its equipment. This is also a great time to perform preventive or routine maintenance.

Here’s a simple Shine checklist you can use to jump-start your efforts:

Don’t simply assign these responsibilities to your cleaning staff — get everyone involved. Doing so will make team members more invested in their work areas, giving them a sense of pride and helping them become familiar with how their equipment should look.

By keeping a clean workspace and taking note of any deviations from how things normally operate, workers can catch problems before they escalate. Ultimately, this will help your organization save time and money.

4. Standardize

The Standardize step involves creating a system for repeatedly tackling the first three S pillars. This is where you make your 5S framework scalable.

Standardization can also mean implementing a schedule that reflects when these different tasks will be done. Establish best practices for performing each task and document these new protocols in detail.

In addition to creating repeatable practices, you should clearly outline how often each process needs to be done.

For example, you may decide to repeat the Sort, Set in Order, and Shine processes every month. Alternatively, repeating these steps before starting each new project may work best for your organization. You can tailor this aspect of the 5S method to align with your company’s needs, but be sure to share these expectations with your team.

While there are many ways to create standardized 5S protocols, we recommend using checklists. Listing each individual step of your 5S processes makes it far easier for your workers to adapt to them. Checklists can also serve as a great auditing tool, which you can use to keep everyone accountable.

During the Standardize step, make it a point to gather feedback from your team members. Sharing what one team learns with other teams will help you refine and spread your best practices across the entire organization.

5. Sustain

Once you’ve established best practices for keeping things clean, organized, and standardized, you need to sustain your efforts. This is accomplished by training employees on how to complete 5S tasks. You’ll also need to implement a system for verifying that this work gets done routinely.

While there are many factors at play in these various tasks, managerial support is perhaps the most integral component of a successful 5S program. If your team sees that the management team is committed to 5S and Lean, they will be too. Conversely, if managers waver or become lackadaisical, their teams will likely follow suit.

Also, remember that training is an ongoing investment. As such you must continually provide your staff with new training opportunities, especially if you make any major workplace changes.

For example, if your organization adopts new products, equipment, or rules, you should provide special training to bring everyone up to speed on these updates.

Lastly, your Sustain efforts should include a combination of audits and performance reports. Audits will reveal teams that may be lagging on 5S compliance, whereas individual performance evaluations give you the opportunity to identify and recognize your most valuable employees.

5S is a methodology adopted from Japanese car manufacturer Toyota to keep workspaces clean, organized, and safe.

The sixth S — Safety

There are two prevailing schools of thought on the sixth S, Safety.

Some organizations believe that properly implementing Lean manufacturing procedures based on the 5S framework will consequently promote optimized workplace safety. Others consider safety so important that they choose to address it as a separate step in the Lean methodology.

A strong argument can be made for either approach.

For instance, implementing Sort, Straighten, and Shine will have a measurable impact on workplace safety. These concepts yield a cleaner, less cluttered, and more organized environment for your staff. Since Shine also includes a tool maintenance component, this step can help prevent equipment-related workplace accidents.

However, some safety practices aren’t specifically addressed in 5S. A classic example is that the framework provides no clear direction about the need for proper safety signage.

If you consider this signage a component of a “clean” work environment, your organization will probably address this concern during the Straighten or Shine stage. But if your team doesn’t share this view, signage may be overlooked as they progress through 5S.

Benefits of 5S

Some of the benefits of 5S are saving money, achieving greater productivity, enduring more efficient use of space, and enhancing product quality.

By staying more organized, companies can experience many benefits. With 5S, you can:

Get started with 5S today

The benefits of 5S are undeniable. With this proven methodology, you can reduce costs, promote workplace safety, improve product quality, increase equipment lifespan, get more done, and optimize space usage.

When you’re ready to embrace this framework, consider how to roll out 5S to your company. The exact approach you use will depend on the size of your company and the existing work management structures you already have in place.

Talk with department heads and stakeholders across your business about how 5S tactics might be implemented in their respective areas. Next, begin working with the 5S process with your team. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to reap the benefits of this revolutionary framework.

If you need support, Adobe can help. When it comes to optimizing your workflow, pen and paper aren’t enough. You need robust project management software like Adobe Workfront.

With Workfront, you can manage projects effortlessly, streamline your 5S implementation strategy, and rapidly scale it across your entire enterprise. You can even track the status of your 5S process in Workfront and share your results with stakeholders.

To learn more, take a product tour or check out the Adobe Workfront overview video.