Why 5S

I hear frequently people saying; “we have started with 5S”. When I asked them “why 5S” these are the two most frequent responses. “We have started with lean and it is one of the first steps”. Most of the time this is the answer of a person with a leading function. The second one is “Because management has asked it”. This answer comes most of the time from an operator.

If you got a similar response then you know that you are on the wrong track and the 5S/lean initiative will probably not have a long life. 5S is indeed one of the tools that can be rolled out during the beginning of a lean initiative, but you have to understand why and be able to transfer that message clearly to the involved people.

So let’s turn the question around and instead of asking “why 5S” ask yourself do I want to work in a safe, efficient and pleasant workplace. Of course, the answer would be “Yes”.  That is exactly what you want to do with 5S to create a workplace where it is safe and pleasant to work and where you are able to work in a smart and efficient way.

Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize and Sustain are the 5 steps in 5S. These steps will lead you to this improved workplace if you follow them correctly. A non-exhaustive overview:

During the Sort phase, you will remove objects to reduce the risk of falling over or hitting against them creating a safer workplace. You will be able to create more free space and broader hallways which makes it more efficient to move.

During the Set phase, you will create a suitable place for everything. Therefore you will find everything back more easily which increases productivity. If done right you will also improve the ergonomics and hygiene. Creating a safe and pleasant workplace. 

Although the Shine phase is more than just cleaning, everybody will agree that a clean environment is a pleasant environment.

The Standardize phase and sustain phase will make sure that the first three S’s, Sort, Set and Shine will be improved further and eventually becomes a habit. Isn’t that why 5S is implemented? So that creating and maintaining a safe, efficient and pleasant workplace become a part of the mindset of our company.

When I have to introduce 5S, I use the 5S number game. Because it is a very simple exercise which illustrates mainly that when 5S is implemented correctly you get a better workplace to work in.

This article was updated on November 30, 2022