What Is The 5S System? The 5S System In A Nutshell

The 5S System is a lean manufacturing tool that improves efficiency and eliminates waste. First used in the Toyota Production System (TPS). The 5S System seeks to mitigate the factors contributing to process inefficiencies with six areas of concern: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain, and safety.

Understanding the 5S System

The 5S System is a workplace organization method originating from Japan and was integral to the success of just-in-time (lean) manufacturing. It was first incorporated into the Toyota Production System (TPS) along with many other lean manufacturing tools.

With a key focus on clean and organized workplaces, the 5S System is particularly important to the TPS and most other manufacturing operations. Cluttered and disorganized work areas can lead to mistakes, accidents, and line interruptions – all of which negatively impact a company’s manufacturing efficiency. 

The five steps of the 5S System

Given the system was created in Japan, each step denotes a Japanese term beginning with the letter S. There is also an optional sixth step that some organizations choose to adopt.

Let’s take a look at each of these below, with an English translation provided in brackets:

  1. Seiri (sort) – tools, parts, and instructions that are required should be separated from those that are not required. The latter should then be removed from the area, including broken, redundant, or outdated equipment. 
  2. Seiton (set in order) – whatever items remain should then be organized, arranged, or identified for ease of use. Businesses can arrange in whatever way they see fit, so long as waste is minimized. For example, heavy items should be placed at a height that makes them easy to handle.
  3. Seiso (shine) – the workplace should be clean and free from dust, dirt, spills, or garbage. Tools and equipment should also be kept clean and in working order. If necessary, establish a daily cleaning regime with a chart displaying action items.
  4. Seiketsu (standardize) – the standardization of best practices is a priority. Standardization should also make it easy for workers in one area to seamlessly move to another. Workplaces should also define what constitutes normal and abnormal conditions with photos, labels, signs, or guides.
  5. Shitsuke (sustain) – behaviors or habits must then be fostered to ensure standards are maintained over the long term. This may involve audits, reviews, continuous improvement, training, and the commitment of leaders to follow through. 
  6. Safety – an optional consideration helping businesses avoid obsessing over lean manufacturing to the detriment of their workers. Safety is not a sequential step but instead is paramount to each part of the 5S System.

Benefits of the 5S System

There are many obvious and not-so-obvious benefits to the 5S System.

These include:

  • Less wasted space – with each square meter of floor space costing money, most businesses will benefit from the removal of superfluous equipment or the re-organization of existing equipment. This maximizes the profitability of the production facility.
  • Fewer injuries – when done correctly, organized workspaces reduce the frequency and intensity of manual labor for workers. Removing clutter also negates trip hazards and associated injuries.
  • Higher morale – employees using the 5S system feel empowered to do better since their valuable input is listened to and then implemented by management. Morale is also boosted by safer, more efficient work practices. 
  • Reduced equipment downtime – dirty or poorly maintained tools and equipment cost the company money in downtime, repairs, and worker injury. When essential infrastructure is kept in good working order and potential failures are identified earlier, costs are reduced.

Key takeaways:

  1. The 5S System is a lean manufacturing tool that improves efficiency and eliminates waste. It was first used in the Toyota Production System (TPS).
  2. The 5S System seeks to mitigate the factors contributing to process inefficiencies with six areas of concern: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain, and safety.
  3. The 5S System reduces operating costs by freeing up floor space for other uses. It also reduces workplace injuries and equipment downtime.

Connected Business Concepts To The 5S System

Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an early form of lean manufacturing created by auto-manufacturer Toyota. Created by the Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1940s and 50s, the Toyota Production System seeks to manufacture vehicles ordered by customers most quickly and efficiently possible.

Scientific Management

Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 as a means of encouraging industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way of performing a job in the workplace.


Poka-yoke is a Japanese quality control technique developed by former Toyota engineer Shigeo Shingo. Translated as “mistake-proofing”, poka-yoke aims to prevent defects in the manufacturing process that are the result of human error. Poka-yoke is a lean manufacturing technique that ensures that the right conditions exist before a step in the process is executed. This makes it a preventative form of quality control since errors are detected and then rectified before they occur.

Gemba Walk

A Gemba Walk is a fundamental component of lean management. It describes the personal observation of work to learn more about it. Gemba is a Japanese word that loosely translates as “the real place”, or in business, “the place where value is created”. The Gemba Walk as a concept was created by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System of lean manufacturing. Ohno wanted to encourage management executives to leave their offices and see where the real work happened. This, he hoped, would build relationships between employees with vastly different skillsets and build trust.

Dual Track Agile

Product discovery is a critical part of agile methodologies, as its aim is to ensure that products customers love are built. Product discovery involves learning through a raft of methods, including design thinking, lean start-up, and A/B testing to name a few. Dual Track Agile is an agile methodology containing two separate tracks: the “discovery” track and the “delivery” track.

Scaled Agile

Scaled Agile Lean Development (ScALeD) helps businesses discover a balanced approach to agile transition and scaling questions. The ScALed approach helps businesses successfully respond to change. Inspired by a combination of lean and agile values, ScALed is practitioner-based and can be completed through various agile frameworks and practices.

Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing seeks to maximize product value while minimizing waste without sacrificing productivity. According to the Lean Enterprise Research Centre (LERC), 60% of a typical manufacturing process is waste. While the removal of waste is perhaps synonymous with lean manufacturing, the goal of the methodology is the sustainable delivery of value to the customer.

Kanban Framework

Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.

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