5S: the key Lean tool for a highly productive workspace

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5S: the key Lean tool for a highly productive workspace

Are you needing to rent a new warehouse? Is your factory running out of space? Are you feeling that time is never enough and you are being unproductive? With the 5S method, improve the productivity and quality of your factory or office. Organize your space in five steps and save lots of time and physical resources.

Why should I apply the 5S method?

The 5S methodology has inspired philosophies such as Marie Kondos, who popularized the benefits of organization and order. For the Japanese guru, the outer disorder reflects internal chaos and proposes to organize the home to regain spiritual balance. Does this happen to you at work? Have you ever felt that disorder makes you waste time and lose motivation?

Look at these two images, before and after applying 5S. Which of these factories do you think will be more productive? And in which of them will your employees work with greater motivation?

It probably took you less than 2 seconds to answer these questions. And, for sure, you have succeeded. The order and cleanliness in the work space impact not only on productivity, but also on the motivation of leaders and employees, the quality of the final product and the collaboration with continuous improvement.

5S is the basic methodology of the Lean philosophy, and proposes, in 5 very simple stages, to design a “visual” and organized workplace that promotes efficiency and improvement. In the moments of organizational transformation this technique is fundamental, since it helps to achieve:

  • greater efficiency and effectiveness,
  • greater security,
  • quality improvement and customer response,
  • committed leadership,
  • teamwork,
  • everyone’s collaboration with continuous improvement.

The principles of 5S

Seiri (Sort)

Separate what is useful from what is not. Everything that is discarded must be removed from the plant or office. The less items there are in place, the easier and faster it will be to find what we need quickly. Maintaining only what is necessary for the process helps visual control.

You don’t know where to start? Sort by classes, types, sizes, categories or frequency of use:

  • unnecessary tools and equipment,
  • unoccupied machines,
  • defective products,
  • files and folders,
  • work in progress,
  • papers and documents.

Seiton (Set in order)

Define a place for each thing and put each object in its place, ready to be used. For example, the tools of high frequency of use, in the belt of those who use them; the medium frequency ones, in a common place within the sector and those of low frequency of use, in a common spot less easy to reach.

Locate the necessary elements so that they are easily located and use visual management methods to facilitate order. Arranging each thing accordingly and demarcating its location minimizes search time and effort.

Look at the images above. Can you see if something is missing in photo a? Is there anything out of place in photo b?

In the previous example, we can see how demarking the space where the container should go helps to show if it is missing or has been wrongly replaced. Labeling objects and spaces helps to see problems immediately and react fast.

In addition, order raises other questions such as:

  • Do I have the necessary amount needed?
  • Have I studied the times when they need to be replaced?
  • Are they located in the right place and is it demarked?

Seiso (Shine)

Who doesn’t like a shiny clean space. But do we understand the importance of cleanliness? Cleaning up does not mean just putting the space “nicer”. It means freeing the environment so that we can see the problems. Because only when we see the problems can we solve them.

What we are looking for is, in short, a technical shine that aims to facilitate the identification of faults and problems. Applying Seiso allows to:

  • eliminate the probability of hidden errors, risks or potential problems,
  • correct immediately what is out of place,
  • identify equipment or workplace abnormalities,
  • start training operators in minor maintenance tasks.

Seiketsu (Standardize)

Prevent the appearance of disorder and dirt by establishing standards that lead to the disciplined application of the previous 3 “S”. This will help the people own the methodology and seek to correct aspects that require improvement.

How to standardize:

  • Establish standard operating procedures for the previous 3S (how often do I clean?, who does it?, how often do I perform audits?, how do I do them?, etc).
  • Prepare communication and training activities, emphasizing audiovisual media.
  • Train with the mechanics of “learning by doing”.
  • Feed and correct problems as they arise.
  • Incorporate the standardization of the process.
  • Establish an audit system that monitors compliance.

Sheitzuke (Self-discipline)

The application of the first 4 “S” is the simplest part of this methodology. The complexity of the system lies in ensuring that the changes achieved are maintained over time. Generating an environment of respect for established norms and standards implies a cultural change, a profound transformation in people’s habits.

After the World Cup in Russia, the Japanese fans cleaned the stadium. Cleaning is a habit so ingrained in their culture that, even while celebrating success, they did not forget to do it. The event caught the attention of Western cultures, became viral and was defined as “unusual”. I would call it Sheitzuke.

Why apply Sheitzuke?

  • It creates a culture of sensitivity, respect and care of the resources of the company and people.
  • The motivation at work increases and, with it, the productivity.
  • The client will feel more satisfied since the quality levels will be higher.


In summary, 5S is a progressive technique, with long-term impact that can generate great savings of time and resources. If you want to improve your processes, apply Lean Manufacturing methodologies or manage a change, you will need a high degree of discipline in the organization. The implementation of 5S can be one of the first steps towards continuous improvement.

Author: Hernán Pinque

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