Lean manufacturing and 5S are complementary, interrelated approaches meant to create a more organized, efficient workplace. With productivity enhancement and minimized waste as your primary objectives, you can strive to be an organization that functions at its highest level without causing employee or management burnout. From what it means to tips for sustained success, learn how to implement 5S principles in your Lean facility using this helpful guide.

Understanding Lean Manufacturing

Successfully implementing 5S starts with a solid understanding of Lean manufacturing, which is a systematic approach to production that focuses on minimizing waste and maximizing value. It is defined by 5 core principles:

  1. Value
  2. Value stream
  3. Flow
  4. Pull
  5. Perfection 

By defining value, streamlining processes, and creating only what is needed, Lean manufacturers can produce higher-quality goods at a lower cost, and deliver them to customers faster. Lean is a continuous improvement process, where teams constantly seek to identify and eliminate new sources of waste in pursuit of perfection.

What Is 5S?

Originating in Japan in the 1980s, the 5S methodology evolved from Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) and the Toyota Production System (TPS). It is a five-step method for accomplishing greater organization, with the ultimate goal of increasing workplace efficiency, cleanliness, and safety. Today, 5S is one of the most popular Lean production management systems, due in part to its simplicity.

The name “5S” comes from five Japanese words that all happen to begin with “s” sounds:

  • Seiri – sort or classify
  • Seiton – simplify or straighten
  • Seiso – clean or sweep
  • Seiketsu – standardize or stabilize
  • Shitsuke – self-discipline or practice

How to Successfully Implement Principles of 5S

Implementing 5S for a Lean workplace is a cyclical process that involves carefully following each step, then implementing regular improvements in pursuit of perfection. Follow these instructions for applying the 5S methodology in your warehouse, manufacturing, or industrial facility.

  1. Seiri – Sort, Classify

The first step in 5S is to sort. Separate clutter and waste—anything that does not contribute to the defined goal of that workstation or area—from important items. Ask yourself whether each item is necessary:

  • If the answer is no, it counts as waste and can be thrown away or recycled.
  • If the answer is yes, consider carefully how many of that item is needed and if it is needed in this particular location, or would be more effective elsewhere.

Classifying each item according to the answers to these questions will adequately prepare you for step 2, or set in order.

  1. Seiton – Straighten, Simplify

The second 5S principle—straighten, simplify, or set in order—emphasizes organization. The items that have been sorted must be organized in an efficient, logical way. Each item should be placed so that it is easy for employees to access with minimal obstacles and so that it ensures optimal utilization: 

  • Forego one central storage location and instead place items near where they are most commonly used. This minimizes time spent walking to get or return tools and supplies and ensures the most important items are where they are necessary.
  • Organize frequently used items by weight and size, making sure they’re easy for employees to get and transfer if needed. Heavy items should be stored to ease the burden of lifting and bulky items are best organized at ground level to avoid attempted maneuvering.
  • Color-coded floor tape, labels, or bins can help employees identify which items go where and quickly find what they need, when they need it, minimizing wasted time.  
  1. Seiso – Sweep, Clean

Once items have been sorted and straightened, clean all work areas, tools, machines, and equipment thoroughly, then set this as the new status quo. Behind this 5S principle—often called “shine”—is the idea that anything that is out of place will be easily recognizable against the backdrop of a bright and clean work area. When this is the case, employees and managers can more quickly identify defects in equipment or flaws in the workflow. 

  1. Seiketsu – Standardize or Stabilize

Standardization is a key principle of 5S that can make or break the long-term success of a Lean approach. Create standard processes for each of the first three steps so that they can be replicated or scaled to apply to other departments or the entire organization. When sorting, straightening, and sweeping become part of standard operating procedures, you’ll see increased productivity and minimized waste across the board.

  1. Shitsuke – Sustain, Self-Disciple, or Practice

The fifth 5S principle, Sustain, is all about ensuring the company strives toward continued improvement using the previous stages of the methodology. 5S practices should become like second nature—an integral part of the culture of the organization. The “sustain” phase of 5S requires housekeeping and maintenance to keep all work areas clean, regular audits of processes and workflows to evaluate effectiveness and productivity, and continued work to reduce clutter, evaluate documents for relevance, and slash waste in all work areas.

Common 5S Challenges and Tips for Sustained Success

Like an organization-wide objective, implementing 5S can pose a range of challenges along every level of your operational hierarchy. Some of the most common challenges associated with 5S and Lean management include: 

  • Employees and leaders lack buy-in or are resistant to change
  • Momentum falters after initial 5S implementation
  • Constraints on time and resources make the 5S approach seem overwhelming 

For sustained success, start your 5S and Lean manufacturing initiative with the right approach. Consider these tips to maintain momentum.

Communicate Benefits of Implementing 5S

Sustained success of 5S and Lean manufacturing principles requires the involvement of every member of your team, from management to employees, so adequate communication and early buy-in are essential. 5S is beneficial for employees, management, and the company alike; start by emphasizing positive outcomes, including: 

  • Increased productivity and efficiency
  • Improved employee morale and job satisfaction
  • Reduced waste, in terms of time, materials, and energy
  • Improved workplace safety due to reduced hazards
  • Improved teamwork and communication

Be Realistic About Time Commitment

Implementing any new workplace management system, including 5S or Lean practices, requires an initial investment of time and effort to see efficiency improvements down the line. When communicating with employees about the benefits of 5S, also be transparent about the workload and what long-term success entails. Schedule dedicated time—during their normal working hours—for sorting, cleaning, and standardization procedures, and allocate resources for training and ongoing support. An effective initial time investment will result in significant time saved over the long term. 

Use Visual Cues to Provide Reminders

Combat slowing momentum for newly implemented 5S practices with easy-to-understand reminders via visual cues. Use color-coded floor tape to identify areas for storage, waste separation, or specific tasks. Place pre-printed or custom signs throughout the workplace to provide visual and text-based reminders of standard workflow steps and processes. When visual cues have been integrated throughout your established workspaces, organizational and productivity objectives stay top of mind.

Regularly Review Processes for Effectiveness

5S isn’t a one-time project; it’s a continuous improvement cycle. Schedule regular audits to assess the effectiveness of your processes and organizational strategies. Gather employee feedback, identify improvement areas, and adjust your methods accordingly. A proactive approach ensures 5S remains relevant and impactful even as needs and workflows change.

Start Small, Then Expand

5S implementation is more effective when approached strategically. Trying to tackle everything at once can be overwhelming, but breaking down 5S into smaller tasks can be less daunting. Start in a single department or work area, then evaluate what works and give employees time to embrace the improvements. Gradually expand the scope to encompass new workspaces and processes. An incremental approach minimizes disruption, fosters a sense of ownership, and makes improvements more visible for greater chances of long-term success.

Think of 5S as the initial decluttering that makes the workspace ready for Lean’s in-depth analysis. A clean and organized environment allows you to easily identify and address inefficiencies as part of a Lean initiative, while Lean’s focus on eliminating waste naturally reinforces 5S principles. By reducing unnecessary items and standardizing processes, Lean helps maintain the order and cleanliness established by 5S. The two methodologies work hand-in-hand to create a more effective, organized workplace overall.

Additional 5S Resources

For more on applying 5S principles to your workplace or creating a Lean management system, explore helpful content from our Resource Center: