The 5S’s

I can hear you saying, what on earth are the 5S’s and as an Operations Director what do I need to progress this within my organisation. This article will explain, in brief, what the 5S’s actually stand for and also how this methodology, in the working environment, can lead to a better organised and lean environment within your company.

What are the 5S’s

Let's start with trying to explain exactly what the 5S’s actually stands for.

You can well imagine that with a lot of business improvement techniques this particular quality initiative derives from our friends in Japan. The Japanese, especially through their car making and manufacturing operations were the catalyst of many quality ideologies. The first “S” stands for “Seiri” which translated means “Sort”, the second “Seiton” means “Set in order”, the third is “Seiso” which is Japanese for “Shine”, the fourth is “Seiketsu” which is “Standardise” and the fifth and final “S” is “Shitsuke” which means “Sustain”.

The Methodology

The theory behind the 5S concept is to basically manage the work space in an organised way. As with the lean thinking concept, which is intertwined with this business theory, the whole aim is to look at the work flow, improve all the inefficiencies within it, remove all the waste and by keeping the whole working environment neat and tidy, then a safe working space is maintained thus employees feel that the areas in which they spend all of their working days are clean, tidy and good to work in. It’s a way of improving business whilst taking into account the environmental needs of the staff.

In my working environment, we try to keep the working areas clean and bright. In business operations (the area that I have responsibility for) management and staff are encouraged to come up with ideas on how we can improve our work by being a slick organisation. Business has a tendency to put up barriers especially those that will slow a process down. Our job is to challenge those barriers and move forward as quickly as possible. Let's quickly look at each of the 5S’s to briefly review what you should do

Sort – Look at your working environment. Sort the processes out that are key to your business forward. Focus on these to drive improvement.

Set in order – Once the key areas are identified set in place processes and procedures. Every working method has some type of order. Identify and refine it. Use Lean thinking to make whatever you are doing faster.

Shine – Ensure the working environment is pleasant and encourages better working practices by staff.

Standardise – Once you have everything in place make it a day to day, hour to hour routine.

Sustain - Only put in place what you believe can be sustained, There is nothing more de-motivating for personnel than to promote and initially implement what is seen to be a great idea only to find three weeks later you don’t have the time and resources to keep it going.

“The Management”

You have the ideas, you want to implement the 5S concept. The key is to get management buy in. Whether you be an Operations Director or Manager, you will actually need to buy in form probably most departments if you embark on the road of 5S implementation. Aim to get the board on your side, let them communicate the intentions to the staff because half the battle will then be won. Ensure management see the benefits of what you are progressing. Track and monitor all improvements and if you can put some kind of monetary benefit to the company. This is especially important in the current economic climate.

Business Improvement

Once you have the backing of the management team you may wish to engage “quality professionals” to help you guide your company through the changes that will occur, at the same time you will probably get great support from the staff especially if their working conditions are seen to be improving. Maintain a clean working environment, put in place a number of business improvement initiatives and most importantly do not dismiss any ideas that may come about from anyone.


The 5S’s lay the foundation for good working practice and working conditions. It’s the foundation to standardise processes and invoke discipline into the way your business works.

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