How your Business can Benefit from 5S Principles

Whenever I’ve come across an article or examples of where 5S principles have been applied, there’s almost always two images displayed depicting a “before” and “after” image of a typical section of an office, warehouse, factory or piece of a machinery. Invariably, the “before” picture shows a grimy, dirty state of affairs and the “after “ picture as if by some bit of magic shows the same item now cleaned and looking bright and shiny. This is NOT 5S!  The problem with this portrayal is it only demonstrates one aspect of the 5S – the cleaning.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is 5S? Very simply, this is a way of working (a methodology) used initially to organise workplaces to be more efficient and streamlined thereby consistently striving for more outputs, lower costs and less waste. So in essence, as this is what Continuous Improvement is mostly about, 5S is one of the commonly used Continuous Improvement tools.

5S is widely believed to have originated or least initially widely used in Japan and the term 5S is derived from 5 Japanese words-  seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke which loosely translated into English stand for: sort, simplify, shine, standardise and sustain.

The principle activities taking place at each of the stages are  :

Sort –  All unnecessary items, parts, files, supplies are removed from the area

Simplify – (or Set in Order) – A place is created for everything and everything is stored in its place

Shine – (Sweep) – Clean up the area

Standardise – Apply the same standard throughout (to other similar areas)

Sustain – Maintain the new standard and avoid slipping back to old habits

The recommended way to adopt and live 5S should be to approach it as a journey rather than a destination.  Once you reach the standardise stage, it can be quite easy for standards to slip back to old ways, hence the sustaining stage should go on for as long as necessary up until it has been embedded as part of a new culture.

finger touching gold buttonAt SmallBizKaizen , we have a few practical recommendations to make 5S a key part of your Continuous Improvement machinery, regardless of the type of business you are in.

  1. Prioritise conducting 5S in workplaces where the efficiency improvement would benefit the business most, especially where there is a customer impact or interface. For example it’s more essential to do a 5S in the order processing office rather than the staff coffee making machine area.
  2. Stating the overall intention and anticipated benefits will add weight to every 5S initiative. Consider linking it to some tangible benefit such as: By conducting 5S we aim to reduce our customer waiting time from the current 10 minutes to about 5 minutes.
  3. Create a team building atmosphere and conduct 5S in teams rather than as individuals. This allows a common approach, making the standardisation stage more representative and giving it a greater chance to succeed.
  4. There’s normally no need to go out of your way and spend loads of money on 5S. Basic discipline and common sense is mostly what is required.
  5. 5S principles go beyond the office, consider using the 5S in today’s increasingly information technology driven environments for the efficient storage, protection retrieval and maintenance of data and files.

Watch the short video to see our tips on how you can apply 5S on your computer or hard disk drive as from today.

Lastly, if you’ve got a 5S success story to share, we’d love hear your it so do leave a comment or two.

Image used in the gallery :

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

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