Everything You Need to Know About 5S Lean

A comprehensive guide for everything you need to know to start 5S in the workplace

What is 5S?

5S is a systematic way of organizing workplaces by eliminating waste, improving flow, and reducing the number of processes where possible. It applies the five principles: Sort (seiri), Set in order (seiton), Shine (seiso), Standardize (seiketsu), and Sustain (shitsuke). These principles were pioneered by Toyota Motor Company and has improved efficiency in their manufacturing facilities.

5s principles

5s Principles

The History Behind It

5S Lean was developed by Hiroyuki Hirano in post-war Japan, where it was famously utilized by Toyota. By integrating 5S principles into their already famous manufacturing framework dubbed the Toyota Production System or TPS, Toyota gained international prominence as a prolific producer of high-quality motor vehicles.

Largely due to Toyota’s success, companies from a variety of industries have since started integrating 5S practices into their own processes. HP, Boeing, Harley-Davidson, Nike, Caterpillar, and Ford are just a few of these examples that found success with the help of 5S Lean.

Why is It Important in the Workplace?

5S is a launching pad for success in the global economy—when done right. Implementing the 5S system is important in the workplace because it can result in more efficient ways of getting the job done. For example, business processes can flow more efficiently when employees constantly strive to clean and set their workspace in order. Organizations can begin to maximize the benefits of practicing 5S when they recognize the need to be proactive in cutting down wastes in whatever form they may be—wasteful movement, waiting time, or step in the process.

How to Know if Your Company Needs It

5S Lean is helpful to almost any type of operation, regardless of industry. The need to integrate 5S Lean practices, however, depends on how urgently you need to make changes for the good of your business. Here are some signs to look out for to know if you need 5S Lean help ASAP:

You are dissatisfied with your operational efficiency

Whether you feel like you’re not meeting your targets or not operating at maximum capacity, 5S Lean can help identify and eradicate inefficiencies. Using standard work practices, ergonomics, and workplace housekeeping, it will help ensure that you are making the most out of your resources.

Material, manufacturing, and/or operational costs are increasing

Companies that don’t practice 5S Lean cor other similar systems may end up spending more money than necessary due to overproduction and overstocking of materials. In lean construction, effort and time are considered in minimizing waste. 5S Lean is specifically designed to optimize operations and prevent the excess expenditure of company resources.

Lack of consistency in quality and output

Operational inconsistencies in quality and output are directly influenced by workplace ergonomics. Adhering to 5S Lean principles can help businesses improve operations by putting machinery, equipment, tools, and materials in optimal locations for easy access and to reduce physical obstructions. By doing so, the amount of time and energy spent locating resources is kept at a minimum, resulting in the improvement of output and quality.

An increase in customer complaints

Escalating instances of customer complaints is a red flag that businesses can’t afford to ignore. With the most common complaints being about product and service quality, 5S Lean’s workplace-centered approach can help workers focus on consistently delivering on customer expectations.

General Benefits of Implementation

Though a number of successful companies who use 5S are in manufacturing, 5S Lean is versatile enough to benefit just about any type of operation regardless of size and industry. Here are some general business benefits of implementing the 5S Lean methodology:

Waste Reduction

Evident in the name itself, 5S Lean aims to “trim the fat” from business operations so the relevant process and components that remain can operate at maximum capacity.

More specifically, it aims to eliminate the 7 types of waste:

  1. Overproduction
    By gathering sales and demand data, businesses can identify the ideal number of units to produce per production run in order to avoid wasting useful material through overproduction.
  2. Transportation
    This type of waste pertains to the unnecessary steps identified in the process of transporting materials from point A to point B.
  3. Inventory
    Closely tied to overproduction, this waste refers to unused materials and unsold products that are taking up space and possibly costing the business extra on warehousing fees.
  4. Motion
    The motion refers to inefficient movements routinely performed by machines or employees. This may mean recalibrating machines to optimize actions, replacing old machines with new ones, and/or updating SOPs to make employees more efficient.
  5. Waiting
    This is the idle time in between two steps of a process brought about by a failure to synchronize. Ideally, operations should find a way to have independent processes happen simultaneously or “in sync” to maximize work efficiency.
  6. Overprocessing
    This refers to putting unnecessary features and embellishments on products that provide no real value to customers.
  7. Defects
    These are costly errors that demand a significant amount of time and resources to fix. By creating and implementing an SOP based on best practices and utilizing contingencies such as a CAPA Report, businesses can reduce the likelihood of defects and be ready to react with a fix in the event that one does occur.

Improved Productivity

Through the successful reduction of waste, productivity is naturally improved. Purchasing only the necessary equipment, materials, and tools ensures that workers spend less time sorting and setting up, and more time producing. Reviewing old processes and optimizing them for efficiency means you get more work done in less time.

A Safer Workplace

Another side-effect of a “lean” workplace is improved safety. Having a well organized and clutter-free working space lowers the risk of accidents such as slips and trips, toppling or falling objects, and exposure to hazardous materials.

Training and Certification

As simple as 5S principles may seem, the best and most effective way to set your team up for 5S success is through training and certification. While the exact curriculum for 5S training programs may vary, it is important that 5S training succeeds in helping your team understand each of the 5 principles for effective implementation no matter how many organizational changes are made along the way.

What does a 5S training program look like?

Training participants are typically tasked to complete both individual and team activities covering each of the 5 principles. 5S training is best conducted in the individual or team’s place of work as this maximizes efficiency by going through training while actually practicing 5S in your workspace.

Where can I get 5S training and certification?

Like SafetyCulture’s Training, a number of websites offer 5S training materials and certification. 5S training bundles may also include 5S webinars and 5S assessment templates that team leaders and other personnel in-charge can use in order to evaluate the participants’ application of 5S principles in their workspace.

How to Create Your Own Action Plan

Knowing where to start, especially when applying a new framework, can be daunting. Here are some basic steps you can take to start practicing 5S Lean in your business:

  1. Triage issues in operations
    To make your starting point easier to identify, make a list of the current operational issues plaguing your business and list them by the level of urgency. This will help identify aspects that can either be solved or partially remedied through the 5S principles of sorting, setting in order, shining or cleaning, standardizing, and sustaining.
  2. Be aware of available resources
    To maximize the potential benefit to your company, you need to be aware of your available resources for the 5S Lean application. Knowing what you have at your disposal allows you to determine the amount of time, effort, material resources, and people you can afford to commit to 5S practices.
  3. Create a checklist
    After having identified the issues in step 1 and knowing the resources you can work with within step 2, create a checklist to ensure that what can be done is being done. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated and riddled with unnecessary details, either. A simple checklist only needs to include two things: what needs to be done and a yes or no field to indicate completion.
    Aside from helping workers stay more organized, a checklist also motivates them to be more productive. Supervisors and managers also benefit from using checklists because the simple breakdown of tasks boosts their confidence in the delegation.
  4. Proceed with 5S Lean program execution
    The previous steps serve to keep your focus on the end goal, which is to maximize your business potential. The final step focuses on putting your plans into action. As you execute your 5S program, make sure to take note of complications and other factors that you were not able to anticipate during the planning stage. This can help you prepare contingencies for future applications and streamline your transition into a 5S-centric operation.

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A Sample Action Plan

Knowing the basic principles of 5S as discussed above sets you up for Lean success. Having a sample 5S Lean Plan to guide you will help make your first implementation as seamless as possible.

S1: Sort

Action Plan:

Remove machinery, equipment, tools, and materials that are not used at least once a week from all work desks, production floors, and areas of operation. These items should be marked with a tag and moved to a designated area where they will remain for 7 days, at which time personnel can go through the items and reclaim the ones that are still needed in the performance of work.

All unclaimed items at the expiration of the time frame will be disposed of.

Tag Information:

The tag attached to each piece of equipment or item must provide the following information:

  • Name of the item
  • Department that owns it
  • Its intended use/purpose

  • Ensure that everyone has been notified of the practice so no essential machinery, equipment, tools, and materials are disposed of without the department’s approval.
  • Before disposing of the items that had been left unclaimed after 7 days, send an email to the team for final confirmation and approval to dispose of.


S2 – Shine

Action Plan:

Begin by eliminating existing dust, dirt, and debris in all work desks and other areas of operation. Hire a third-party cleaning and maintenance company with good reviews to ensure that proper cleaning procedures are utilized and work equipment and areas are safe from damage. Assign a company supervisor to oversee cleaning procedures and ensure that all equipment, tools, materials, amenities, and storage areas are adequately cleaned and tidy.

Next, identify sources of dust, dirt, and debris and work on minimizing or eradicating them, if possible. For example, if dust accumulates in the office too quickly, have the HVAC filters checked as they may need cleaning or replacement.

Finally, create protocols such as a regular cleaning schedule in order to maintain cleanliness in the workplace.

Items to note:
Aside from maintaining workplace cleanliness, workers are also expected to do the following:

  • Ensure that workspaces are neat and ordered.
  • Immediately report identified causes of dirt, dust, and debris that may have been missed in previous inspections.
  • Use designated covers to protect machinery, equipment, materials, and tools from dust and dirt in between shifts.

  • Check in-house cleaning supplies such as brooms, mops, rags, and cleaning solutions once a week and stock up when necessary.
  • Use a checklist to ensure that standard cleaning practices and schedules are adhered to.


S3 – Set in Order

Action Plan:

Start with identifying the ideal, ergonomic location for specific machinery, equipment, materials, and tools. Some factors to consider would be the distance between two machines that are used in sequence or the distance between the material stock room and the production floor. The objective is to put facilities in their most sensible locations in order to maximize work efficiency.

Next, brainstorm with key stakeholders to figure out if the suggested changes are feasible. Discuss logistics, time and budget constraints, room layouts, etc.

Take pictures of the work area before implementing approved plans and track work improvements to properly measure the impact of changes made.

Items to note:

  • Have a floor map posted by a room’s entrance for easy visual reference.
  • Ensure proper labeling of pipes, hoses, and electrical systems to make repair and maintenance work easier.
  • Mark standard levels in barometers and indicators so anomalies are easily detected.
  • Ensure that hazard warnings and safe work practices are present in necessary containers, areas, and machinery.
  • Mark locations for safety showers and eyewash stations.
  • Ensure that PPEs are present, fully functional, and undamaged.
  • Ensure that updated work instructions are easily accessible in optimal locations.
  • Ensure that quality standards are displayed in optimal locations for easy reference.
  • Post good examples side-by-side with bad examples for easy visual reference.
  • Ensure that all boxes and containers in stock rooms are properly labeled for easy identification.
Use a checklist to evaluate the impact of the changes made after an agreed-upon time frame.


S4 – Standardize

The first three steps of sorting, shining, and setting in order introduce new practices that aim to revitalize a workplace through ergonomics and organization. The fourth step is concerned with taking successful experiments and standardizing them across the business.

Action Plan:

Start by holding a meeting with key stakeholders and assigning personnel to be in charge of standardization across departments and shifts. Ideally, they should be department managers and/or supervisors.

Once S4 Leaders have been established, proceed with the meeting to come up with a protocol as to how the standardization of the new work processes will be implemented. Below are the items to address:

  • Identify work manuals, protocols, job aids, and SOPs that require updating and assign an S4 Leader to spearhead the necessary updates for each.
  • Liaise with the company’s compliance officer to identify legal documentation that needs to be updated to reflect process changes.
  • Create new templates for a scheduled cleaning and sorting activities.
Items to note:

Coordinate with the ISO coordinator or compliance officer to make sure that all updates and changes abide with ISO standards.


After standardization has been implemented, send an email blast to all stakeholders and concerned parties to ensure that everyone is updated on the new standard.


S5 – Sustain

S5 is concerned with maintaining the positive effects generated by S1 to S4. This section will focus on using S5 mainly as an auditing initiative to ensure that the newly imposed standards are being followed consistently.

Action Plan:
Once the new standards have been rolled out and all stakeholders have confirmed receipt of your email, set up a meeting with the 5S committee to come up with an auditing plan to track the positive and any negative impact caused by the recent changes. Below are the items vital to an effective auditing plan:

  • Clearly identify the essential aspects of the operation that will be affected by the recent changes implemented
  • Based on the metrics the 5S committee agrees to monitor, draft an audit checklist that can be used by inspectors to track changes in productivity and efficiency, as well as gather employee feedback regarding the new processes
  • Agree on the frequency of audits to be performed and set schedules for assigned inspectors
Items to note:

  • Established audit schedules must be easily accessible to stakeholders
  • Reward workers who show initiative and dedication to 5S practices
  • Keep an organized database of 5S Lean audit results as a reference for future 5S projects

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Top Industries That Use It

Initially gaining popularity through its usage in improving manufacturing processes, companies outside of the manufacturing industry discovered that the 5S methodology was versatile enough to be used for other types of business operations. Below are some of the top industries that benefit from the 5S methodology.


5S in Manufacturing Industry

5S in Manufacturing Industry

Developed by Sakichi Toyoda in the 70s and integrated into the TPS (Toyota Production System), 5S helped make Toyota one of the top automobile manufacturers in the world. In both their assembly plants and offices, materials used for work are easily accessible and working space is maximized by designating areas for furniture, equipment, and fixtures. Toyota also uses plenty of checklists to ensure that all 5S activities are performed consistently. Due to Toyota’s success, 5S became a standard for manufacturing companies striving to maximize their potential.


5S in Medical Industry

5S in Medical Industry

In hospitals and medical practices, 5S Lean can be used to promote orderliness, ensure proper labeling of medicine and paraphernalia, and improve overall patient safety. The 5S approach also increases the operational efficiency of medical establishments as it makes it easier for employees to perform their work in an optimized and clutter-free environment.


5S in Retail Industry

5S in Retail Industry

5S Lean is a perfect fit for the retail industry since it promotes sorting and organization, two elements that benefit both retail workers and prospective customers. Seiri is applied to sort stocks in the store room so workers can easily find specific items, and it can also be applied to display racks to make sure customers can find what they’re looking for without issue. Seiton is applied by labeling stock and equipment for easy identification and placing them in optimal locations for quick access. Seiso is applied to keep the store and stocks clean and well maintained, while Seiketsu and Shitsuke are applied by implementing standards and protocols via training to ensure that quality is maintained across all branches at all times.


5S in Hospitality Industry

5S in Hospitality Industry

The goals of hotels, restaurants, resorts, and other businesses in the hospitality sector naturally align with 5S principles. The organization, order, cleanliness, and consistency—qualities customers look for in a hospitality setting—are achieved through the 5S methodology. Integrating 5S principles within the culture of hospitality businesses improves operational efficiency, maximizes resources, and increases overall customer satisfaction.

Computers and Technology

5S in Computer Industry

5S in Computer Industry

Hewlett-Packard’s Computer Systems Division uses 5S to make system building more efficient. Having computer parts sorted, properly labeled, and stored in easily accessible areas make manufacturing faster and easier. Additionally, 5S can also be used to streamline work in software. Marking frequently used tools to make them easily accessible saves time and promotes increased productivity, and standardizing work practices can keep employee performance consistent across different offices and shifts.


5S in Education

5S in Education

Schools need to create a pleasant environment conducive to learning in order to be effective. Classrooms benefit from 5S Lean by removing all unnecessary items from the classroom including excess seats, tables, cabinets, and materials, to help students focus. Afterward, setting the remaining furniture and fixtures in order can maximize space and provide sufficient room for all students. Lastly, 5S provides a framework to sustain the optimal learning environment that it sets for each classroom.

General Office Setting

5S in General Office

5S in General Office

Regardless of industry, almost all businesses have an operations center that takes care of the business function from behind the scenes. Offices that do not practice 5S Lean or a similar methodology often have cluttered desks and storage rooms, as well as untidy work areas, materials, and equipment. This kind of work environment hurts productivity, and unintentionally promotes wasteful use of resources. Removing unnecessary items and applying 5s in the workplace can boost efficiency and even bring down operational costs.

Implementing 5s in other aspects of the workplace such as product management, project planning, or quality control, among others, also helps ensure that the processes included in them are organized and set up for success.

FAQs About 5s Lean

The pillars or principles of 5s Lean are Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. These five pillars represent a specific set of actions, which, when utilized and implemented harmoniously together, is proven to reduce waste and improve productivity, therefore increasing operational efficiency.

While both the 5s and Six Sigma methodologies can be used to improve efficiency and reduce waste, the main difference between the two is their approach and focus. 5S emphasizes optimizing the work environment, while Six Sigma focuses on identifying and eliminating defects and errors in processes through statistical analysis using tools such as Control charts, Pareto charts, and Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), among others. 

While 5S Lean focuses specifically on workplace organization and standardization, Kaizen is an approach to overall process improvement. To elaborate, 5s Lean provides a framework for creating a clean and organized workplace, while Kaizen provides a methodology for continuous improvement beyond just workplace organization.

Some of the main industries that use and benefit from enforcing 5s Lean are the manufacturing industry, medical, retail, hospitality, technology, and education. Generally, though, any industry that values efficiency, productivity, and quality can benefit from applying this methodology.

5s in the workplace is a cyclical methodology that focuses on improving efficiency, safety, and quality through organizing and maintaining a clean work environment. 5s stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain.

Everyone, from employees and leaders, up to the top management should practice 5s to maximize its benefits. 5s aims to create a culture of continuous improvement and efficiency, and this can only be achieved when all members of the team are on board.

Jona Tarlengco
Article by
Jona Tarlengco
Jona Tarlengco is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2018. She usually writes about safety and quality topics, contributing to the creation of well-researched articles. Her 5-year experience in one of the world’s leading business news organisations helps enrich the quality of the information in her work.