Lean 5S Definition

bizfluent article image

バランスウェイト image by white bird from Fotolia.com

The lean method approach uses 5S to provide workplace organization and housekeeping. The term, 5S, derives from a list of five Japanese words---seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke. Translated, these words mean proper arrangement (seiri), orderliness (seiton), cleanliness (seiso), cleaned up (seiketsu) and discipline (shitsuke). Lean practices, interpret these words into the 5S method. The 5S’s are performed in this order:


Remove all items not needed to perform the actual duties required from the work area. This does not mean these items are thrown away; chances are, somewhere in the company, the items may be needed. Tag any unnecessary items with information, such as: who found it, date, where it was found, reason for not being used, product disposition, quantity, value and a general category of usage (e.g., office, tool, raw material, finished item). In lean, this process of tagging is known as 5S Red Tag. Place Red Tag items in a designated area for others to acquire in case the item is needed in their work cells.


Arrange the area so items are easily accessible by the user. Designate a place for storage, label everything, and outline the position of all items within the storage area. Everything needed to complete a job should be located within an operators defined work cell. The object is to make sure you never need to leave an area for an item to perform a task.


Clean the space. In lean 5S, this is a “top down” method. Start with the ceiling and work down to the floor; wipe down everything in the area. This may involve painting walls, polishing equipment and washing floors.


After the first three steps are complete, make a schedule to maintain these steps. This is a detailed schedule of duties, for example: sweep area every day, sort all items one time per week, check labels every two weeks, paint one time every 3 months, etc.


Sustaining 5S becomes an organizational way of life when practiced daily. Implement the 5S initiative over time so that it becomes routine.

Getting Started

Understanding 5S methods and knowing what they represent seem simplistic; however, initial implementation can be challenging. Prepare a plan for adopting the 5S methods before instituting. Provide education and conduct team-building practices for the entire organization. Direct training sessions on the 5S process and communicate how this method will improve production, control costs and provide a better work environment.

Pull senior executives from all departments and develop teams for each area with employees from the floor up to middle management. First, implement 5S in the pilot areas collectively identified by the team. Select employees who outperform their peers day-to-day to lead the change to 5S methods within these pilot areas. These overachievers have a desire to be successful and outperform given goals and will create a positive attitude about the changes. Define best practices based on work in the pilot areas and create a comprehensive plan to administer 5S throughout the organization.

Keep It Going

Lean practices are about seeking improvement through continued change. Evaluate often and make adjustments.