Is 5S different from kaizen?

There are many different strategies and methodologies used to improve businesses in the world today. A surprising number of them were developed in Japan, and have ‘interesting’ sounding Japanese names, which can get confusing. 5S (where each S is a Japanese word) and Kaizen, for example, both come from Japan, and are both focused on helping to improve how a facility operates. They have a lot in common, which makes many people think that they are actually the same.

In reality, however, these two methodologies are quite different. A company should choose which of these two systems is right for them, or even implement them side by side. In order to do this, however, it is necessary to understand how 5S is different from Kaizen.

Major Differences

There are a few significant differences in how each of these systems should be used. The following is a brief overview or recap of some of the distinct features of 5S and Kaizen, and what sets them apart:

  • Process Improvement – While 5S can certainly influence processes within a facility, that is not the main focus. With Kaizen, however, the focus is specifically on identifying process improvement areas, and standardizing the processes across different shifts and areas within the company.
  • Workplace Organization – Implementing Kaizen is much easier and more effective when a workplace is very organized, but that is not the point of Kaizen. Instead, 5S is focused on workplace organization by ensuring all products are properly organized, everything has a place, everything is well maintained, and more.
  • Length of Activity – Another difference is that Kaizen efforts are usually shorter-term projects that are done once to set a new process. Everything with 5S, however, needs to be sustained over the long term. In fact, the fifth S in 5S stands for sustain (in English).

A company that follows both the 5S and Kaizen standards will find that over time, they are going to see significant improvement in many areas. In fact, some facilities will hold a Kaizen improvement event that is focused on one of the 5 S’s. This type of overlap, or complementarity, is very helpful for ensuring a successful implementation of either of these two systems.


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