What do the 5 S’s stand for?

5S is a popular methodology that is focused on eliminating waste and improving organization. It is typically applied to workplace environments, especially manufacturing, warehousing, other related industries. It can be used in just about any field, or even in one’s personal life. The methodology gets its name from the fact that its 5 main concepts are all based around words that start with the letter “S.”

What does 5S stand for? 

The concept originated in Japan, so the actual words are in Japanese, but it has been translated into English, and has kept the 5S’s in place. The following are what each of the S’s stands for, and why it is important for any business.


Sort (Seiri) 

Sort, which is from the Japanese word ‘Seiri,’ is the first step in the 5S process. The purpose of this step is to make sure that every item in the facility has a place where it belongs. This will help ensure nothing is lost, and will also reduce the amount of time that is wasted looking for things that aren’t put back where they should go. Having a facility that is sorted properly also reduces the expenses associated with replacing tools and inventory that are either lost or stolen because they aren’t properly kept track of.

Set in Order or Simplify (Seiton)

Set in Order, also called simplify, comes from the Japanese term Seiton. This means that everything in the facility should be placed in the optimal location for its use. This step is also used to help ensure inventory is used in the right order by following the first-in-first-out strategy. Creating a smooth and efficient workflow will reduce the amount of time it takes to create products.

Shine (Seiso)

Shine, which comes from the Japanese word Seiso, is where the facility is kept clean. A clean work area will allow things to get done more efficiently, and will also help machinery and tools to last longer since they will be properly cleaned and maintained. By properly maintaining machinery with steps such as changing lubricants and other fluids, washing work areas down, and more, it will last longer and cause fewer defects.

Standardize (Seiketsu)

The standardize step comes from the Japanese term Seiketsu. Standardizing processes in a facility will not only reduce the amount of time things take by using only optimized processes, but will also reduce defects. When tasks are completed the same way every time, there is reduced room for change, which is where most problems occur.

Sustain (Shitsuke)

None of the steps listed above will do much good if they aren’t done over a long period of time. This is why the last S is for sustain, or Shitsuke in Japanese. Facilities must have procedures in place to ensure all the positive efforts that are put in place are continued long into the future. This will require support from upper management, and work from employees at all levels, but in the end it will help ensure the facility can reap the benefits of the 5S permanently.

Additional 5S facts:

  • 5S is a methodology that aims to create a workplace that is clean, uncluttered, safe, and well organized to help reduce waste and optimize productivity. It is based on five Japanese terms that start with the letter S: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. Source: https://asq.org/quality-resources/lean/five-s-tutorial
  • The English translation of the five S’s are sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. Some lean practitioners add a sixth S for safety: establish and practice safety procedures in the workshop and office. Source: https://www.lean.org/lexicon-terms/five-s/
  • The purpose of 5S is to create a visual workplace that is self-explaining, self-ordering, and self-improving. It also helps to build a disciplined workplace where teams focus on value-creating work and nurture a sense of shared purpose. Source: https://www.epa.gov/sustainability/lean-thinking-and-methods-5s
  • 5S can be applied to any work area, whether it is a factory floor, an office desk, or a hospital ward. The benefits of 5S include improved safety, higher equipment availability, lower defect rates, reduced costs, increased production agility and flexibility, improved employee morale, better asset utilization, and enhanced enterprise image. Source: https://asq.org/quality-resources/lean/five-s-tutorial
  • 5S is not a one-time housecleaning activity, but a systematic and organic approach to lean production. It requires regular audits and checks to ensure that the standards are maintained and improved. 5S is also not a stand-alone program, but a part of a larger lean transformation that involves continuous improvement and customer focus. Source: https://www.lean.org/lexicon-terms/five-s/

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