What is the 5S methodology?

The 5S methodology is a process by which companies can improve efficiency, eliminate waste, improve safety, and benefit the bottom line. It has been used since the 1970s in essentially its current form, though many of its strategies go back throughout human history. Despite the fact that this is one of the best-known business improvement strategies around today, most people really couldn’t give a good succinct answer concerning what the 5S methodology actually is.

At its core, the 5S methodology is a process that is designed to help create and maintain a better organized, safer, cleaner, and more efficient workplace. It can be used on its own, or incorporated into other strategies such as Six Sigma, Lean, and more.

The 5 S’s

The name 5S comes from the fact that there are five steps in the methodology, each of which start with an S. The names originally came from Japanese terms but have since been translated into English. These S’s are:

  • Sort (Seiri) – In any area where 5S is being used it is necessary to identify all essential items and remove any non-essential items. Anything that is not directly needed in the area should be moved to either where it is needed, stored in a storage area, or removed from the facility.
  • Straighten (Seiton) – Once only essential items are left in an area, they need to each be assigned a place. This should be done in such a way as to make each item as readily available when it is needed as possible.
  • Shine (Seiso) – The area should be kept as clean as possible at all times. In addition to simply cleaning, this step also applies to performing standard maintenance such as changing lubricants.
  • Standardize (Seiketsu) – All processes that are followed in an area should be standardized so that everyone will do them the same way every time. This elimination of variation will help to cut back on the risk of defects and reduce the amount of time each task takes.
  • Sustain (Shisuke) – Sustaining the improvements made in the previous four steps requires careful planning and attention.

A growing number of people are adding a sixth S into this system. The sixth S stands for safety. Improving safety in an area has obvious benefits to the employees, but also cuts down on work stoppages and potential damage or defects. When safety is added in as its own section, the 5S methodology turns into 6S.

Cyclic Strategy

One of the things that really makes this strategy great is that it is circular in how it runs. After going through each step in the 5S strategy, a company will simply restart at the beginning with a new issue. It is also possible to begin multiple 5S improvement projects at a time if there are enough teams available to properly implement additional changes.


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