The 5S system allows keeping order and organizing workspaces for greater efficiency. It is mostly used in manufacturing facilities, where the employees use many tools. The method is very universal and it can be used successfully by different industries and branches even the offices and service providers. The main aim of the 5S lean method is the prevention of waste. Waste means different things at different workplaces, but the effect of waste reduction should be the same. The method of the 5S system increases the effectiveness of employees and brings better work results. The 5S method is directly connected to Lean Management and is perceived as one of the key methods used for proper organization of the work environment.

What is the 5S system? – table of contents:

  1. What the abbreviation 5S means?
  2. Sort
  3. Set in order
  4. Shine
  5. Standardize
  6. Sustain
  7. Benefits of the 5S system 

What the abbreviation 5S means?

The 5S system was used in Japan for decades but it has gained popularity at the beginning of the 80s in the 20th century. It was spread by Takashi Osada. The name of the system comes from the five activities, that create an efficient workplace when they are performed consecutively. The initial name of the system was coined in Japanese and later translated into English. It has the following elements:

  • Seiri – sort
  • Seiton – set in order
  • Seiso – shine 
  • Seiketsu – standardize
  • Shitsuke – sustain

It is very important to perform all the steps of the system in a certain order. Each stage is directly linked with the next and they create a certain type of process. During the selection, we make the space ready for setting tools in order, we remove all tools that are not necessary. The next step is shining – cleaning the chosen working space. After all three steps, there is a moment of standardization of the processes to show everyone how to perform all the steps. The next step sustainability means that the whole procedure has to be repeatable.


The first stage is the removal of all not necessary elements from the workstation. The main factor in selection is the usefulness of the object. In some cases, at this stage, additional space for the temporary storage of tools that are not classified and may be useful has to be created. Such tools have to be signed with a special label and kept for a certain time. If after a preset time those objects will not be used, they have to be removed from the working area. Only useful, necessary tools have to be kept at the workplace.

What to do with tools that were classified as useless?

Some of the tools that during the selection are classified as not needed have to be removed from the workplace, but they don’t have to be thrown away. Some of the objects should be kept in different localization, while identification of the right place for those objects may be difficult. The best way to deal with this problem is the 5 red labels method. A label has to be attached to the object with the information about the place, where the object was found. All the objects with the red labels attached should be stored in one, preset location that will serve as a waiting area.

What to do with objects left in the waiting area?

The popular approach prescribes leaving the object with the red label for 30 days in the waiting area. After such time, if the object stays unused, we may assume it is not needed in this primary work location and is expandable. At this moment, there is a need to consider if there may be a need for the object in the future, if the answer is yes, the object should be stored and kept in the storage. Otherwise, it should be sold, recycled, or thrown away. The nonessential objects should not be kept “just in case” because it leads to chaos.

What is the benefit of sorting?

The main benefit of sorting is the elimination of problems related to excessive accumulation of unnecessary objects at the workplace. The problems seem to be not essential, but it is the main reason for time and resource waste in companies. An excessive amount of tools kept in the working space makes finding necessary tools more difficult, it elongates the time needed for the task and increases costs for the company.

What is the 5S system?

Set in order

This step is about finding the right place for each object left in the working area. The most important is to make each tool available in such quantity that is necessary for a given time. All needed elements should be accessible within easy reach. Locations of the object should be well, visibly marked. Thanks to this even the person that normally doesn’t work in this particular work area will be able to clean the space easily. Clarity should be the main rule in organizing the allocation of tools’ places.

To reach full clarity different types of visual markings are being used. Those markings allow quick identification of the place, where the object is stored. Accordingly to the type of company those may be labels, fields, colors, or symbols. The simpler the system the better. In manufacturing facilities, tables of shades are used frequently. This method requires making visible traces of the tools on the special table. Thanks to this method putting things back don’t take much time and may be done reflexively.

What are the benefits of setting things in order?

Setting items in order help quick elimination of waste in the company. There are many types of waste such as:

  • Unnecessary movements needed during searching for tools
  • Lack of health and safety caused by chaos in the workspace
  • Mistakes and errors


After the clearance of the space from unnecessary elements and finding them the right locations to store there is a time for shining of the space. In the third step, we aim to set a standard for cleaning the new working space. At this stage, it is necessary to allocate the cleaning area to the given workspace. The shining of the working area will become a part of the everyday duties of the employee at a given position. From now on shining of the working area will be performed directly by this allocated employee.

The shining stage allows checking if all previous steps were made properly. In the 5S approach, shining means keeping up the cleanliness not cleaning from scratch. Problems with cleanliness should be researched to assess what might be the reason for them – the employee or bad implementation of the 5S approach.

Why each employee should clean his workplace personally?

Assigning the cleaning area to each employee has a deeper meaning. Everyday cleaning of the workplace allows us to know it better. It is possible to discover problems with the equipment and tools during cleaning. This gives hope for faster repair.

To encourage employees to take care of their workstation we may give them new tools. We take care of new things more eagerly, additionally, such step helps to generate a sense of place ownership.


Standardization connects all the steps of the 5S method into a steady process. During the standardization step, the whole activity has to be described in detail and adjusted to certain standards. Clear and transparent instructions have to be created at this step, such instructions should help to perform all the tasks with great detail. The instruction should contain the scope of duties of each employee as well. Thanks to well-written instructions the employee should be able to take over the workstation and make his way.

What is the 5S system?


Going through all the steps gives a lot of satisfaction to the employees. The effects are clearly and quickly visible since the place is clean and orderly. Without self-discipline, some bad habits may appear again. This element is particularly important because the development of new, good habits takes time. At this moment it is particularly important to make the employees aware that the 5S system is not a singular action, but a method that has a sense only when seen as a process.

Tools to support self-discipline

The last stage of the process is the most difficult to reach because it prescribes a change in the organizational culture of the company. Each employee has to change as well. IT is particularly important to use supportive tools to increase and strengthen the discipline. The most frequently used tool is the audit of the workplace. Audit done regularly allows quick finding of irregularities and problems. All irregularities can be eliminated fast.

To support self-discipline other methods are used as well:

  • Visual representation of work stations that show the space before and after the introduction of the 5S system
  • Visiting other departments to make comparisons
  • Support provided by managerial staff
  • Assessment of productivity, the result table

The 5S system is a process therefore after the last step we should go again to the first one. We need to remember that rules and regulations once settled may change over time. Constant development and constant improvement are the basis of Lean Management.

Benefits of the 5S system

Surely each company will get different benefits from the implementation of the 5S system. Similarly, the reasons for the introduction of the 5S system are different for every organization. But some benefits are everywhere the same and those are:

  • Better organization of workspaces
  • Better use of time by the employees
  • Increase security standards
  • Better identification of employees within the company 
  • Increase of quality of products (services)
  • Reduction in waste
  • Boost employees’ creativity


The 5S is a tool that brings many benefits not only for the company but for the employee as well. This method allows for an increase in the stability of the work and changes the atmosphere at the workplace. Employees may concentrate on their duties instead of caring for organizational problems that hamper their efforts. The 5S system may be seen as a great opportunity for the company to improve processes without using many resources. The most important is the motivation and engagement of all employees.

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Author: Caroline Becker

As a Project Manager, Caroline is an expert in finding new methods to design the best workflows and optimize processes. Her organizational skills and ability to work under time pressure make her the best person to turn complicated projects into reality.