The 5S

Top 10 Success Factors for 5S

By Jon Miller Updated on January 5th, 2021

We took a quick poll during a training class for Lean facilitators on their common experiences with barriers and struggles in sustaining 5S efforts as part of a Lean implementation. The top 10 success factors for 5S that we agreed on can be grouped as below:

A Purpose for 5S

1. Make a clear link between 5S and the elimination of waste

This may seem obvious, but because it’s intuitive for people with shallow understanding of Lean to see the benefit of cleaning for the sake of looking good, 5S can lose its link with improvement through waste elimination. Show how 5S helps eliminate each of the 7 types of waste.

2. Explicitly identify how 5S supports other Lean systems

It’s clear that 5S is an fundamental aspect of visual management and making problems and abnormalities (waste) immediately visible. Built in quality also relies heavily on 5S, as does workplace safety. Continuous flow is enabled directly by TPM and SMED, which are built on strong 5S discipline.

3. Show how 5S saves

Clients have found various supplies, raw materials, machines, space and other resources as a result of sorting activity, enabling them to not buy things or invest in assets while these “5S-ed” items are consumed. Because 5S supports waste elimination, direct profits may be hard to attribute to a specific 5S “before & after” example, but this is easier when 5S is part of a kaizen effort to balance workloads and free up people, reduce changeover time and reduce inventory, or open up space and stop paying for storage space.

5S & People

4. Lead by example

Nobody who is teaching 5S should shirk it. If you can’t find personal purpose for doing 5S, how can you expect others to find it? Maintain personal 5S for a few months, and then teach through your own personal testimonial of resistance, barriers and struggle to sustain. Don’t be that chain-smoking doctor who warns others of the harms of tar intake.

5. Make 5S mandatory

“Should 5S be a requirement?” is a common question. Should safety and quality be mandatory? What about coming to work on time? What about following established work standards? What about the use of foul language in the workplace? To some degree, it’s up to each employer and manager to draw this line, and whether or not maintaining excellent 5S is considered a job requirement says a lot about leadership.

6. Motivate and reward excellence in 5S

And do it just as you would reward excellence in any endeavor. There is debate on whether people should pay for kaizen ideas that come from participation in suggestion programs. Why not pay people to do the “manager’s job” of thinking creatively and solving problems? Or do we just want the managers to make the big bucks and solve all of our problems? People should be motivated first through intrinsic (non material or monetary reward) through praise and recognition, and then through extrinsic (tangible) rewards.

The 5S Process

7. Clean as you go

Sorting through that 5-foot tall filing cabinet full of documents from who-knows-when is definitely not on the top of anyone’s list. Every time you open the drawer to add or retrieve a file, take something out that is questionable and refile (set in the right place) red tag or throw it away (sort). This makes 5S relatively easy. Some factories clean up for 15 minutes at the end of the day. How about for 5 minutes, three times per day? How often do hospitals and restaurants clean dirty surfaces?

8. Go see

Audit the 5S using score sheets, and give constructive feedback where 5S scores are low. Ask the “5 why” questions and offer support. Make it easy to do 5S.

9. Spend most of your 5S effort on follow up and continuation.

Keep in place the gains you have made, and learn what it takes to do this. It’s better to have a rock solid foundation and excellent 5S in one area than to have great 5S all across the factory, which won’t sustain for 2 months.

5S for the Planet

10. You gotta love planet Earth for providing pretty darn close to everything we need

Yet I’ve disrespected our life-sustaining ecosystem by purchasing too many post-its and keeping them buried in various parts of my traveling bag of Lean tricks. Multiply this time the actions of dozens of consultants over the years at Gemba Academy and we have an oversupply in our office. We humbly apologize. If every person who over-consumes due to a poorly developed sense of what is enough, or a lack of 5S discipline could just sort, straighten and sustain, we would have a few more trees cleaning our air and housing our birds.

Just as Frank Sinatra sang in New York, New York “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere”, it’s true that if you can do 5S right, you can do the rest of Lean right (with a bit of education in the subject matter) by following the guidelines above. And unlike not making it in New York, the converse (if you can’t…) is true about 5S and Lean manufacturing, Lean office, or Lean healthcare.

  1. Adam L Bowden

    October 1, 2007 - 10:12 am

    Gota agree with you – that’s pretty much how I see it also.

  2. Santosh Gonsalves

    June 26, 2008 - 7:19 am

    I like the concept – 5S for our planet. I think that’s the most important of it all. We often ignore our environment in our quest for achieving excellence. We need to also give the environment a thought.

  3. Paul Williams

    March 8, 2009 - 3:29 am

    Refreshing to read a well rounded write up about 5S. But as a lean consultant point 4 really drives it home as far as implementing the methodology is concerned. Far too many of my fellow colleagues adopt the “do as I say and not as I do” mentality and their programmes regularly run into problem. They forget that body language speaks volumes!

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