Ask GembaThe 5S

The Correct Sequence for Doing 5S?

By Jon Miller Updated on May 16th, 2017

Harish was reading the archives and asked a question:

Traditionally (Hirano or Ohno’s Work Place Management) 5S is in a specific order – Sort, Set (Straighten), Shine (Spic & Span), Standardize and Sustain (if needed). I have seen a few books and even a DVD (5S Garage) where the order was altered to Sort, Shine, Set, Standardize and Sustain. Any comments on this? Which makes more sense? Why would people alter the order and still call it 5S instead of My Version of 5S?

If you are new to 5S there are a few articles on 5S here offering tips and explanations. There are several questions here in fact:
Which sequence makes more sense for doing 5S?
The genesis of 5S was simply “seiri seiton” or “clean and tidy” if you like. These banners can still be seen in many Japanese factories. This is 2S: sort and straighten. Sorting (S1) comes before straightening (S2) because it would be a waste to neatly arrange and organize items first, and then throw out those items you don’t need (sorting). First you throw out what you don’t need, and then tidy what remains.
The 3rd S is typically sweeping or cleaning, some may call it scrubbing. Because you are removing grime and filth, it makes sense to do this 3rd, only after you have sorted or removed things you don’t need from the workplace. It would be a waste to do S3 before S1 and wipe clean something that you do not need and will throw out.
The 4th S is originally sanitize or spic & span, meaning cleanliness and hygiene. Many call this standardize today. Standardization is important but is not part of the original 5S. Whether you standardize or sanitize, it only makes sense to do this after a good scrubbing has taken place during S3.
Some stop at 4S and say that the 5th S of sustain or self-discipline is implied. Some say the 5th S is most important and that without it the rest of 5S does not work. Self-discipline an sustain are not really activities that one can do as part of 5S, they are habits or perpetuation of the other 4S so both ways of looking at it are correct. 5S is not “done” but it is ongoing, so as long as you are doing it the 5th S is implied. In cultures or workplaces where the idea of discipline needs to be made an explicit expectation, perhaps it ought to be included.
Many add the 6th S of safety. Safety deserves its own focus and should certainly not come at the end of the 5S. Safety first, so if anything it is the first S or the on S that must be built into all other 4S or 5S.
Why would people alter the order of the 5S?
It could be a misunderstanding of meaning of the word, or of the intent of the activity.
Arguably, the first 3S words all broadly mean “clean up and tidy up” so as meaning is lost in translation or choice of words people are tempted to shuffle them around as makes sense to them.
Last month when in Japan a retired Toyota executive advised our study mission group that companies starting out in lean should focus on the S1 and S3 only – just get rid of what you don’t need and make the place spotless. Get the basics right, don’t get fancy. Most of us can’t do 5S properly but we never stop to say “then I’ll just do 1S really well.”
Why don’t people call it something other than 5S if they change the order?
Some do. A furniture company we work with call it 3S. Toyota calls it 4S in many places. A white goods company we work with call it 6S.
It is ironic though that people who include STANDARDIZE as part of the 5S would choose to rearrange the sequence of doing 5S…

  1. Harish

    January 30, 2009 - 4:32 am

    Dear Mr. Miller,
    I remember reading in one of your older posts: The goal of 5S is not “neat and clean” but “make waste visible”. Very wise words.
    Thank you so much for taking time to answer my question. I did contact the authors because I was curious as to why the order was changed and the answer I got from one of them was that it made more sense to clean before straightening in that particular situation (a garage). The other answer I got was “They are basically made up words to begin with and then when they get translated while remaining “S” words there are many different versions….. Anyway you slice, you still need to follow that basic sequence.”
    Thank you,

  2. Mats

    January 30, 2009 - 4:45 am

    Interesting. My personal experience is that the “standardizing” thinking starts at the first level, “sorting”. 4S is a process. Start with the need and don´t overdo it. Overdoing 4S is waste. I agree totally that sustaining is a habit. It is also a indicator of the lean maturity.
    Thanks Jon for your great blogg!

  3. thomas

    January 30, 2009 - 7:21 am

    I work for Barry wehmiller UK ad we call it 7s adding safety and satisfaction as satisfaction of are employees is a key part in sustaining a tidy happy and safe working environment

  4. Jon Miller

    January 30, 2009 - 8:35 am

    Hi Harish,
    You are correct. The intent of 5S is to make waste visible. I was just pointing out that the original words “seiri seiton” literally mean something like “neat and clean.”

  5. Dave

    January 30, 2009 - 1:22 pm

    We teach the 5S’s in the standard order, Sort, Store, Shine, Standardize, Sustain, but in practice the “shine” usually comes right after the “sort”. We like to empty an area, clean the heck out of it, then set only the needed items back in.

  6. Chris Nicholls

    January 31, 2009 - 1:24 pm

    Hi Jon
    Thanks Harish for posing a great question, I believe there must be a logical sequence to what has commonly become 5S. However when I started out with this organisation we had only 3S, the first three in the sequence described by Jon. The point of 5S for me is to easily and quickly see abmormal conditions and manage them immeadiately. Unless the workplace is clean,tidy and standardised you can’t begin to manage or improve it. A number of organisations have added more S’s to the list. I have come accross up to 7S’s. My opinion is simple is best so the first 3S’s are the key and these are the one’s on which to focus your efforts to the greatest effect.
    Best Regards

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