5S: Japanese concept of workplace improvement

What is 5S Concept?

Simply put, 5S is a method/Japanese concept for organizing a workplace, especially a shared workplace (like a shop floor or an office space). It’s sometimes referred to as a housekeeping methodology, however this characterization can be misleading because organizing a workplace goes beyond housekeeping (see discussion of “Seiton” below).

The key targets of 5S concept are workplace morale and efficiency. The assertion of 5S is, by assigning everything a location, time is not wasted by looking for things. Additionally, it is quickly obvious when something is missing from its designated location. 5S advocates believe the benefits of this methodology come from deciding what should be kept, where it should be kept, and how it should be stored. This decision making process should lead to a dialog which can build a clear understanding, between employees, of how work should be done. It also instills ownership of the process in each employee.

In addition to the above, another key distinction between 5S concept and “standardized cleanup” is Seiton. Seiton is often misunderstood, perhaps due to efforts to translate into an English word beginning with “S” (such as “sort” or “straighten”). The key concept here is to order items or activities in a manner to promote work flow. For example, tools should be kept at the point of use, workers should not have to repetitively bend to access materials, flow paths can be altered to improve efficiency, etc.

The 5S’s are:

  • Seiri (整理): Separating. Refers to the practice of going through all the tools, materials, etc., in the work area and keeping only essential items. Everything else is stored or discarded. This leads to fewer hazards and less clutter to interfere with productive work.
  • Seiton (整頓): Sorting. Focuses on the need for an orderly workplace. “Orderly” in this sense means arranging the tools and equipment in an order that promotes work flow. Tools and equipment should be kept where they will be used, and the process should be ordered in a manner that eliminates extra motion.
  • Seisō (清掃): Shine. Indicates the need to keep the workplace clean as well as neat. Cleaning in Japanese companies is a daily activity. At the end of each shift, the work area is cleaned up and everything is restored to its place. The key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work – not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.
  • Seiketsu (清潔): Standardizing. This refers to standardized work practices. It refers to more than standardized cleanliness (otherwise this would mean essentially the same as “systemized cleanliness”). This means operating in a consistent and standardized fashion. Everyone knows exactly what his or her responsibilities are.
  • Shitsuke (躾): Sustaining. Refers to maintaining standards. Once the previous 4S’s have been established they become the new way to operate. Maintain the focus on this new way of operating, and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways of operating.

Translations and modifications

Often in the west, alternative terms are used for the five S’s. These are “Sort, Straighten, Shine, Systemize and Sustain”. “Standardize” is also used as an alternative for “Systemize”. Sometimes “Safety” is included as 6th S. Similarly 5Cs aim at same goal but without the strength of maintaining the 5S name.

  • Clearout and Classify
    • Clearing items no longer required
    • Tagging items that may be required and storing away from workplace
  • Configure
    • A specific place for specific items
    • “ A place for everything & everything in its place”
  • Clean and check
    • Identify cleaning zones, establish cleaning routines
  • Conformity
    • Consolidate the previous 3C’s by standardizing the new process and use of ‘Visual Management’
  • Custom and practice
    • Monitor process adherence
    • Continually validate process
    • Make further improvements using the PDCA cycle, otherwise known as the Deming cycle

Alternative acronyms have also been introduced, such as CANDO (Cleanup, Arranging, Neatness, Discipline, and Ongoing improvement). Even though he refers to the ensemble practice as “5S” in his canonical work, Hirano prefers the terms Organization, Orderliness, Cleanliness, Standardized Cleanup, and Discipline because they are better translations than the alliterative approximations. In the book, there is a photo of a Japanese sign that shows the Latin “5S” mixed with Kanji.

Additional practices are frequently added to 5S concept, under such headings as 5S Plus, 6S, 5S+2S, 7S, etc. The most common additional S is for Safety mentioned above, and James Leflar writes that Agilent adds Security as the seventh (7th) S. Purists insist that the other concepts be left out to maintain simplicity and because Safety, for example, is a side-benefit to disciplined housekeeping.

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