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5S System: The lean way to workplace organization for maximum efficiency

5S System - The lean production
Blaz Kos
Author
Date
25/09/2020

The 5S system is an important part of the Toyota Production System, which provides us with a way to organize and maintain a workplace in order to achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness. 5S stands for five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.

If we translate them into English, we get:

The concept is simple and effective and can provide a ton of value to your organization, namely to organize your workplace better. So now let’s do a deep dive into all five. In the second part of the article you can also find several ideas how to use the 5S system to become more productive in your personal life.


Sort (seiri) – remove all the unnecessary items from the workplace

The sort part of the formula states that you should sort or separate useful stuff from waste in the office, following which all waste should be removed. 

The sort process includes:

  • Eliminating every obstacle in the office
  • Removing or reducing anything that could disturb the workflow
  • Removing all items that aren’t in use
  • Implementing measurements to prevent accumulation of clutter

Sorting also includes eliminating all unused machinery, unnecessary tools, paper documents, and even instructions and rules. 

Besides that, you must regularly make sure that these recommendations are followed, since clutter tends to pile up at the moment you stop paying attention to it.

When performing seiri and separating waste from value, you can help yourself with the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of this machinery, tool, or other equipment?
  • Who are the employees that use it?
  • How frequently do they use it?
  • What was the last time it was used?

 By sorting things properly, you achieve the following goals:

  • Increase the amount of useful space
  • Keep desks, working floor, and other surfaces clean
  • Improve the safety of your workspace
  • Improve the looks and presentation of your workspace
  • Reduce time lost looking for items
  • Encourage regular cleaning and recycling of items

The main purpose of the first “s” is to sort valuable things from the clutter and to get rid of the former, all the way to the last unused paper clip. 

The idea is very simple: don’t have anything that doesn’t belong in the workplace.

Set in order (seiton) – make sure the useful things are easy to find

Set in order means arranging all the items in such a way that they are easily found and put to use. For example, make sure that all tools are as close as possible to the workers so that they waste no time grabbing them.

Seiton also requires you to maintain maximum safety in the workplace, with the goal of making the workflow as smooth as possible and protecting people while doing so. Some companies add a sixth S to the 5S methodology for “safety”.

With the second phase, you want everything valuable in the workplace to have its place and remain in place. Setting things in order can often be achieved with visualization of where items should be and other similar Kanban principles.

The three key aspects of seiton are:

  • To assign fixed locations for machinery and items (and group them accordingly)
  • To use labels, visual signs, checklists etc. so that items are easily found and returned in place
  • To make sure the tools are in close proximity so that workflow is as smooth as possible

In 5S, visual signs are a must. Frequently used visual tools are Kanban boards, floor marking tapes, labels, signs and red tags, toolbox foam, uniform bins, racks, and LED lightning and signs.

Shine (seiso) – Regularly maintain and clean your workspace and equipment

Seiso or Shine requires regular cleaning of the workspace, prevention of any deterioration of equipment, and maintenance of a pleasant workplace. 

Any deviations or malfunctions in the workplace (things not being in place, broken machinery etc.) must be easily recognizable in seconds so they can be set back in order.

The goal here is to make all the tools, equipment and items in the workplace look new or nearly new. By following the shine principle, you simply have to always keep your place clean and tidy. 

The main benefits of seiso are:

  • Having a clean and pleasing environment to work in
  • Prevention of errors and defects
  • Better safety in the work environment
  • Performing inspections of the workplace when cleaning.

Standardize (seiketsu) – Maintain the highest possible standards in all aspects

The standardize section of the formula  gives advice on how to standardize all the possible best practices to maintain high standards in the workplace for all tasks, and how to constantly maintain order. 

Everything should always be in its proper place and there should be a standard process for everything.

Standards should be written down as standard operating procedures, and tools like checklists, visual signs, and reminders should be used to make sure everyone follows the same directions and keeps the space as clean and organized as possible. 

Keeping working spaces consistent with one another is also a big plus.

These highly set standards must be always followed to make sure that outputs have high quality built in and are achieved as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

With such an approach, considering all five S’s, you achieve:

  • Higher productivity
  • Higher quality of output
  • Reduced costs
  • More satisfied employees
  • A safer work environment

Sustain (shitsuke) – think long-term and make sure your culture supports 5S

The last part, sustain, also has many great recommendations for keeping things in order in the long term. Sustaining is all about building a remarkable culture and maintaining order and discipline in the workplace. 

The last step in the 5S methodology, it recommends that you:

  • Establish a culture of people getting things done without being told to do so
  • Provide regular training
  • Demand a high level of discipline
  • Perform regular audits and performance evaluations

The 5s methodology is most often used at the workplace, especially in companies that employ lean manufacturing principles. 

But it can also be used in your personal life to achieve higher levels of productivity.

How to use the 5S system to become more productive in your personal life

The 5s system is a holistic and practical way to organize a workspace. It provides results in complex production and other business environments, so there is no reason not to use the same principles to organize home environments. 

So, let’s look at a few ideas on how the 5s system can be used outside the workplace at your home (the idea is even more useful if you work from home):

Sort – You probably won’t need that thing some day

The first stage of organizing and tidying up your life is the hardest one – getting rid of all the clutter and waste and only keeping things that provide value. 

There are many reasons why people keep clutter in their homes and offices, from the “maybe I will need it someday” mindset to unhealthy emotional attachment to things.

Here are a few ideas for sorting out your home environment:

  • Throw away, sell, or give away everything you haven’t used in the past three months
  • Get rid of all the things you don’t like but are keeping for emotional reasons (souvenirs etc.)
  • Downsize all the things that you can’t afford and are costing you a lot of money
  • Organize your home environment in such a way that you can easily get things done (cooking etc.)
  • Prevent accumulation of clutter by having fewer shelves, wardrobes etc.
  • Simplify your lifestyle and become a minimalist

Set in order – Keep your home environment organized

After you get rid of all the clutter, the next step is to put what you do have in order. 

The idea behind putting things in order is to be able to manage your daily life as smoothly as possible so you don’t have to search for things, constantly move them from one place to another, or lose energy in any other similar way.

Your mental bandwidth and self-discipline are weak muscles, so you want your environment to help you preserve their strength for other more important decisions. 

Here are a few ideas on how to set things in order in your home environment:

  • Keep as many items as possible in the same place, especially keys and things that you use daily
  • Have things that you often use within reach. The more frequently you use an item, the closer to the working space (kitchen counter, desk etc.) it should be.
  • Organize your home in such a way as not to encourage the accumulation of clutter. On the other hand, you should organize valuable things by using boxes and other organizing expedients. You can also help yourself by visualizing where a place for certain things could be.
  • Keep items that encourage a healthy lifestyle, like fruits, veggies, exercise equipment, family board games etc. in visible and easily reachable places; and things like junk food, remote controls, video games etc. as far away as possible (or don’t have them at home at all). This is called playing with transaction costs to encourage good habits.

Shine – regularly maintain the things you own, so they last longer

Shine is a very simple principle and an important fact of properly managing resources. You can extend the longevity of the things you own with regular maintenance. 

It’s better to own fewer things and maintain them properly than to own thousands of items you forget about or don’t have the time to maintain. Make sure that everything you own looks new or almost new. 

Here are a few examples:

  • Take machinery and devices to a regular maintenance expert according to a schedule
  • Regularly clean things and make sure they shine bright (computer screens, floors and counters, etc.)
  • Protect the items you own with cases, folders, protective plastic, etc.
  • Respect everything you own and treat it very carefully
  • When things get broken, fix them immediately
  • When you’re cleaning, pay attention to your items and throw away everything you don’t need

Standardize – introduce daily routines that will make your life easier

The idea of standardizing your home is to set some healthy and beneficial routines that simplify your life

There aren’t many things you can standardize without making your life completely dull, but we can still find a few very useful possibilities:

  • Define small home processes that are routine for you and standardize them.
  • Standardize your weekly grocery shopping plan
  • Standardize your meals
  • Standardize a few outfits you wear for different occasions
  • Standardize your schedule for home chores
  • Define the minimum quality of the things you own and the relationships you have.
  • In everything you do, follow the highest standards possible

Sustain – commit to orderliness and never stop taking care of your environment

Last but not least, the final letter s – sustain. Taking care of your environment is not a one-time action, but a constant process. 

You must constantly improve the system of how you organize things and follow these rules consistently. With 5S, you set the standards and the process, and then you commit to them and stay disciplined. 

Here are some final tips to ensure that you achieve order in your home or workplace:

  • Automatically do things without procrastinating
  • Make sure that other people in your environment meet commitments and that they do things without being told to by establishing the right culture
  • Perform regular cleanings (weekly house cleaning, major quarterly cleaning etc.)
  • Stay disciplined and your environment will proudly shine by being tidy and organized

Give 5s system a try – in your home or office

Now that we’ve outlined its tenants, it’s time to put the 5S methodology into practice. The best way to start is with the first S (sort/seiri) and have a big cleaning day at your home or office. Unfortunately, the first step is also the hardest one.

It’s so emotionally difficult to throw things away, even the ones that you don’t need, but when you finally do, you’ll see how good it feels to free yourself from the clutter handcuffs. Remember, when you do the cleaning, it’s important to include everyone at the office or home.

Once you manage to properly sort items (get rid of all the clutter), set things in order, make them shine and standardize processes, then sustaining order becomes very easy for the simple reason that you only own those items that really matter and are valuable to you. 

Following the same process at the workplace will mean an immediate increase in productivity and employee satisfaction.

Once you experience how good it feels to operate in a clean and tidy environment, following the 5S methodology becomes an important part of your professional and personal life. 

Try seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke, and you’ll be surprised by how good it feels, whether it’s in the office, production facilities, or at home!


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