A Practical Approach to the Successful Practice of 5S

While some Lean Six Sigma (LSS) practitioners consider 5S a tool, it is more than that. 5S, abbreviated from the Japanese words seiri, seito, seiso, seiketsu, shitsuke, is not just a methodology, it is a culture that has to be built in to any organization which aims for spontaneous and continuous improvement of working environment and working conditions. It involves everyone in the organization from the top level to bottom. The Japanese developed this simple and easily understandable words religiously practiced the philosophy of 5S at every aspect of their life and have made it a world wide recognizable system.

Too often in LSS the 5S philosophy is confined to one classroom training session or, at best, used as a one-time implementation methodology that then dies its own death due to negligence. 5S is not a list of action items that has to be reviewed at some interval of time. Instead, it has to be practiced as a daily activity, which requires concentration, dedication and devotion for sustaining it and ultimately making it a company-wide culture.

A proper and step-by-step process has to be followed to make 5S a practice and a success.

Plan-Do-Check-Act Approach to 5S

The PDCA (plan, do, check, act), or “Deming cycle,” of implementing 5S is effective. This is a never-ending process and has to follow a process approach.


Step 1: Seiri, or Sort

Seiri is sorting through the contents of the workplace and removing unnecessary items. This is an action to identify and eliminate all unnecessary items from the workplace.

Actions items:

1. Look around the workplace along with colleagues to discover and identify items which are not needed and not necessary to complete work.
2. Develop criteria for disposal for not-needed items.
3. Take “before” photographs wherever it is required.
4. An effective method for recording progress is to tag the items not needed. This visual control of the not-needed items is often called red tagging.
5. While red tagging, ask these questions: 

  • Is this item needed?
  • If it is needed, is it needed in this quantity?
  • If it is needed, how frequently is it used?
  • If it is needed, should it be located here?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for the item? (Verify from that person.)
  • Are there any other not-needed items cluttering the workplace?
  • Are there tools or material left on the floor?

6. Find a holding area to put red tagged items.
7. If it is difficult to decide whether an item is necessary or not, put a different tag and segregate it in the holding area.
8. Classify the items by frequency of use.
9. Items or equipment used hour by hour or day by day should be kept within arms reach of the point of use.
10. Items or equipment used once a week or once a month should be kept within the work area.
11. Items or equipment used less frequently should be stored in a more distant location.
12. Unneeded or unnecessary items should be stored in the holding area.
13. Individual departments should each have a holding area.
14. A holding area should be clearly visible and clearly marked to assure visual control of items.
15. Display pictures of items and place it on a public board visible to all.
16. Responsibility for the holding area should be assigned to some at the beginning of sorting activity.
17. The items in holding area should be kept for three or four months. If the items are not needed for work, then the items can be disposed. It is always necessary to verify plans to dispose of items with anyone who had been using these items in the past or are presently using the same or similar type of items.
18. Items should be moved to a company-level holding area before final disposal of the items.
19. The facility manager or an authorized person has to evaluate the items.
20. Disposal should be done in either of the following ways. 

  • Move to other department/section where the items are required.
  • Sell to someone outside the company.
  • Discard and haul away.
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21. Dispose all items which are broken or have no value.
22. Take “after” photographs wherever it is required. 

Step 2: Seiton, or Systematize

Seiton is putting the necessary items in their place and providing easy access. This is an action to put every necessary item in good order, and focuses on efficient and effective storage methods.

Action items:

1. Make sure that all unnecessary items are eliminated from the workplace.
2. Taking into account of the work flow, decide which things to put where.
3. Take “before” photographs wherever necessary.
4. Also decide with colleagues about which things to put where from the point of view of efficient operations.
5. This should be done as per the frequency of use of items. More frequentlyused items should be kept near the workplace (see Nos. 9, 10 and 11 under Seiri).
6. Workers should answer these questions: 

  • What do I need to do my job?
  • Where should I locate this item?
  • How many of this item do I really need?

7. Make a plan based on the principles and locate things accordingly.
8. Use 5Whys to decide where each item belongs.
9. Locate needed items so they can be retrieved in 30 to 60 seconds with minimum steps.
10. Make sure to inform everybody at the workplace about positioning of the items.
11. Make a clear list of items with their locations and put it on lockers or cabinets.
12. Label each locker/drawer/cupboard to show what is kept inside.
13. Outline locations of equipment, supplies, common areas and safety zones with lines: 

  • Divider lines define aisle ways and work stations.
  • Marker lines show position of equipment.
  • Range lines indicate range of operation of doors or equipment.
  • Limit lines show height limits related to items stored in the workplace.
  • Tiger marks draw attention to safety hazards.
  • Arrows show direction.

14. Identify all needed items with labels.
15. Take “after” photographs.
16. Complete evaluation using 5S levels of implementation with the facility manager or the authorized person in the organization. 

Step 3: Seiso, or Sweep

Seiso involves cleaning everything, keeping it clean daily, and using cleaning to inspect the workplace and equipment for defects. This is an action to clean the workplace daily.

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Actions items: 

1. Take “before” photographs.
2. Adopt cleaning as a daily activity and as a part of inspection. Clean the workplace before starting of the job and before closing the job.
3. Put aside 10 or 15 minutes for the same activity per day.
4. Cleaning indirectly helps to check or inspect each and every part and place. Hence, it should be a habit.
5. Find ways to prevent dirt and contamination.
6. Clean both inside and outside on daily basis.
7. Identify and tag every item that causes contamination.
8. Use 5Whys or cause-and-effect methods to find the root causes of such contamination and take appropriate corrective and preventive action.
9. Keep a log of all places/areas to be improved. Table 1 shows a format for a log for cleaning improvements.

Table 1: Sample Log for Cleaning Improvements

is the problem

is the problem?

is responsible
to take action?

will solution
be implemented?

is solution to
be implemented?

Answers (Use a much detail as needed)

10. 5S “owner” check-sheets should be maintained on daily basis. An example of a check sheet is illustrated in Table 2. (The word owner here is used as a replacement for the title of operator. An operator merely operates the machine or process, and might think cleaning is below them. An owner cares for the machine and area in which he or she works.) 

Table 2: 5S Owner Check Sheet
Machine Number:






Machine Name:






Machine Locaton:  




Initials of Person Responsible

1 Red tagging contaminated items Daily          
2 Remove residue from valves Daily          
3 Check oil level Every Tuesday          
4 Apply grease to transfer side Every Thursday          
Check Supervised by Bill Smith Daily          

11. Develop a plan, activity chart and distribute responsibility.
12. Take “after” photographs.
13. In addition to 10 to 15 minutes for Seiso everyday, owners should have a weekly 5S time, or monthly 5S day.
14. Complete evaluation using 5S levels of implementation with the facility manager or the authorized persons in the organization. 

Step 4: Seiketsu, or Standardize

Seiketsu involves creating visual controls and guidelines for keeping the workplace organized, orderly and clean. This is a condition where a high standard of good housekeeping is maintained. The first three steps, or S’s, are often executed by order. Seiketsu helps to turn it into natural, standard behavior.

Actions items:

1. Take “before” photographs.
2. Check that the first three S’s are implemented properly.
3. All team activity documents/check lists should be publicly displayed on a 5S board.
4. Establish the routines and standard practices for regularly and systematically repeating the first three S’s.
5. Create procedures and forms for regularly evaluating the status of the first three S’s.
6. Standardize red tag procedures and holding area rules (see Seiri).
7. Standardize procedures for creating shadow boards, position lines, and labeling of all items
(see Seiton).
8. Standardize cleaning schedules using the “5S Owner Check Sheets” (see Seiso).
9. Standardize “single-point lessons” for documenting and communicating 5S procedures and improvements in workplace and equipment.
10. Create a maintenance system for housekeeping. Make a schedule for cleaning of the workplace. A common approach is to ask a cross-functional team to do it.
11. Inter-departmental competition is an effective means of sustaining and enhancing interest in 5S.
12. Assign responsibility to individuals for a work area and machinery.
13. Regular inspection/audit and evaluation by a special team (including senior management persons) to be continued.
14. Instead of criticizing poor cases, praise and commend good practices or good performers.
15. Take “after” photographs and post them on the 5S board(s).
16. Complete evaluation using 5S levels of implementation with the facility manager or the authorized persons in the organization. 

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Step 5: Shitsuke, or Self-Discipline

Shitsuke involves training and discipline to ensure that everyone follows the 5S standards. This is a condition where all members practice the first four S’s spontaneously and willingly as a way of life. Accordingly, it becomes the culture in the organization.

Actions items:

1. Everyone in the workplace should treat it they would their own home.
2. Periodic facility management involvement is required to check that the first four S’s are implemented perfectly.
3. Employees must make it a part of their daily work and not an action forced upon them.
4. Dedication, commitment, devotion and sincerity are needed in implementation of 5S on daily basis.
5. Senior management should initiate a celebration for the total 5S implementation, and be an active part in the total process in initiating and carrying forward the program.
6. Senior management should do a periodic review of the status of 5S.
7. Inspections of first three S’s should be done and the results displayed on 5S board regularly.
8. Single point lessons should be used to communicate the standards for how 5S work should be done.
9. Root cause problem-solving process should be in place where root causes are eliminated and improvement actions include prevention.
10. Owners conduct 5S Kaizen activities and document results. Owners (operators) complete daily check sheets to control factors that accelerate deterioration of equipment, and to keep clean workplaces that help build pride. 

When fully implemented, the 5S process increases morale, creates positive impressions on customers, and increase efficiency and organization. Not only will employees feel better about where they work, the effect on continuous improvement can lead to less waste, better quality and faster lead times. 5S is not only a system for housekeeping, it is an integrated approach for productivity improvement. 5S is a whole a culture which increases production, improves quality, reduces cost, makes delivery on time, improves safety and improves morale. 5S also is not a list of action items, but is an integrated concept of actions, condition and culture. To get the greatest success, the nature and implication of each “S” need to be understood by each employee and should be regularly practiced.

Comments 19

  1. narasimhan40

    Excellent article.
    The subject is approached in a practical way with clear methodology.

  2. Samuel

    Good article

    I am following at my present office

  3. Kevin.Joshi

    Thanks for the article Pradeep! I am going to be applying the 5 S methodology in my first Job. Will take inputs from this article.

  4. SF Lau

    Very good and practical approach to implement 5S. I love it and will practice it. Thankx

  5. John Sekhar Singh

    Very good article.
    Am following this in my present company.



  7. praveen

    good steps

    i am following this steps in my projects

  8. jose

    I do not agree with the Point number 1 at the fifth step.

    You can be a “pig” at home but you should not that at the work.

  9. glory

    Thanks for the article for it is so applicable i will use it


    this is a great article, we have adopted this approach in our Human Powered Vehicle program were the students build and maintain 3 wheeled cycles (trikes). Previously our workshop was ‘pigsty’. We could not find tools, materials were scattered all over the place. We adopted a 5S approach (part of Certificate 2 in Engineering VETiS) to what we do and have seen the improvements. We are still improving but some of the comments by the students have been ‘it is much easier to work on our bikes’. We are now looking forward to our ’24 hour Maryborough, Victoria, Australia RACV Energy Breakthrough Challenge’ to see if we can break our record for reliability. Previously we have broken down due to mechanical failure. We are hoping to break the 400 lap mark. (over 800 km in 24 hours)
    Graham Hankin EBT coordinator Bacchus Marsh Secondary College

  11. Ghanshyam Prasad Pathak

    Its truly wonderful.

  12. Mdu

    This is the best practice ever. Its very simple and logical.

  13. Bruce

    great article.


  14. Marcie

    Very helpful. Thanks so much for this.

  15. ihsan

    its good step towards work place improvement.

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