5S is a powerful framework for improving efficiency and effectiveness, with broad applications in areas like manufacturing, software development, and even personal organization. Commitment to 5S forms a foundation on which more advanced Lean concepts can take hold. Without the standardization and level-setting that 5S provides, organizations often struggle to cultivate a truly Lean culture of employees who feel empowered to expose and eliminate process waste.
In its original Japanese incarnation, 5S refers to five broad categories used for analyzing and improving workplace organization. The translated variants are typically stated as:
- Set in Order
When compared to other continuous improvement initiatives, 5S is relatively simple to implement and is not typically resource intensive, making it a suitable starting point for organizations pursuing a more Lean philosophy.
Within each category is a list of items that further refine the concept, tailored to what the organization hopes to achieve. Regular assessments are performed against these line items with a basic scoring rubric. Graphing the result provides tangible insight into the organization’s Lean maturity, and when performed regularly, the assessments act as a clear mechanism for tracking progress.
The concept of 5S was born out of the “Just-in-Time” manufacturing philosophy. This philosophy started in post-WW2 Japan and evolved as a way to combat the unique challenges facing manufacturing companies in the country at the time. Lacking the floor space and natural resources for more traditional large-batch production methods, companies began experimenting with more efficient ways to work. Rather than pursue economies of scale through traditional means, they focused on keeping only the minimal source materials and inventory necessary to meet demand. In this environment many Lean concepts were codified, with companies like Motorola and Toyota becoming two of the most recognized and influential adopters.
5S is one of the more fundamental and foundational Lean tools because it sets the standards and expectations at the employee and “shop floor” level. When implemented, 5S can lead to innovative solutions that increase savings, improve process performance and increase value-added benefits to customers.