Don’t WASTE your 5S effort!

Set aside the administrative organisation, the management buy-in, the reporting and such like – how do we get people to see the practical effects of deploying 5S as a support mechanism for Lean activity? In this article I want to share with you what I believe is a key enabler that can assure 5S implementation becomes a successful long term practice in your organisation, working in harmony with the doctrines of the Lean organisation.

A common denominator I’ve experienced regarding poor engagement with 5S discipline, as well as the many organisational and managerial hurdles, is that many people expected to ‘buy-in’ to changing long standing ways of working find it hard, if not impossible, to make the cultural transition, simply because they can’t see the potential benefits beyond the ‘shine and sweep’ banner that stigmatises 5S.

If we expect people to accept that 5S is worth the effort involved in changing attitudes, then it’s imperative that it’s taught and demonstrated in such a way that practical benefit can be easily understood at all levels of the organisation. As 5S is often deployed as underpinning Lean deployment activity, it makes very good sense to ensure clear alignment between 5S disciplines and organisational waste, as defined by Lean doctrine.

To recap: the basic seven Lean wastes can be summarised like this –
• Transportation – eliminate all unnecessary movement of product
• Inventory – eliminate unnecessary inventories that retard product flow
• Motion – eliminate all forms of inefficient people movement
• Waiting – eliminate unnecessary people waiting time and product queuing time
• Overproduction – work towards only making what’s needed, when it’s needed
• Over-processing – don’t produce in an unnecessarily over-complex way
• Defects – eliminate sources of defect and reworking

The acronym for these wastes makes for a handy memory jogger – ‘TIM WOOD’. Other acronyms are also available. Additional wastes such as the waste of human talent are often integrated into this model, but let’s stick with the basic seven for this discussion. If you want your 5S implementation to have a lasting effect, it’s vital that people understand how these Lean wastes associate with 5S disciplines. Let’s have a go at clearing the air:

1st S, SORT

Why do we want to sort the workplace? Well, simply because the tendency to accumulate unnecessary tools, jigs, parts, paperwork and files is often an overwhelming human instinct, and we end up working in a cluttered and inefficient environment. It’s hard to let go, even when we know some things are of no further use to us. Sorting out the non-essentials from the workplace is a sensible precursor to the 2ndS. It should only have to be done once if you implement 5S effectively. I use this as an acid test for gauging the effectiveness of existing 5S systems. If you’re still hanging on to the non-essentials in a 5S environment, you still haven’t got the right message across. ‘That seems a bit unfair’ I hear people say – ‘what about keeping up with changes in staff?’ Well – what about it? Do new staff get adequate induction or not?

Unnecessary items in the workplace mean that getting your hands on the things needed in an efficient manner is greatly undermined. It also seriously increases Health and Safety risks, as well as the risks of producing defects or rework, because sub-standard materials and equipment are not isolated from the workplace.

So, Sorting is a ‘means to an end’. In effect it allows activity in the other 4S’s to take place in the most effective way. Do it once but do it well.


Once the workplace is cleared of non-essentials, it makes sense to ensure the important items that remain are organised in such a way that touch-time is minimised and clear identification is maximised. Here’s where the association with Lean wastes has to be clearly understood.

If you can’t lay your hands on the right thing within a very short period of time (and I mean less than 5 seconds for repetitive processes), every additional second wasted is an unproductive and unrecoverable loss of efficiency. It’s a useful exercise for everyone to take some time to examine just how much unrealised loss of time can accumulate in any form of process, try it and cost it – you may very well be alarmed.

As well as increasing access time, the risk of errors leading to defects and rework is also hugely influenced by poor identification. Making sure things are clearly identified – ‘a proper place for everything and everything in its proper place’ therefore takes on a more meaningful justification and not just some form of pedantry or obsessive behaviour. However, how you create the rules of ‘visual enterprise’ to make identification and access instant and error free is another subject which is further supported by activity in the 4thS.

So, essentially, ‘Set in place’ is about minimising unproductive time, minimising travel time and distance, making motion in the workplace ergonomically effective, and making error free processing easily achievable.

3rd S, SHINE

Here we go then – in my experience this is the single most effective 5S programme killer.

‘Surely you don’t pay me to clean up?’ If I had cash for every time I’ve heard this I’d be writing this from a Caribbean holiday retreat. The trouble is, the 3rdS is all too often explained in the context of its title – Shine, or Shine and Sweep – no wonder that 5S can be quickly so unpopular.

In most processes we need to rely on equipment that can do its job with maximum quality and efficiency, and to do that with minimum risks to the people using them. It therefore makes sense to monitor equipment condition closely and regularly for signs of deterioration. Any self-respecting Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) programme is dependent on this type of behaviour from the people working within the process. Equipment rarely breaks down without first going through a period of escalating safety risks and declining efficiency.

Being able to identify the signs of degrading equipment condition means that people have to be more in-tune with their own equipment. By the way, don’t disregard deterioration in office equipment which is just as prone to interfere with peoples’ effective time – for example broken copiers. TPM is about getting people to engage with their own equipment rather than think of maintenance as an entirely separate responsibility, and this is basically what the 3rdS is trying to promote. Most workers are happy to be involved in monitoring equipment condition and dealing with routine maintenance, especially when there is an understanding that good equipment condition promotes good processing, as well as significantly reducing inherent Health and Safety risks.

So, Shine is not about cleaning for the sake of cleaning, it’s about developing a more in-depth awareness of equipment condition that allows the most effective and safe equipment operation at all times. Failure to do this results in equipment down-time which indirectly adversely impacts the wastes of waiting, defects and over-processing typically resulting in increased inventory and inefficient process flow.


Standardisation underpins so much that is important in controlling quality and achieving Lean efficiency; it’s not the exclusive property of the 5S methodology. It’s fundamental to the effective management of how people interact with the process. It’d be wonderful if every process could be error proofed. However, the reality is that processes will always be influenced in some way by people and their decision-making skills.

So it does make sense to adopt Lean principles right at the 5S grass roots level to ensure best practice processing can be properly understood, and documented in clear, easy to understand instructions. ‘Easy to understand’ means capturing the maximum information in visual images demonstrating unambiguous messages, and minimising words wherever possible. This is typically applied to SOPs, workplace signage and demarcation, KPI reporting and so on.

Unfortunately, it’s my experience that even the correct best practices, encapsulated in the best procedures, don’t necessarily guarantee best results – it’s ultimately about compliance. Compliance is the domain of local management and is often badly administered. How often do you experience auditing for compliance and understanding of best practices? You can strengthen and support compliance to a great effect by ensuring procedures don’t  just instruct, but also explain. Including key point reasons in procedures goes a long way to help people in the process understand why things have to be done in a prescribed way – sometimes not necessarily the way they might see being the best way… but you still have to keep an eye out for compliance all the same.

So, standardisation is our only defence against the wastes of defects and rework resulting from variation in how people interact with their working environment. Standardisation is also invaluable in ensuring equipment wastes, such as waiting time and inventory imbalances, don’t adversely impact process efficiency.


In truth, there’s nothing mystical in what we seek to achieve in the 5thS. Sustaining long term effectiveness of a 5S programme, and how this then contributes to effective Lean and process control best practices, requires having a firm belief in what you’re doing in the first four S’s.

What is important in ‘Sustain’ is that there must be a reliable method for regularly monitoring 5S effectiveness, and that everyone in the workplace has a genuine belief that their process knowledge is valued. To that extent, 5S auditing is absolutely vital to monitor the health of the 5S programme. Feeling valued depends on employing in-process methods to allow everyone to have a voice and that this voice gets both heard and acknowledged. This is best served by implementing simple but effective problem/resolution and improvement ideas systems, and having a regular and serious management appraisal and feedback for these systems.

‘Sustain’ and ‘Sort’ to me are the bookends of any 5S system. What happens in the middle is what’s important, and that depends entirely on everyone fully understanding why 5S is so important to supporting Lean activity. Creating the understanding of the linkage between Lean and 5S using the seven wastes makes all the difference between success and failure, not only of a 5S programme, but how well it can support efficiency improvement.

At Paloma Consulting, we have many years of experience in helping our clients develop successful 5S implementations as part of their journey in reaping the benefits of a Lean environment. Why not share your own experiences with us and our followers by posting a comment. Alternatively, if you’d like to discuss how you could benefit from implementing 5S or Lean in your organisation, we’d love to hear from you.



6 thoughts on “Don’t WASTE your 5S effort!

  1. Having worked as a fill-in for many years, I can attest to how much time can be wasted cleaning up to create an effective and efficient work area and searching for standard tools of the job. Good 5S practices affect every aspect of job performance. Find ways to tie-in some aspect of 5S to your daily meeting topic. Awareness is only a reminder away.

  2. Bob,
    I hope you’re doing well. I’m about to embark in a medium size 5S project. This article provides good information and I will use it to try to get buy-in from the people I will be working with.

    Ernesto Schaeuffler

  3. Hi Bob!

    Thank you for this post!
    For the moment, 5S is the hot topic in our plant…
    All advices are welcome!

    Thank you for your help!

  4. Hi Bob, hope your fit and well.

    5S is not a culture we are familiar with as people in this country. Other cultures have this doctrine established much earlier in their personal life and therefore has a greater chance of long term success. This is why we must invest a lot of time and effort at work to establish it. There are various levels of 5S, it is not black and white. For me its an issue of decreasing returns. How much effort put in versus benefits out. Initially the drive must come from management, it must be a continuous and sustained effort (years). A level is achieved after this time. At this level, 5S becomes working practice, Management must recalibrate expectations and then drive again if necessary.
    So often the 5S campain concentrates on the wrong things, for example looking at how many bits of paper are on peoples desks. Rather than asking why are the desks looking cluttered. People need to be able to see what cluttered is and what it means, otherwise it just turns them off when an auditor critics their personal space.

  5. Nice article Bob. One of the foundation tools that not many of a companies cultural influencers exercise and lead by example. Most give it the talk and point fingers at others from a disorganised office far away from reality. There, I’ve had my rant 🙂 As you know its probably one of the best low cost / high impact tools a company can use. It’s just a shame that people (leaders) see it as housekeeping and not a key enabler to safety, process improvement and waste elimination. Look forward to your next blog!

  6. Hi Colm,

    Good article, very simply written and clearly experienced many of the positives and negatives of trying and implementing 5S.
    Getting the correct level of engagement to do 5S effectively is the biggest obstacle to a successful implementation.


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