5 things to remember about 5S

I assume readers are aware about 5S. The 5S are a methodology when beginners discover them through a structured way of teaching. They hopefully turn into an approach for organizing the workplace, and eventually a philosophy for those embracing the 5S principles for guiding their personal behaviors.

Read more about Approach, philosophy or methodology

Here are 5 things to remember about 5S:

1 – 5S look easy but aren’t

5S look disappointingly simple. The traditional learning way takes the beginners through a 5-step implementation program, usually one step at a time.
This tutored and hands-on journey makes the 5S look really simple and that’s a good thing. Yet 5S’ difficulty is nothing technical nor about the principles (“all common sense”), but about getting people to think and behave differently. This is about change management.

2 – 5S are too important to be delegated to interns

If you agree with point number 1 and on the importance of 5S as a necessary foundation to build operational excellence, then you cannot delegate the 5S rollout to someone who is not fully part of the organization and not having the required authority nor leadership. Considering 5S as a secondary chore and delegating it to an intern is one common management mistake about 5S.

3 – Forget about Return On Investment

5S are a basic Necessary Condition for providing an efficient and safe workplace, and from then on developing operational excellence. As such, 5S are not rolled out in search for ROI. The gains, hence ROI is pretty difficult to evaluate. How to valuate 20 square meters of warehouse freed from clutter or a better looking, clean and stainless workshop?
If the decision to go for 5S is a matter of ROI, this choice is as meaningful as deciding the ROI of brushing teeth or showering is worth it. By the way, 5S are considered  a kind of “industrial hygiene”.

4 – You’ll be never done with 5S

Even an organization managed to have a full cycle of the 5S completed, it can’t claim it’s done. 5S are simply never-ending. First because it is so easy to slip back to old behaviors, to take it easy on discipline. Second because the conditions change over time and 5S rules and practices have to be adjusted. Newcomers may join and have to embrace 5S as well. They have to be trained, mentored and maybe they’ll bring in new ideas worth implementing.

5 – 5S is not about housekeeping

This is a common misconception about 5S: it’s not about housekeeping, constantly scrubbing and cleaning. 5S is about avoiding to clean and scrub, about getting smart and avoid spilling dirt and creating mess. Even cleaning and scrubbing might be necessary at the beginning, it is advised to find ways to avoid it quick because nobody likes those chores. So 5S is not about housekeeping, 5S are continuous improvement.

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3 thoughts on “5 things to remember about 5S

  1. Hi Chris,
    Good points about the multi-dimensional use/role of 5S… That said, I’d like to bring you attention to use of the phrase “industrial hygiene.” I believe I understand what you’re attempting to convey, but that term is actually used to describe a recognized professional discipline or profession as such (i.e., a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification) with an attendant Body of Knowledge that is administered – on a global basis – by a board of elected practitioners from within the ranks of the profession.

    Although organizing and managing a work environment – according to the highest 5S-related principles and practices – are very much in accord with the fundamental precepts and practices underlying the Industrial Hygiene profession, such 5S-related principles and practices – in and of themselves – are NOT sufficiently representative of the overall Body of [Industrial Hygiene] Knowledge to be able to subsume it. Rather, it would make more sense if the practice of 5S were to be considered a “standardized practice” within the domain of any organization’s enterprise-wide/holistic Industrial Hygiene Program.

    [Note: In the context of TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING, incorporating an INDUSTRIAL HYGIENE program – on an enterprise-wide basis as needed – is very much in keeping with the fundamental [TPS/TW] precept of RESPECT FOR PEOPLE/HUMANITY.]


      • Hi Chris,
        Ahhh… Given what you’ve noted about the meaning of words/phrases (along with their potentially different translations) being different across different geographic locations and cultural/social milieus, therein may lie one of the key/central issues behind the lack of universal acceptance and acknowledgement of the meaning of a word like “LEAN;” This is a phenomenon that has manifest itself right down to the differences that exist between individuals of seemingly similar backgrounds.

        Bottom line: Words (no matter in what language) are akin to a two-edged sword. That is, they are capable of cutting in both directions… one positive and one not so positive. Ergo, the real key to successful/effective communication lies in the skill and wherewithal of the user (i.e., a conveyor of thoughts/ideas/knowledge)… and/or the willingness of the receiver to be flexible/adaptable in terms of how they interpret the meaning of words. [Note: What I’ve found as one of the most important/helpful mechanisms for successful/effective communication is the inclusion – by the conveyor – of a CONTEXT in which their words carry their truest (i.e., accurate and comprehensive) intent.


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