5 reasons 5S make the world a better place

5S is usually seen as very basic, simple methodology, easy to get through. The reality is totally different and most companies fail to implement a significant and sustainable maturity level of 5S.

For those not familiar with and wanting to learn more about 5S, check my Quick Beginner’s Guide to 5S.

Here are 5 reasons and few examples why 5S make the world a better place.

Please note they are nothing else than some high level consideration and there is much more to 5S than that!


A tidy clean place is usually a safer place. Compared to dark, dirty, cluttered workspace, a 5S one provides better visibility and overall safety.

Better visibility reduces risks related to hidden hazardous items and situations. It improves the perception of potential risks and helps people to behave, like walking on the pedestrian reserved lanes.

Cleanliness make abnormalities visible, thus prevent risks like slipping on spills.

Decluttering prevents tripping or piled items falling down.


5S came (back) to the West in the heyday of Total Quality Management, when improving quality was a matter of keeping up with japanese competitors. Quality work and making quality product is not compatible with messy, dirty workplace.

In a cluttered and dirty place it is more likely to have quality defects, like for instance scratches or stain on a panel. Many such quality issues require painstaking rework or even part replacement, which are both wastes.

A screw, nut or bolt can go unnoticed on a dirty and cluttered workbench, leading easily to be forgotten on (re)assembly.


In a 5S environment, items and information can be found immediately without lengthy searches. Saving time is important for reactivity and for adding more valuable and/or enjoyable activities.

In a true 5S work environment, it is possible to share more tools, jigs and fixtures or files because everything is better organized and made visible. More sharing means less buying, thus saving unnecessary expenses.

True 5S workplace requires less space, which in turn requires less walking or transportation and possibly monetary savings.

In 5S places, fewer material gets lost and there is no need for frequent replacement or duplicate inventories.


“High performance companies are beautiful” says my boss, suggesting a tight correlation between the care to keep the company tidy, clean – and generally speaking good looking – and operational performance.

A good 5S image gives confidence to customers, partners, investors and talents, while it provides pride to employees and representatives.

The outlook of a company accounts much more than generally thought in suppliers’ assessments or audits. Poor condition will make auditors suspicious and look closer to details.

Customers will probably be reluctant to buy from a poor looking supplier, fearing that quality or even safety of the goods or services will reflect the company’s look.


5S helps to use just required quantities, which consumes lesser raw materials and energy, reduces waste, sewage, pollution and the like.

5S workplace are less likely to have pollution issues by accident or lack of rigor/discipline.

Tidy smaller workplaces require fewer air conditioning or heating, less lighting.

Constantly cleaned areas are easier to keep clean and require less aggressive chemicals to remove smear and stains.

This is not greenwashing but concrete actions.

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5S in hospital

5S are as well an approach, philosophy and methodology to better workplace organization, foundations for efficient and safe work, as well as insuring quality and continuous improvement. They originated in their current form* in industrial workshops in Japan, leading many people to think “this is a production thing“.

The following video shows a good example of the application of the 5S principles in a Toronto hospital.

*I believe 5S preexisted in different forms, especially in the TWI cards during WWII.

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Why 5S fail? We’re done!

Most of 5S assessment or audit systems I’ve seen are built upon a maturity scale, usually from 1 (poor or insufficient) to 5 (complete, satisfactory or the like) for each of the 5Ss and a schedule for the assessments or audits.

The way these systems are built is most often misleading, letting people believe that once the minimum level achieved to pass the audit is reached for every S, they’re done.

In fact they had one first turn of the PDCA wheel. Yet achieving this is sometimes painstaking enough that facilitators in charge are not eager to explain it was just a start and the whole has to be repeated over and over at higher level each time.

Management sees a good enough improvement of the situation and is not really willing to sponsor an activity that does not directly yield more output.

So there is a hypocrite general agreement that “they’re done” with 5S and it’s time to move on to something else.

This post is part of the Why 5S fail series

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Why 5S fail? Nobody is interested in housekeeping

This post is part of the series “why 5S fail”.

Nobody is interested in housekeeping.

This is particularly true in heavier industries with more male workforce, “housekeeping” is incompatible with (macho) pride and way beneath their dignity.

Lego_018aThey may not hesitate to manually lift heavy weights and handle greasy dirty parts, but would be reluctant to mop up spilled lubricant or dry-wipe a machine casing.

In most machist workshops they complain about being turned into “maids”.

Therefore announcing decluttering and cleaning up is never the best way to start, even in environments with lesser testosterone levels.

What is far most appealing is the call to join a challenge, for which 5S are a necessary condition but not telling it.

My way would be to find such a challenge and while searching how to achieve the goal, gently lead the participants to express themselves the need for order, cleanliness and suitable work environment.

When facilitating 5S deployment, I put myself in a learning posture and ask lots of questions, in a smart way. People usually love to share their knowledge, especially because on shop floor it is not that common that somebody pays attention to their work and experience.

A bit of flattering “you are the subject matter experts, you know best” is usually welcome and sweetens their day, which is also true and is what I really think.

Of course my questioning is not that candid but a way to surface the required basic conditions to achieve our goal.

Once these basic conditions listed, I manage to go through the 5S rollout quickly in order to start the next level of tasks, usually more appealing, like problem solving or technical improvements.

Of course, I do not hesitate to iterate back to sorting, arranging, cleaning and redefining the standards if the 5S maturity is not at desired level.

I simply explain why it is common to iterate and if my audience don’t know about, I’ll explain the Deming wheel (PDCA cycle) and its wedge.

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Why 5S fail

The 5S methodology / philosophy as such is around and fairly widespread since the mid-1980s, when the western industries sought the “secrets” of their Japanese competitors’ tremendous successes.

>Don’t know yet about 5S? Check my quick beginner’s guide to 5S

However, despite the 30 years of awareness and trials:

  • very few companies I visited have achieved a good level of 5S maturity with sustainable results. Most of them abandoned and slipped back after a while
  • my French 5S handbook (2nd edition) keeps selling well over the years (first edition: 2005)
  • young engineers keep asking for my advice as they are in charge of deploying 5S during their internship

So the seemingly mundane 5S deployment turns out a harder nut to crack.

What can possibly go wrong with the alleged simplest method of the lean toolbox?

In the posts series “why 5S fail”, I’ll share some of the reasons I identified, out of my experience:

Soon more. Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to this blog to be informed about new posts.

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How corporate Lean programs spoil golden opportunities

This is the sad and true story of a manufacturing unit of a major manufacturer in his industry.

This company has a corporate program to roll out Lean, with permanently appointed staff to support it. The Lean organisation is structured from a corporate level to sites representatives and staff appointed to support departments within the plants (Lean Promotion Office).

The corporate program is consistent and fine, designed by subject matter experts and tailored to fit both the activity and corporate culture. Such an ambitious program has a phased agenda, milestones, audits, reviews and everything necessary.

The Lean Promotion Office supporting team is therefore very busy breaking down the corporate rollout plan and preparing training sessions, coaching sessions, reviews and everything necessary.

Everyone who has witnessed such organisation and corporate rollout knows that the supporting team tends to become a swelling bureaucracy of its own, with very busy people seldom seen on shopfloor.

Comes a day in a department when the production must be stopped for supply shortages and unfortunately the stoppage lasts several days.

Once the things jobless personnel could do were done, they were left unoccupied and all by themselves, in a kind of readiness, the production being assumed to resume anytime soon.

Which did not happen, and boredom became the daily normal.

This is when the consultant regularly visiting the department shows up, and a bit upset by the waste of human skills, proposes to organize a much needed initiation to 5S.

That can’t be done.
– Why?
– 5S is scheduled later in the year, according to the rollout plan.
– But people are available now and with the current department (messy, dirty) condition it is a golden opportunity to both train people and improve the condition!
– Nobody is available for the training.
– But I can do!
– This is not compliant to our rollout plan and procedures.

As incredible it sounds, there was no way to organize the initiation and no manager would back up the proposal nor agree to give it a go.

I assume the Lean Promotion Office members are measured according to their (planned) activity and weren’t eager to mess up the plan, take any chances to displease their managers.

Production managers were blind to the situation and not knowing much about 5S, could not see the opportunity to have meaningful occupation for their staff.

To add to the sadness of the situation, when 5S training time will come, the situation may not offer the same opportunity: machines may be running, everybody may be busy and the mess and dirt may not be that visible as it was during the stoppage.

5S training will then probably be done with case studies and simulation, on restricted area at best, in order not to disturb production. This is where the golden opportunity is really lost: using a real case to act on, learn and improve.

Postponing the training and improvements to later scheduled time slot will make the actual 5S related problems last longer, cost more and waste the opportunity.

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Why 5S’s Scrub & Shine is not (only) about cleaning

This post refers to the third S of the series of 5 from the 5S methodology and which stands for Seiso, which can be translated as ‘cleaning’ or for the sake of verbs starting with an S: Shine, Scrub, Sweep, Sanitize and the like.

Once a certain state of cleanliness has been reached, any abnormality should be visible and trigger a corrective action.

A nut or a bolt found on the floor should immediately call for an investigation: is it fallen off the product which is manufactured or from the machine near by? Is it fallen off the tightenings box delivered to the assembly line?

In each of these three cases a missing nut or bolt can lead to a serious problem:

  • the product may not be assembled correctly
  • the machine may be affected in some way
  • the assembly line may be stopped because one part is missing in the precisely counted supplies

Therefore, picking up the nut or bolt and throw it into a trash bin is no good practice. Worse would be simply putting it back to a box holding similar parts on the line.

  • Simply disposing parts is not grasping the opportunity to solve potential problems and to improve the situation by solving it
  • Putting it back into a box may end up putting it into the wrong box, potentially leading to a later problem

Many people convinced to be knowledgeable about 5S would pick up the stray nut or bolt and get rid of it in any way they consider best and think they did the right thing about 5S.

In fact they help housekeeping, not 5S.

They may pick up stray parts over and over again if nothing is done to understand the origin, cause and designing a robust solution for it not to happen again.

The true 5S spirit would grasp the opportunity to understand where the part came from, why, and how to prevent other parts to fall onto the floor or how to prevent potential later problems.

A seemingly unimportant part as a nut or bolt may be critically important and if missing can lead to a catastrophe.

Until being absolutely certain this is not the case, any discovery of stray material (or document) should be suspected as source of potential major problem and trigger an investigation.

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The Quick Beginner’s Guide to 5S – Shitsuke

Shitsuke is the fifth and last of the 5S list. Usually transliterated into “discipline” or “sustain” while my tiny japanese dictionary (souvenir from my time there) says “education”. Shitsuke is all about this: educating people in order to maintain new 5S standards and to self-discipline everybody.

Education, some may call it coaching or practising kata, is having an authority checking the compliance to 5S rules and principles and giving feedback to the people concerned. This feedback can be only scoring and commenting or taking the opportunity of deviations and poor scores to reinforce the 5S through some teaching points.

Shitsuke is often related to so-called 5S audits, 5S patrols or whatever they are called. It’s the way generally used to assess the 5S compliance and highlight the deviations. Actions are required to close the gap.

This education is (has to be?) relatively directive and needs to be reinforced by management before 5S eventually get into the culture and become part of natural behavior. Just as for children education, the initial discipline has to be imposed until it is fully understood and accepted and finally embedded in one’s self-discipline.

Yet maintaining the state defined by rules and initial 5S activities would just freeze it as it is. Shitsuke in the sense of sustaining is also about continuous improvement or sustaining the 5S efforts.

After an initial sorting, arranging or cleaning, more can be done to continue improving the workplace condition, safety and neatness. Besides, chances are that conditions will change over time, questioning the initial standards.

Cleaning is no fun, it’s better to prevent the necessity of cleaning by tackling the problem at its source: how can we improve in order to reduce or even eliminate the necessity for cleaning?

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The Quick Beginner’s Guide to 5S – Seiketsu, Standardizing


Chris HOHMANN – Author

Seiketsu is the fourth S of the series of five and comes logically after Sorting out, Set in order and Sweeping. The first three S reset an environment suitable for safe and efficient work, the fourth S then sets standards so to keep these good condition and practices in the work area.

Without appropriate standard the situation would slip right back and old habits would return.

Seiketsu aims to maintain high standards of housekeeping and workplace organization at all times, by everybody. Standard should also be understood as a set of rules defined for harmonious living / working together.

Standards must make deviations visible, that’s why visual management is often used. If all tools must be return to the tool board by the end of the day, a shadow board will make it easier to spot the missing tools.

The equivalent exists in office: in order to ensure using the up-to-date documents, only one controlled copy is allowed in the office. These documents are shared and must be returned to the shelf immediately after use. The slant line across files helps to see the missing or misplaced files from distance.

The daily cleaning of the workplace by people themselves is a matter of respect to themselves, to their colleagues, a way to keep the place tidy and orderly. But daily cleaning of a machine is also a way to inspect it (see this post for more details).

The daily cleaning as well as the 5S standards at large are usually associated to industrial hygiene.

Standardizing can be about using only one single tool for all adjustments, which needs all tightenings being unified.

These rules are defined by the stakeholders themselves within certain limits such as safety, security rules, quality or any regulatory or formal standards.

Giving the opportunity to stakeholders to define their standard helps overcome resistance to change and fosters commitment to these self-edicted rules.

Standards are meant to be revised, better rules, better standards may surface after certain time. Seiketsu is by no means freezing one standard, but encouraging improvement to better, higher standards.

<Previous: Seiso or Sweep, Shine, scrub >Next: Shitsuke

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The Quick Beginner’s Guide to 5S – Seiso or Sweep, Shine, scrub


Chris HOHMANN – Author

The third S of the series of 5 stands for Seiso, which can be translated as ‘cleaning’ or for the sake of verbs starting with an S: Shine, Scrub, Sweep, Sanitize and the like.

In the introduction post to this series, I summarized 5S as a philosophy, approach or methodology to provide simple, effective rules for tidiness, maintaining workplace in good, safe condition and fostering a continuous improvement of the standards, rules and discipline.

Good quality as well as safety is easier to ensure in a clean and tidy place. But cleanliness is not only for the good aspect of the place, it is also a helpful to notice damages on machines and equipment such as leaks, breakage and misalignments.

These minor damages, if left unattended, could lead to equipment failure and loss of production and/or quality issues. Regular cleaning is a type of inspection. Seiso is an important part of basic TPM; Total Productive Maintenance

Daily cleaning is an opportunity to assess machines’ condition and to detect the forerunning signs of potential trouble. While sweeping a machine, an operator may notice abnormal heat or uncommon smell, vibrations, leaks or hear unknown sound.

Some early warning signs may remain unnoticed if covered with grease, lubricant or scrap.

In a clean, tidy environment, any abnormal condition is noticed much easier and faster. Again, a leak of lubricant would be noticed immediately on a clean machine, while it would not if the machine was constantly oily.

In the example of this picture, the lubricant was not that easy to see (at least from some distance) on the green paint, I therefore took a white wipe to make it visible.

Fallen-off nuts and bolts from equipment or product get noticed in a clean environment, not in a dirty one.

A clean workplace is also important to quality. I remember my early years as production manager of the French Yamaha Hi-Fi plant, and the care we took to prevent the front face from our high-end CD players or Receiver to get any scratch.

Cleanliness of the workplace, the jigs and even sweeping cloths was crucial to prevent the sensitive surface to be scratched. Would the apparatus later be rejected on inspection for front panel scratch, it had to go through a long costly exchange process.

Seiso is often mistaken as plain cleaning, but there is more about it. Once the machine or the workplace has been cleaned up to a satisfactory, nominal state, the next objective is to work on preventing it to get dirty or degraded again. It is smarter to avoid the need of cleaning / repair than to clean / repair over and over again!

< Previous: Seiton or Setting in order

Related: Just posted: Why 5s’s Scrub & Shine is not (only) about cleaning

Next >Seiketsu or Standardizing

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