5S: Commit to the Process

The idea of 5S attracts a lot of “window shoppers,” who at first glance, become excited with the idea that they can transform their organization into a clean, organized, well working machine. However, turning their excitement into execution, is often times a challenge they are not prepared for.

For many organizations, the challenge or lack of enthusiasm begins to set in after the third S. Once they have cleaned up and organized their facility, they feel their work is done. Workers are happy and have a sense of accomplishment that they were able to implement something “new.” This flawed thought process is ultimately what leads to a failed implementation of 5S. Which will eventually lead to a negative attitude towards the process and a culture that no longer sees it as a valuable asset to their organization.

The path to a 5s behavior changeFor those that may not know…

The 5S System:

Sort: Eliminate all the things in the workplace that are not being used and store them away.

Set in Order: Arrange the items used on a daily basis so that they can be easily accessed and quickly stored.

Shine: Ensure everything is cleaned and functioning properly.

Standardize: Develop a routine for sorting, setting, and shinning.

Sustain: Create a culture that follows these steps on a daily basis.

5S is about commitment

When working through the 5S process, you have to remember that in fact it is a process, not an ideology that can be improvised. Success with 5S, comes when you follow through with the process and spend the extra energy needed on the last two S’s to ensure success for the long-haul. You may have a clean facility, but it’s short-term. The goal with 5S is to eliminate waste from your organization in all forms including transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overprocessing, overproduction, and defects, otherwise known as the seven deadly wastes. An initial clean-up may eliminate a few wastes, but without a method to standardize and sustain your efforts, the chances of continuing to eliminate waste, are slim to none. Worse yet, the chances of keeping the waste you originally eliminated away, are also slim.

You have to create a culture that sees the value in committing to the 5S process. Once you’ve worked through the sort, set in order, and shine, you have to define what you expect out of your employers, including their responsibilities and daily schedules. As a whole, your organization needs to determine how much time is needed everyday to ensure your 5S is maintained and a continued focus.

For example, you could establish the following:

  • Before each employee clocks out for their shift, they are to spend 5-7 minutes making sure their work area is clean and in the same (or better) condition that they received it in.
  • Use checklists that clearly explain what is to be cleaned and inspected. Include details that explain how it is supposed to be cleaned and inspected, as well as who is to do it and how often it is to be done.

This is part of the standardization process that is essential moving forward in your 5S development. You should also make your employees accountable by posting the 5S scores in the work areas. This will allow them to be reviewed by others so they can look for continuous improvement opportunities and see what they need to improve on first hand. This form of auditing should be included in your standardization process as well.


Sustaining your 5S commitment is a collective effort that takes a cultural transformation to ensure it becomes the way things are done in your organization. Without the complete involvement of the organization, waste will continue to find places to hide and make the individuals that are putting the effort, have to work that much harder.

A key to getting everyone on board with your 5S sustainment process, is the example set my upper management. Their efforts do not go unnoticed. Employees will develop habits based off what they see, not what they are told. You can’t sit in an office and send out memos on how to sustain 5S, you have to get on the ground floor and show that your engaged with the process. Upper management should conduct a walk around often and be a part of the audit process so they can include their feedback, as well as hear what others have to say.

To help sustain your efforts on a day-to-day effort, you can also appoint a 5S coordinator, who are essentially volunteers that help to keep consistency, monitor progress, and push the implementation forward.

It’s up to you

5S is about efficiency. Without follow through and commitment, an efficient process is all but impossible. There are no secrets or hidden challenges that come with the process. It is a systematic approach to workplace organization that if done correctly, can make a dramatic change in your organization and culture, for the good.

Free 5S guide

Additional Resources