The 5S System

Reducing Waste and Increasing Productivity

The 5S System - Reducing Waste and Increasing Productivity

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Get organized for greater efficiency.

How organized is your office or organization? Many people would say, "Not very organized at all!"

For example, you might have a messy desk, stacks of files that have no place to go, and a team that spends a great deal of time searching for the tools and resources that they need to get their jobs done.

Disorganization not only wastes time, but also lowers productivity and morale.

That's why it's worth spending time to reorganize your office, department, or organization. Even small improvements can have a very positive impact on overall productivity.

In this article, we develop some of the ideas in our piece on Lean Manufacturing by taking a detailed look at the 5S System. This is a methodical approach for reducing waste, and improving efficiency and productivity in any space – whether it's a small office, your desk, or a huge manufacturing facility.

The 5S System

The 5S System originated in Japan as part of kaizen. Its purpose is to create a safe, clean, and well-organized workplace. Although it was developed for manufacturing, the system can be used in any environment to improve efficiency and reduce waste.

The five steps are based on five Japanese words:

  1. Seiri – "Sort."
  2. Seiton – "Set in Order."
  3. Seiso – "Shiny Clean" or "Systematic Cleaning."
  4. Seiketsu – "Standardized Cleanup."
  5. Shitsuke – "Sustain."

We'll look at the benefits of the system, and then examine each step in more detail below.

Benefits of the 5S System

There are a number of benefits to using the 5S System to reorganize your workplace:

  • It can help you to save on resources because it forces you to look at every tool and process that you're using. If any tools or processes don't work, or are inefficient, you either change how you do things, or you discard them. You also save resources by reducing storage costs and improving efficiency.
  • The system can help you to improve quality and safety, standardize processes, and improve morale. (Most people prefer to work in a clean and organized work environment!)
  • You and your team are likely to be more productive once you've used the system to change and reorganize your environment.


Make sure that you use this approach in the right circumstances and deploy it in a proportionate way. People can become passionate about tidiness, which can be appropriate in some situations. However, in other situations, it can consume management time and energy, and drive untidy but highly skilled or creative people out of the organization.

How to Use the 5S System

The 5S System can help you organize almost any environment. Whether you're trying to clean up your office or reorganize your entire department, following these steps will help you be more productive.

It's important to complete each step fully before you move on to the next step. Let's look at each step in greater detail:

Step 1: Sort

Here, you eliminate anything in your workspace that's unnecessary for doing work. This includes tools, furniture, clutter, instructions, processes, books, or parts. If there's anything that you're not using for your current tasks, remove them.

"Red tagging" is an effective technique to determine what you're really using. If you're unsure about an item's usefulness, put a red tag on it and move it to another location. If you or your team can go a month or two without using the item, then you probably don't need it. It can then be stored or discarded.

Step 2: Set in Order

After completing the Sort step, you should have only those items that you and your team need to do your work. You must now organize these items to make sure they're easy to find.

The goal of this step is to ensure efficient workflow. Place items close to where they'll be used, so that you and your team don't have to waste time to get to them.

For instance, if you print items several times a day, you would save time and energy by moving your printer closer to your desk or office so that you don't have to go far to use it.


Our articles The Art of Filing and How to Be Organized may also help during this step.

Step 3: Shiny Clean

Keep your office or work areas clean and free of clutter, and determine what level of cleanliness you want your office or work area to move toward.

For instance, how clean is "clean"? What level of cleanliness do you need for health, safety, and good team morale?

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Identify sources of clutter and dirt. For example, perhaps there are always piles of paper around the copy machine. Or maybe there are always empty coffee cups in your conference room, which you have to clear each time you want to have a meeting.

As you clean, analyze why some areas are harder to keep organized. Chances are that you're missing a tool, product, or process to help keep it clean and clutter-free. When you're done, take pictures of what your space looks like. These pictures will help you in the next step.

Step 4: Standardized Cleanup

Now that you know how clean you want and need your space to be, develop a routine or process to keep it this clean every day.

Also, analyze the problem areas and create a plan to fix them. For instance, think about a metal-cutting machine area at a manufacturing plant. Could you install a central vacuum to help your team eliminate the metal shavings and dirt? Or, consider the copy room. You may have piles of paper in this area because there's no recycling bin in which to discard paper.

The point is that cleaning systematically should be a daily part of work, not an occasional activity. The cleaner your workplace, the safer and healthier it will be for you and your team. Make sure that you analyze all problem areas and develop a solution to eliminate the cause.

Step 5: Sustain

This is often the most difficult step. After you've established the previous four steps, you must sustain the habits of the new system – in other words, retrain yourself, and your team, to develop new habits.

The key is effective communication with your staff. Use tools such as posters, newsletters, procedure manuals, performance reviews, training, and management check-ins. Make sure that everyone on your team understands how important it is to follow the new system. Consider offering rewards or incentives to your team for developing and maintaining these habits.


Many people believe the previous five steps automatically contribute to a safer workplace, but some organizations add a sixth step to the 5S System – Safety – to ensure that this important area is given sufficient attention.

Key Points

The 5S System is an effective, methodical process for reducing waste and making your workplace more efficient and organized.

There are five steps: Sort, Set in Order, Shiny Clean (or Systematic Cleaning), Standardized Cleanup, and Sustain. It's important to move through the system in sequence. Once you've completed the first four steps, sustaining the system is vital to your long-term success.

Use training, posters, and incentives to help you and your team develop and maintain these new habits.