Applying 5S series – (Part I) Introduction

Untidy Workshop

photo credit: Tudor Barker






Maintenance managers always want their employees to work efficiently, follow procedures, and comply with OH&E Standards. However, when the work environment is in poor conditions, workers do not feel compelled to follow the appropriate guidelines. In fact, an untidy, dirty, and unorganized working environment encourages employees to acquire bad working habits. Consequently, if we want to improve our personnel’s work ethic, we first need to evaluate whether the environment inspires people to work efficiently and correctly or if it does the exact opposite. If latter situation is presented, we need to make improvements before asking workers to change their habits. The best way to guide this improvement process is to implement 5S in the work environment.

5S is a methodology to clean, to improve, and keep the workplace in optimal conditions It is a 5 stage system whose name is based on the Japanese words for each step: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke. The names here are not important; great emphasis is placed on understanding the purpose of each step. It should be noted that 5S is much more than a deep cleaning activity, it is a process to achieve significant lasting changes. Usually people associate 5S as a deep cleaning, but it is much more than that. By following the five-step process, we can improve the workplace condition, reduce the necessary cleaning workload, and incorporate order as a habit for employees. To explain and illustrate each of the steps of this methodology along all of the posts on this series, I will use a facility improvement process I carried out in the past. This process did not follow all 5S requirements, since I had to adapt it to the particular situation. I will add some more information on each point to give you the complete idea.

While walking around the manufacturing plant where I was working, I found a small workshop that was used to make repairs on assembly carriers. The place was hidden from the rest of the plant and in awful condition. There were used and new spare parts, garbage everywhere, leftovers from contractor’s works, lack of light, among many other things. Logically, the habits of the people that worked there was far from ideal and even safe. How could I tell them to work safely if the environment was unsafe and dirty? I talked to the employees that usually worked there, gathering information about their needs and problems. I also told them about my idea about improving the whole place, which was well received in general. Then, I made a proposal to improve the area by implementing the 5S methodology and presented it to my boss. The proposal included the purchase of some furniture and lights, but maintenance personnel would carry out the actual work. I had talked with employees at the workshop and got their commitment to help in the process.


  • You need to be aware that carrying out this kind of process without top management support is almost predestined to failure. If the initiative was not originated at top management level, it is important to sell and transmit all the aspects of the implementation including a clear introduction to the process (to instill that it is not just about cleaning), benefits, costs, manpower, etc.
  • If you do not have full management support, one possible option is to adapt the process to the circumstances in order to get some of the benefits of the methodology. In doing so you can avoid paying too much in terms of costs and specialty workload, which can be especially large in the initial stages. That was the case of my example, but you need to know that the results might not be as good as they would if the full method is applied.
  • Try to get the commitment of your workers in advance, tell them the benefits and ask for their needs. This will make them feel that they are part of the process from the very beginning and will minimize resistance to change.
  • Preparation is crucial, especially before the process kicks off. This includes purchasing new items to organize the place (cabinets, plastic trays, boards, etc.), making tags, labels, spreadsheets, and so on.
  • Once the process has commenced, try to maintain the initial impulse in order to keep workers motivated.
  • Take pictures to be used in further communications about the achievements and benefits.

After the method became popular, many people tried to find English words starting with S to replace the ones in Japanese without losing the meaning. I took the equivalences from an excellent TPM book* by Steven Borris. Broadly speaking, the steps of 5S methodology that are going to be treated in future posts are:

  • Seiri = Sort: get rid of all the things that are not necessary.
  • Seiton = Set in order: assign a place for every item; organize the place in the most efficient manner.
  • Seiso = Shine: systematic cleaning with focus on elimination of dirt sources.
  • Seiketsu = Standardization: have standards for cleaning with simple and clear procedures, ways to measure results, and provide self audit sheets for the team.
  • Shitsuke = Self-discipline: it is highly necessary to incorporate 5S for everyday tasks and responsibilities instead of it being treated as “extra work”. Without this, positive changes will not last very long.

How about your workplace? Does it encourage people to work efficiently? How much time it stays clean and tidy after cleaning activities? Share your experiences in the comment area

Thanks for reading.

* Total Productive Maintenance. By Steven Borris. Publisher: McGraw-Hill Maintenance, 2006 (ISBN 0-07-146733-5)

3 thoughts on “Applying 5S series – (Part I) Introduction

  1. Pingback: Applying 5S series – (Part III) Second S: Seiton – Set in order | Reliable and Efficient

  2. Pingback: Applying 5S series – (Part II) First S: Seiri -Sort | Reliable and Efficient

  3. Pingback: Applying 5S series – (Part IV) Third S: Seiso – Shine | Reliable and Efficient

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

/** >>> Added <<< */