Lean 5S: An Action Plan for Efficient Workspaces

Think of a function that isn’t reaching expectations. Maybe your sales department is fumbling deals by taking too long to send a quote. Perhaps customers are waiting too long for meals at your restaurant. Maybe you’re seeing too many injuries or stress leaves in your manufacturing plant.

For any of these instances, 5S can help. The principles are based on the insight that, more often than not, performance gaps link to a lack of process optimization. Research shows that the average employee wastes a whole month of the year on needless tasks.

If you want to optimize your processes and become more resilient, Lean Six Sigma tools and strategies can help—one of which is the 5S methodology.

What Is 5S and its Purpose?

5S is a five-step organizing technique that helps organizations design and maintain intuitive workspaces. The overarching aim of 5S is to identify, change, and eradicate process elements that fail to add value or, worse, actively decrease value.

Lean 5s

The methodology has its roots in the 1930s when auto manufacturers created the principles to improve efficiency, eliminate waste, and boost safety.

Since then, companies across sectors—from enterprise to hospitality to retail—have realized just how powerful and universal 5S principles are. You can apply them in almost any business context with exceptional results.

How to Know if Your Company Needs the 5S Method

A variety of reasons might lead your company to realize it would benefit from 5S. From an increase in customer complaints, lack of consistency in quality output, or employees mentioning frustration with their workstations.

For example, if customers are complaining about their coffee order, perhaps the baristas are having difficulty finding the necessary ingredients due to a lack of organization. Or maybe your product has an increasing number of defects because no one is tracking the effectiveness of new tools or processes.

5S principles enable your organization to tackle these inefficiencies directly, transforming ineffectual workflows into invigorated, fine-tuned routines that unleash team capacity.

Benefits of Implementing 5S

With 5S, you can unlock the potential currently dormant in your departments and teams. By optimizing your core processes and reducing bureaucratic burdens, you’ll empower your people to perform at their best—and your teams and customers will notice the difference.

But that’s just the beginning. 5S is more than just a means to improve efficiency. It liberates your teams from time-consuming, tactical work, giving them more opportunities to think strategically and move toward excellence.

Pre-Action Plan for 5S Lean

Before you execute 5S, work through the following activities for effective implementation.

  • Find an issue within the workplace 

Start with a single issue that needs Process Optimization. Once you successfully execute 5S to rectify this problem, you can then look at deploying the principles across other processes.

  • Assess available resources 

To maximize the benefits of 5S, analyze your company’s available resources. This will help you allocate the appropriate amount of time, people, and budget.

  • Create a checklist

Design a checklist with the activities to complete, separated under each of the 5S headings. This 5S template is a helpful starting point. Or you can use our Kure App.

  • Process with executing the 5S program

You’re now ready to move from Planning to Execution, and unleash the benefits of 5S in your company.

Learning more about Lean Six Sigma will also set you up for a successful 5S implementation. Our free training will help you and your team embrace the mindset of Continuous Improvement.

How to Start Practicing 5S

5S centers around five cyclical steps, each beginning with S. Here’s an overview of how to activate each one:

  1. Sort: In this step, you remove unnecessary items from the workplace and keep only what’s necessary to complete the job effectively. If you’re unsure whether or not you need an item, hold it in a designated box and review whether or not it’s necessary within a month. Completing this step enables you to eliminate potential distractions and hazards.
  2. Set In Order: Here, you’ll give every item a designated home to reduce any of the 8 wastes that apply and improve flow. You’ll achieve this by arranging your remaining items into logical places, where they’re easily accessible and visible.
  3. Shine: The shine step involves keeping your new and improved workspace clean and tidy. Doing this will create a safer environment and make identifying and mitigating potential problems easier.
  4. Standardize: Document the best practices above and turn them into a repeatable set of activities you and your team can perform.
  5. Sustain: Continuous Improvement is a vital component of 5S. Once you’ve executed your initial program, create a schedule for checklist implementation. You should also put regular feedback meetings in the calendar to discuss opportunities for further Process Improvement.

Examples of 5S

Here’s a simple example to put 5S in context and help you visualize the benefits.

Imagine you’re about to leave the house to go to work, but you can’t locate your car keys. You look for 30 minutes, feeling increasingly stressed and worried because you have an important meeting.

When you finally find your keys, you realize you’re going to be late. You drive to your meeting in a panic and then underperform because you’re unsettled and flustered.

By implementing the 5S, you would avoid this situation altogether. You would find a sensible spot to put your keys every time you enter your home. You’d have a simple routine for removing clutter and keeping the space clean and tidy.

When leaving the house, you can grab your keys reflexively without thinking about where they are.

For more real-world examples, you can click on the links below to learn how organizations have applied 5S to:

Any Industry Can Apply 5S

The beauty of 5S methodology is its elasticity. Across industries and departments, the principles remain applicable, and the results are all equally powerful.

Whether you run a small business or work in healthcare, hospitality, or manufacturing, 5S can help you eliminate waste, boost productivity, and enhance workplace safety.

Ready to dive deeper into the world of Lean Six Sigma? Sign up for your free training for you and your team today.

Mochi is the AI Master Black Belt at GLSS. He helps everyone understand Lean Six Sigma in our online courses and provides real-time guidance on how to use Lean Six Sigma tools via live chat. He's supported by our team of Master Black Belts who have 40+ experience.

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