The 5S Formula to a better workplace


“I cannot find my lucky watch..I am getting late for the exam!”.

This actually happened on the fateful morning of the pre-board exams. After frittering away good 15 minutes searching every nook and corner of the house, my son condescended to wear my analog watch.

That morning I cooked a spicy short story of how my analog watch has been supremely lucky. I was mighty confident that my watch would have concerted all of cosmic energy to his favour, but for the couple of trick questions from the attenuating examiner. By noon, my lucky watch was no more coveted for either of us. We, the parents’ search party, unearthed (literally) the absconding lucky watch and triumphantly placed it on the rightful right wrist. At the end of the ordeal, I only threw one challenge to my son, “Try losing your Toothbrush!”

Many a kid do not even brush their teeth consciously…brushing happens by muscle memory, while they make (bath) room for an extra wink or two. With the designated place for the brush and paste, it is impossible to lose one’s toothbrush. Further evolved souls have placed fancy bowls to drop their car /home keys into, as they enter the front door.

It is so very nice to have a place for everything and everything in its place. Such are the teachings of 5S principles. 5S itself has a predecessor from where it drew inspiration. Ford had implemented CAN_DO principles as early as 1920s. A team from Toyota visited Ford in 1950s and picked best practices of mass automobile production. In those days, Toyota produced less than 40 vehicles while Ford produced 8000 a day. A few years later Taiichi Ohno, Toyota’s chief engineer, visited Ford & the Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain. His observations were the foundation for the Toyota Production System, of which 5S practice has been an important part.

Let me unveil the 5S to you: Seiri (整理), Seiton (整 頓), Seisō (清掃), Seiketsu (清潔), and Shitsuke (躾). Disclaimer: the Japanese script, which I do not comprehend, is deliberately put here to add awe factor. 5S’ are translated as “sort”, “set in order or straighten”, sweep or shine”, “standardise”, and “self-discipline or sustain” respectively.

Below table shows the similarity between CAN DO and 5S.

World famous Japanese organising consultant has a similarly inspired surname “Marie Kondo”. I guess “Marie 5S” would not have been appealing enough. Having offered our oblations to Marie, let’s move further and let our eyeS see 5S.

First, 5S is not about housekeeping…it is far more.

5S is a method of creating a clean and orderly  workplace that exposes waste and makes abnormalities immediately visible.

  1.  Sort:  This very first step urges us to confront our natural instinct to ‘hoard’. The action plan is to simply identify and get rid of everything that you do not need. However, if you are not been able to convince yourself about an item’s redundancy, you are advised to red tag it. Red tag items are the “not-required items that cannot be disposed off immediately”. These are stowed away safely in a separate storage area. The immediate benefits are released space, enhanced safety by removal of obstacles, simpler inspections.
  2.  Straighten: In this step, we define a place for everything and put everything in its place. Anything missing from its place (e.g., a toolbox) will be conspicuous. Idea here is to make the workflow easy and more efficient. Position items basis the logical sequence of the activities being performed by this workstation. Mark easy labels, hints so that the tool/item can be returned to its defined position after use.
  3. Sweep/ shine: Attack the sources of dirt while you shine.
  4. Standardise: This provides firm foundation on which all other improvements can be built.
  5. Self-discipline: Maintain a ‘positive tension’ in the ecosystem to drive all-times compliance to above steps.

5S needs to be built into the work-culture, like an early morning routine. In order to impress Goddess Lakshmi, the entire family gets into the house-cleaning exercise. As you would know for yourself, only the first S is seen in practice at Diwali time.  5S is far more than a housekeeping initiative. Kaizen, TPM and 5S are intertwined…In fact, 5S makes the foundation for the Lean, Six Sigma and JIT programs.

5S is far more than what meets the eyes:

  • Release of space: This can be productively used for other processes/ activity.
  • Identify abnormalities: it is easier to identify them when the workstation is orderly.
  • Safety impact is undoubtable.
  • Eliminates muda: Waste is reduced with improved work efficiency in the clutter free, standardised workstation. Reduced delays  due to visible standardised workspace.
  • Implementing 5S has time and again given 10 to 30% improvement in manufacturing efficiency. 5S is the first port of call, much before expensive machines, to improve efficiency.
  • As part of the company culture, 5S gets everyone involved and binds teams together stronger. Practicing 5S as a culture is like a wearing a uniform, giving a common identity to all. This also contributes to higher morale of the team.
  • No 5S…no Lean: 5S is the building block in the foundation for your Lean program tools and concepts like SMED, JIT, TPM. Adherence to standards is also key to Kaizen (continuous improvement).
  • 5S is a low cost and high impact program. In fact, you can get some extra money by selling the extra stuff that you do not need (reminds me of the scrap buyback deals at Big Bazaar…a topic for another article).

5S may be applied to all across the value chain, the factory floor worker, the procurement manager, planner et al.

This article by Shammi Dua, Lead – Supply Chain CSL, Distribution at Unilever originally appeared in the SCM Spotlight segment for the September 2021 of Logistics Insider magazine. All views expressed in the article are his own and do not represent those of any entity he was, is or will be associated with.

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