What Is 5 S?

The five S’s are five techniques used in efficient business processes.  They were developed by the Japanese and are signified by five Japanese words which happen to start with S.  Those Japanese words all happen to translate (or transliterate) into English words which start with S (one is a slight stretch).  Companies which use the 5 S systems are in general significantly more productive and profitable than other companies.   I have seen dramatic improvements in my clients who have implemented these types of systems, even when they only begin to implement them.  The 5 S system is the basis for what has become known as “Lean” manufacturing.  This is a bit of a misnomer, but is in common usage.  It is really a system of continuously improving the way things are done.  The 5 S systems can also be used in our personal lives to help keep ourselves more efficient and productive.  The five S’s in the appropriate order are:

  • Sort.  Sort out what is needed and what is not needed.  When in doubt , throw it out.  If you have not used something in the past day, it probably should not be kept within your reach.  If you have not used it in the past week , it probably does not need to be in the same room.  If you have not used it in the last year, you probably do not need it.  The Japanese word is Seiri.
  • Straighten.  Sometimes called Setting in order.  Keep everything that is needed in an orderly fashion so that things can be accessed easily.  The Japanese word is Seiton.
  • Sweep.  Sometimes called Shine.  Better translation is clean, but that does not start with S.  Clean the machines, floors and walls.  The Japanese word is Seiso.
  • Standardize.  Make standards so that any abnormality becomes obvious.  This assures that work is always accomplished with consistent quality and timeliness.  It also makes it easy to improve the standards and implement ways to do things better.  The Japanese word is Seiketsu.
  • Sustain.  Sustain the improvements.  Continuously review the way things are done to make sure you have not let bad habits creep in. The Japanese word is Shitsuke.

The 5S system was originally developed by Hiroyuki Hirano, as a part of the broader production system known to the Japanese as Kaizen.  Kaizen translates as continuous improvement even though we Americans tend to refer to it as “Lean” manufacturing.  The entire system of continuous improvement actually grew out of the systems the American military set up and assisted the Japanese in implementing to rebuild their country after World War II.



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