5S in Day-to-day Operations

5S is a management system or technique developed by Takashi Osada and Hirayoki Hirano during the 1990s to facilitate and maintain superior quality, productivity, a safe working environment, and generate less waste in an organization. Though the modern application of 5S is confined to Lean manufacturing, JIT (Just In Time), KAYZEN, continuous improvement, and waste management techniques, there is no consensus about the scope of 5S. Authors and Industrialists have applied the principles of 5S (derived from the five Japanese words – Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, Shitsuke) to behavioral, organizational, waste, and quality management systems.


Pillars or Principles of 5S System:

Each of the five (5) S’s represent a pillar and are annotated with their Japanese names as follows:


Seiri (Organization)

It is the first “S” and is derived from the principle of willingness to reach a goal. The modern understanding of Seiri is “Organization” and to eliminate unnecessary items from the workplace. The elimination process is also called “Red tagging” and starts by asking questions like “Is it useful?”, “How frequently is it required?” and “How much is required?”. A red tag is attached to the unnecessary items and is scrapped from the system. The entire process is documented to evaluate the system’s efficiency and monitor the improvements and savings from the Seiri.


Seiton (Neatness)

The second “S” is derived from the principle of “setting things in order,” and the idiom of Seiton is “A place for everything and everything in its place,” as explained by Peterson and Smith, 2001. This pillar is focused on “effective storage and segregation of things,” following Seiri. Once all the things required and used constantly are identified, they must be placed in an easily found and accessible place. Distance and the location of the item are dependent on the frequency of usage. For identification, grouping (store similar items together) and labeling (color codes or numbering for quick identification) are done to assign a defined place for a component.


Seiso (Cleaning)

The third “S” is “Shine or Clean” and is derived from the principle of “earning the esteem and respect of peers and superiors.” Seiso focuses on quality, which can be achieved only in clean environments and better work conditions. Literary studies reveal that every employee shall like to work in a clean and healthy environment. So, clean and organized operating conditions act as motivation and confidence boosters for employees. Activities of Sieso include identifying and eliminating the sources of disorder and maintaining a clean workspace. This ensures that the working environment is safe and un-hazardous. Amongst employees, Cleanliness is imbibed as a habit and should comply with certain norms of personal tidiness.


Seiketsu (Standardize)

The fourth “S” is “Standardize” and is derived from the Japanese principle of “maintaining self-composure.” Standardization applies to those mentioned above three (3) S’s of Seiri, Seiton, and Seiso, wherein the processes of eliminating waste, defining the storage areas, grouping and marking the materials, organizing the tools and work equipment, personal equipment, cleaning procedures, and protocols are standardized. The roles and responsibilities of every employee are defined and standardized with the best work practices to ensure that everyone performs their tasks in their workplace. Activities in standardization include creating SOPs (Standard operating procedures), Work Instruction manuals, and Flow charts which are clearly labeled and affixed at various locations in the workspace to ensure employees comply with the policies.


Shitsuke (Training and Discipline)

The fifth and final “S” denotes “Sustenance, Training, and Discipline” and is derived from the most challenging principle of  “building and maintaining self-discipline.”  Often Shitsuke is considered the toughest of 5S’s to implement in organizations, as this involves the performance of 5S activities for sustained and more extended periods. Activities in Sustaining include monitoring the policies, periodical audits, reviewing and modifying the standards, implementing the new measures, and motivating employees to follow and adapt to procedures. Award and reward systems are often considered a better tool to encourage employees to follow the policies.


Theoretical basis and approach to the 5S framework:

The 5S technique or methodology was propounded in different yet complementary ways by two Japanese authors: Takashi Osada and Hirayoki Hirano, who recognized the philosophy originated from Japan and applied the principles to industrial use. Osada’s approach is more theoretical and based on organizational development, learning, and change, oriented towards improving efficiency and working conditions. On the other hand, Hirano’s vision is more practical, wherein he defines 5S as a tool that industries can use to differentiate it from competitors.


5S Pillar Takashi Osada (5S as Philosophy for Life and Business) Hiroyuki Hirano (5S a tool for Industrial strategy and waste elimination)
Seiri (Organization) Arrange things in order. Distinguish between necessary and unnecessary Eliminate the unnecessary from work practices
Seiton (Neatness) To have things in the right place. Avoid useless searching Sort and group components incorrect places for easy and retrieval
Seiso (Cleaning) Self-inspection, cleanliness, personal hygiene creates motivation to work Keeping the workspace clean and safe to work
Seiketsu (Standardize) Standardize and Imbibe the first 3S’s to maintain for a prolonged period Create policies and standards for organizations to follow
Shitsuke (Training and Discipline) Instill the ability to review, modify and apply better practices to stay abreast with modern practices Cultivate the habit of following and maintaining the established procedures


Both conclude that the 5S is used as a philosophy in Japan, whereas the US and European nations adopted the system as a tool and strategy for organizational development. Much of the Western thesis still acknowledges 5S as a housekeeping technique, whereas it is framed as lean manufacturing philosophy in other parts. It encourages workers to improve their working conditions and trains them in waste reduction, unplanned downtime, and in-process inventory.


Implementing the 5S Strategy for Day-to-day operations:

Implementation of 5S is done in three phases:





Benefits of Implementing 5S – Why is 5S Essential for organizations?

  1. Employee learning and engagement
  2. Better housekeeping and a better visual workplace
  3. Ensures a safer work environment
  4. Reduction in waste, time, and cost
  5. Results in improved quality, productivity, and efficiency.


Challenges in Implementing 5S:

There is a curious JIT axiom which says, “Good workshops develop beginning with the 5S’s. Bad workshops fall apart beginning with the 5S’s.” This implies that for implementing 5S, scrutinizingly studying the processes, establishing and maintaining 5S strategies are essential for organizations to reap benefits. Although the 5S methodology is one of the best-known strategies for day-to-day implementation, often it is considered a theoretical approach, and very little empirical evidence is available regarding its adoption, mainly due to the following reasons:



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