5S: It’s Not Just a Pretty Facility

DPA Insights
By Nancy Kay, Senior Consultant, Daniel Penn Associates LLC

Today’s Lean operational principles begin with implementing 5S, which stands for Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. 5S is “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

Fun fact: 5S originates from 5 corresponding Japanese words that also begin with the letter S: Seiri Seiton (keeping things tidy and in order), Seiso (cleaning), Seiketsu (clean) and Shitsuke (home discipline; training; upbringing; breeding).Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain

Sounds logical, right? Unfortunately, many underestimate the power of 5S. 5S is not just about achieving a pretty and neat organization, office, manufacturing plant or retail shop. The real value is in the productivity that is achieved from the process of organization.

To illustrate, let’s talk about the two kinds of drawers everyone has in their kitchen. One is the silverware drawer that is typically well organized with a divider shaped in the form of the utensils. The other is its messy relative, the miscellaneous utensil drawer.

The organized silverware drawer is 5S at its best:

Sorted: Most silverware drawers contain only the silverware that is used and not items that are not used.

Straightened: Everything is in order and organized in a visual management system (In manufacturing industry parlance, this is known as a shadow board.) Labels can also be used to speed access to the right kitchen tools.

Shined: The area is kept clean. Dirty silverware is never put back in the drawer.

Standardized: Silverware drawers offer a system that works so well that the whole world has embraced its design. Its simple, universal visual standard quickly allows us to select the right tool for the right job, every time.

Sustained: Because the silverware drawer is a self-sustaining system, people will quickly see what is out of place and put it back in place. From corporations to health care organizations to manufacturing environments, self-sustaining systems — like the silverware drawer — allow auditors to quickly see what’s out of synch and take corrective measures.

In contrast, the messy miscellaneous utensil drawer:

  • Holds items purchased because they looked cool on TV but are never used
  • Doesn’t have dividers or any type of organization
  • Doesn’t label or standardize the tools’ placement based on how they are used
  • Requires minutes of searching (sometimes emptying the whole darn drawer!) to find the right tool or utensil

What kind of kitchen drawer does your work environment mimic? How are you applying 55 principals in your customer service center, production cell or hospital equipment program to simplify work and increase productivity?


Nancy Kay is a senior consultant with Daniel Penn Associates LLC. She applies her 25+ years of expertise in Toyota Production System, Six Sigma, Lean, process improvement and team building techniques to support clients’ manufacturing operations management, maintenance and asset management, technical problem-solving, plant start-up, re–engineering and systems implementation needs.

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