As We Are Preparing to Open, Will You be Implementing Five S?

Written by Jason Haines

“Without standards, there can be no improvement.” -Taiichi Ohno

There are many ways to get your Lean journey started, but one of the areas that will help you with immediate results is by starting with Five S. Five S is a method of getting your company cleaned and organized to make the workplace more efficient and easier to spot problems before they arise. Many times, just one Five S implementation can double the capacity of your workplace because it gets everything organized, clean and makes it easier for employees to work.

Remember, Five S isn’t just about painting lines, walls and equipment, or cleaning the area and making everything look nice. It is about changing a culture and the attitudes of everyone in the company. It is about reducing what is in your area and making problems much more visible and easier to fix. Five S considers everyone’s input, which in turn builds better teams and provides everybody with more confidence.

Over the years, and I mean many years, Five S has been implemented into different processes and helped companies and countries succeed at what they are doing. The earliest acknowledgement of Five S was in the 1300s, when the Venetian arsenal-built ships using standard parts, equipment and processes. Later it was used by Henry Ford with the Ford Motor Company to help build assembly lines and have standard work at each of the workstations. This helped the Ford Motor Company build cars that everyone could afford.

But the most famous implementation of Five S, and where it received its name from, was by Toyota. The original plan came from when Taiichi Ohno was tasked with helping straighten and grow Toyota. As Ohno was trying to figure out what issues he needed to take care of, he found that he was having trouble just finding the root of the problems themselves because the facility was disorganized. With all the clutter and chaos everywhere, it made it hard to think and process information. Ohno had visited the Ford Motor Company and American grocery stores where he and the Toyodas came up with the idea of Four S. Four S was a standardized way that would help Toyota cleanup, organize, and standardize their workplace. The original Four S’s was Sort, Set in Order, Shine and Standardize, with Sustain to come later when it reached over to the United States. When this was accomplished Toyota became a leader in producing top quality vehicles for all the world.

Let’s take a deeper look at Five S to help give your company a better understanding of the concept and how to implement each phase.


The first step in Five S is to sort through all that you have within your facility, or work area, and try to determine what you need and do not need. Many times, companies will set up areas, called red tag locations, for people to go through later and determine if the items need discarded or not. This is a good time to start getting just the tools that are needed to be at the worksite there. Tools that will typically be used hourly, or daily. Anything else will go to the red tag area to be reviewed at the end of the original Five S process.

Set in Order

The next step to Five S is to set the facility, department, or work cell in order. During this step employees will start to use POUS, Point of Use Storage. Point of Use Storage puts tools and materials close to the operators so they can easily access what is needed for the job. In todays atmosphere this is more important than ever as employees will have to deal with more obstacles than before, like sneeze guards, masks, and gloves.  A company like C Tek can help alleviate the pain of these needed nuisances by helping you design sneeze guards that fit your space through their free design services.


The third step of Five S is shine. Generally, both the Set in Order and Shine steps will be done hand in hand because they are closely related. They are set as separate Five S phases because how they are implemented is different. With the Shine step employees and leaders will begin to paint, clean, and brighten up the workspace. Brightening up the workplace makes it easier to spot things that are out of accordance. Painting lines and making areas that are specifically used to store tools makes it much easier to see if something is missing or in use. When employees and leaders know what is going on in a cleaner work environment it provides for better flow of product.


The most important step in Five S is the step to Standardize. Standardizing helps companies have a starting point. Just like most football teams start with a base offense and defense, companies must have a base, or place to start at. Standards help companies grow and continuously improve. Standard work helps employees know what they need to do and when to do it. It also helps after training an employee to know what to do so they don’t waste time asking what needs to be done. This is one area that I wish I had have known about when I helped start an essential oil manufacturer a while back. If I had standard work made, I probably would have saved myself a lot of headaches along the way. As with sneeze guards, C Tek can help you with your standardization with their communication boards and designing work cells.


The last step of Five S is the Sustain phase. This is the hardest phase because Sustain is difficult for everyone to do. When everything gets to moving and chaos ensues the Sustain phase will be tested. It will be tested because this is when people start taking shortcuts and stop doing what needs to be done. Shortcuts and firefighting are easy in the moment, but over the long-term shortcuts and firefighting are more detrimental to the company and the processes within. Sustain is the one area that the leaders must lead the process of Five S. This is where the employees will see what is important to the company, and if the employees see, or hear you saying one thing and doing the opposite it will be deadly to your efforts. Attitude reflects leadership.

Five S can help leaders lead but is not a leadership style. It is a tool that helps leaders within the Lean toolkit. Just like a hammer helps a carpenter do their job, Five S helps a leader perform their job.

Helping you grow your business through process improvement!!