5S but not iPhone. Ultimate way to boost your efficiency

Hey there! Skill Miner is online. Today I would like to introduce to you a brand new section of my website. It is called Skill Library. Skill Library will serve you as a practical guideline aiming to develop a certain skill. It means that if you follow step by step the described below algorithm and apply it consistently, then very soon you will master a skill.

This time I would like to guide you through one of the most famous methodologies in Lean Manufacturing called 5S. You would probably say that it is applicable only to industry. Not at all. This methodology can be applied even in our private lives. It may help you to save a lot of time and to become more efficient. By efficiency here I mean to do more within the same period of time.

5S way

Theory in brief

The 5S methodology was formed during the 20th century in Japan with the development of the Toyota Production System. Its main sense is creating an optimized workplace. By optimizing I assume a reduction of unnecessary items in Gemba (the place where added value is created) and arranging them in a certain way. This way must provide search time reduction and higher safety level. Each “S” in the name stands for a certain step of this method.

  • 1S – Seiri (Japanese) or Sort (English).
  • 2S – Seiton (Japanese) or Set in Order (English).
  • 3S – Seiso (Japanese) or Shine (English).
  • 4S – Seiketsu (Japanese) or Standardize (English).
  • 5S – Shitsuke (Japanese) or Sustain (English).

You would ask me: “So what? Why do I need it, if I am an office manager”. A fair question. I will introduce to you 5 practical steps how to implement 5S in general. It can be for example a kitchen at your house, or a garage, or even your workplace in the office. If you want to create really nice work conditions and stop seeking tools like my grandpa loved doing, below is an exhaustive guideline.

Here is a short test that I advise to pass after you read the full text.

Figure 1. Imagine that you work in the warehouse where you store blue pens, yellow pens, black pencils and yellow pencils. You got a task to make an inventory and to count how many pieces need to be ordered additionally. Meanwhile, you have to open the new boxes that arrived urgently to give other things to the office. To open the boxes you will need a knife. Your tasks are: find the knife and count how many pens and pencils are in this figure. While doing check the time you spend and write it somewhere down.

Developing a 5S implementation skill

Everything that I write from this moment based on my practical experience.

1S – Sort

As you remember 1S stands for Sort. It is a very important step that allows us to break the status quo and see what we need really and what not.

  • Action 1. Take a picture of the workplace. As it is right now. The more detailed it is the better.
  • Action 2. Separate all the items you have into two big groups. Group one contains items without which you can’t work. It means you need them daily, or a few times a day. Group two contains items, which you don’t use at all. You can call them “What the hell they are doing here” items.
  • Action 3. The items from the second group you must place in a special area which is normally called a Red Tag area. It is a temporary storage of all the unnecessary stuff. You may also create an individual Red Tag for each item and write there date, name, and quantity.
  • Action 4. Every month you revise the Red Tag area to identify, whether you need any of those items. If not at all then it is probably the best time to get rid of them or sell them. Or you can present them to somebody whom you don’t like much.
  • Action 5. Take a picture of changes.


As it is shown in figure 2. From the state one, we moved to the state two.

Figure 2.  State 2. This is how our warehouse is going to look like after implementing 1S. Now we see clearly where the knife is and what is also important we discovered three sharp blades hidden in the pile. Hopefully, our fingers are still in one piece. Your task is to count how many pens and pencils are in the warehouse and control the time you need for it.

2S – Set in Order

Now you should have only useful items at your workplace. This step you can call “Everything must have its place and MUST BE RETURNED to its place”. 

  • Action 1. Define where each item belongs to. It should be the place where you can easily and safely reach it as you need it.
  • Action 2. Use visual tools as markers for these places. It can be for example labeling on drawers and boxes. Or you can draw a contour of the item on your table (use a colored tape).
  • Action 3. Take a picture.


As it is shown in figure 3. From the state two, we moved to the state three.

Figure 3.  State 3. This is how our warehouse looks after we defined the places for all items (yellow pens are not presented in the figure). Here we use two types of visual indication. We use labels and colors. Your task is to count how many pens and pencils are in the warehouse and control the time you need for it.

3S – Shine

This is about maintaining your workplace always organized and clean. Therefore you must establish a daily routine for this.

  • Action 1. Identify cleaning items you need and their places.
  • Action 2. Identify schedule of cleaning. If it is in the office – define responsible people and time.
  • Action 3. Make it a habit.


As it is shown in figure 4. From the state three, we moved to the state four.

Figure 4. At the shining stage, you need to identify all the necessary cleaning tools, people responsible for cleaning and time (when and how long).

4S – Standardize

You probably remember a PDCA cycle mentioned by me in Kaizen Certified article. One of the most important phases in its implementation is Standardization. Otherwise, we can’t fix the current level.

Figure 5. PDCA cycle principle

  • Action 1. Create a visual standard. It means post a picture showing how your workplace must look like in its perfect state. The picture can be placed on the wall or on the board. Be practical. By leaving hundreds of books and docs on your table you definitely do not show how much you work on them. In the best case, you show how much time you probably waste to find the only right one in this chaos.
  • Action 2. Standards must be continuously improved. Yes, you got it right. Created once the standard serves as a temporary wedge for a rock climber, just to get higher and set-up the next one. Nevertheless, the standard must be followed.


As it is shown in figure four. From the state three, we moved to the state four.

Figure 6. An example of a 5S visual standard placed on an information board. It must give an exhaustive information on how to store the items. However, if you are very attentive you can find straight away what might be improved next.

5S – Sustain

So, here we are. This last S stands for the two actions.

  • Action 1. You must turn into habit all the mentioned above steps hence continuously improve and optimize your workplace.


  • Action 2. You must also conduct audits. Once a month you should, or somebody, make a revision of your workplace. Provided that there is a standard, you check the conformity of the current state to this standard.

5S - sustain


Lean Manufacturing and Toyota Production System are getting more and more popular and not only among manufacturers. You can see that it can be easily projected onto our daily routine. The 5S methodology is a common sense based approach to workplace organization. By following it you will create a safer environment and will waste less time for a search. Even your workplace will make you feel happier and more confident. As long as it is so nice and clean. No matter what the place is – a workshop or your kitchen – 5S works for all of them.

I also advise you to read about change management, because you may face resistance from your colleagues. Very often I heard from technicians that they have more important things to do than cleaning and maintaining 5S. Sure they do. They spend hundreds of hours yearly to find the proper tool.

Figure 7. Change Acceptance Curve

3 thoughts on “5S but not iPhone. Ultimate way to boost your efficiency

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