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What is Lean 5s Methodology?

If you are familiar with our site you will know we have set A-Z Glossaries covering Lean, Six-Sigma and Project Management. We also have Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) on most our pages which provide added context to the content.  

This week though we want to write out specifically on the Lean 5s Methodology – What is Lean 5s Methodology? – as we have just adapted and applied the meaning to our inaugural Spotlight course on Optimise Your Productivity. In this course we leveraged the premise of Lean 5s originating from the Japanese organisation method to help individuals ‘Get Organised’ and Optimise their Productivity. In this blog post we will look at Lean 5s in relation to Lean Methodology.  


The Theory

Lean 5s is simple to understand and grasp and as with many tools within Lean can be seen as applying common sense. Despite this simplicity its application can often derive significant success. The approach is to go through each step (S) in turn, these elements are:

  1. Sort (Seiri)
  2. Straighten (Seiton)
  3. Shine (Seiso)
  4. Standardise (Seiketsu)
  5. Sustain (Shitsuke)


Why bother?

Before we get into the detail, if you’re not sure if Lean 5s is right for your organisation, here is our rationale:

  1. Improve health and Safety – a dull answer perhaps on the basis H&S should be delivered consistently, but Lean 5s makes achievement easier and may even improve safety
  2. Lean 5s supports the delivery of products/services with fewer defects,  so right first time performance increases
  3. Problems/issues are more obvious in a Lean 5s setting, meaning they can be treated quicker and resolved before becoming too problematic
  4. The standardisation provides consistency benefiting new starters and also ensuring everyone is aware how to perform their tasks
  5. Visually, the workplace improves. On a previous assignment were we implemented Lean 5s the client were instantly impressed with progress after seeing the change in the working environment. This was before we discussed any improvement in customer performance. 
  6. A less cluttered workplace, being able to locate items when required and standardisation lead to improvements in productivity

Now let’s take a look at each in turn starting with:



Consider the first ‘S’ Sort as clearing out the unnecessary. Nearly all workstations let alone workplaces are cluttered. Strip out what is not necessary. Ask yourself the following question:

  1. Do we need this item? If no – remove the item
  2. If yes – Do we use it regularly? – if yes keep close to hand, if no store away

In some workplaces this will be sufficient for Sort, in most however, this won’t cut it.

If this is the case for you, then adopt the ‘Red Tag’ exercise. Effectively you place a red tag on all items and mark with a date. If the items are not used in a set time-frame then they are not needed – or at least not immediately. So you can take action on the back of this.

In other instances you may be best to remove everything (where practical to do so) and start from scratch – only bring items back into the workplace (in a set place of course) when you actually need them.

If you don’t ever call them back in, then the answer is simple, you do not need them. In practice for this exercise it is best ‘zoning’ parts of the workplace to be completed one at a time. Do not underestimate the time it can take and the level of disruption.



At this point your workplace (or zone) should be clutter free. You are now ready to Straighten the work environment. This is where everything has a place and we put everything in its place.

Key points to consider for Straighten:

  1. Commonly used items are close at hand – less frequently used items are stored in a set way and clearly labelled
  2. Utilise Visual Management (see Lean A-Z for more) – effectively you can easily spot when an item/something is out of place
  3. Where applicable deploy clear signage
  4. Implement controls on stock

Straighten doesn’t just apply to a manufacturing setting. Work folders (including electronic ones should go through the same process), storage of paperwork, equipment etc all adhere to this element.



Now we have less clutter (Sort) and everything is in its place (Straighten) we work on creating a problem free environment. The steps we perform for Shine are:

  1. We clean and maintain cleanliness in the workplace – some areas previously out of bounds such as filing tops are now accessible! A deep clean may be preferable as you work through implementation.
  2. We re-set. Working realities will kick in and from time to time the standard within day may start to slip. The trick is to schedule time to re-set or at the least re-set at the end of the day – in the beginning this will be required on a daily basis.
  3. Flag up any issues with the working environment. You may find now that previously un-spotted (or ignored) issues need resolving.



Now we have great standards in our workplace, the next element focuses on Standardising the approach. This will ensure everyone knows the requirements and we aim for the standards not to be broken.

Steps you may take at this stage:

  1. Develop visual standards which show how the workplace should look
  2. Develop standard operating procedures for how things are done
  3. Develop a task sheet to visually track actions completed
  4. Assign roles and responsibilities for specific actions of maintaining the standards (overall maintenance of the standards is for everyone, if Lean 5s is to be effective)



Implementing Lean 5s effectively takes a concerted effort, however, undoing Lean 5s does not.  All of the above ‘S’s’ will be in vain if you allow the standards to slip. This is were Sustain comes into play. Activities which you may deploy to support Sustain are:

  1. Create ownership of the process(es)
  2. Confirm processes are being maintained (you can see the term process confirmation in our Lean A-Z)
  3. Add adherence to the Lean 5s standards into everyone’s objectives


Industry Application

No we have looked at ‘What is 5s Lean Methodology’ – let’s take a look at where it may be applied. Though Lean found fame in the manufacturing industry Lean 5s can applied in all manner of settings:

  1. Manufacturing/automotive
  2. Public Sector
  3. Services Industry
  4. Your online world – Lean 5s is not limited to physical items and can be well deployed on you electronic filing system or within a computer system
  5. Personal Productivity

Potential Pitfalls

Our aim here at the InvisibleConsultant is to provide you with know-how the same as a consultancy would – so you can make your project or business improvement activity a success. Therefore it would be remiss of us not call out a challenge you may have with implementation.

Though we have called out the many benefits of Lean 5s and promote implementation regardless of a full lean implementation not everyone shares this enthusiasm – especially when they may have to move desks or worse still de-clutter. After-all the mass of objects have been accrued over a long period of time and they have become accustomed to working in a set way.

I am always amazed at the emotions brought up by moving a desk – so do not underestimate the ‘people’ challenges your Lean 5s implementation may bring. Even those who at first appear advocates can actually be those who turn out to be the least engaged.

We advise factoring this in to your planning and ensuring you effectively engage your colleagues in the change process. It is much better to make a few compromises and bring everyone along than having a ‘debate’ at every turn. However, the core concept should not be compromised.


Final Word of Warning

As with many things in life one needs to apply common sense – and implementing Lean 5s is no different. There have been some ‘remarkable’ stories of Lean 5s being implemented a little too literally. One such example reached national press in the UK (many more do not…). Here civil servants of the National Insurance offices had tape laid out on their desks to mark where pens and other items must be placed. The key headline was the £7m cost but where sure (if not hopeful) the total money was spent more effectively in the implementation…

So the key takeaway here is to add our own 6th S – which is sensible. Lean 5s should help us not hinder.

Until next time


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