Hand on heart: Is your workplace tidy? Do you always know immediately where which item is? Are there only things at your workplace that you really need? While one person really flourishes in creative chaos, the other aligns the notepad parallel to the edge of the table and always has the wet wipes from the drugstore at the ready. Sound familiar? In this article, we’ll introduce you to the 5S method, which, when applied correctly, makes workplaces look like new – and all of them to the same degree.

Definition: 5S Method

The 5S method is a systematic approach to making one’s working environment safe, clean and clear. Like the Ishikawa diagram, it can be assigned to the Kaizen principle. The overriding goal of the method is to minimize time wasted in non-value-added activities such as searching for work equipment. In addition, the 5S method is said to reduce the risk of accidents at work through more order in the workplace – and thus to increase occupational safety.

And that’s not all: if used correctly, long transport routes and waiting times can be avoided. Space can be used more efficiently by keeping things tidy. The appearance of the workplace is tidy and presentable for customers. Where better to work to a high standard of quality than at a clean workplace? In the best case, complaints can be avoided and customer confidence increased. The 5S method is a good basis for further process optimization. It was developed by Toyoda Sakichi as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS). Thus, the method was first applied in the production industry, but more on that later.

The Steps of the 5S Method – Your Way to a Safe, Clean & Clear Workplace

The 5S method got its name from its five steps, which are as follows in Japanese: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke. In English, the 5S can be translated into the steps Select, Systematize, Shine, Standardize and Self-discipline. The methodology is also well known in the German-speaking world as the 5A method. Whether it is 5S or 5A – the methodology behind it remains the same.

Graphical representation of the 5s method

1. Seiri (Select) – create order and remove what is not necessary

Mark work equipment and materials that you do not need in your work. Remove them from your workspace to make it more organized. At the end of this step

  • there will be no unnecessary work equipment or storage items left at your workstation,
  • only those machines, equipment and tools that are in regular use will be present, and
  • storage areas have been defined for items that are used occasionally.

2. Seiton (Systematize) – define fixed locations for objects

Bring a system to the arrangement of things left at the workplace. Keep in mind how often you use which items and in what order you need them. The goal at the end of this step is to

  • have defined locations for materials, machines, and tools,
  • have labeled storage boxes, shelves, and stored items, and
  • know that all operating and work equipment is in perfect condition.

3. Seiso (Shine) – keep the workplace clean

A clean workplace not only has something to do with hygiene, but also makes deviations between the target and actual condition recognizable. Clean your work equipment to identify and eliminate possible sources of error and damage. At the end of the step

  • buildings, cabinets, shelves, machines, tools and the workplace are clean,
  • lighting is adequate and in good working order,
  • ventilation in the plant is ensured, and
  • all cleaning tasks clearly defined.

4. Seiketsu (Standardize) – make the procedure a habit

Work together as a team to develop a procedure that you can standardize in your processes. This makes it easy to change workstations, for example, because every workstation follows the same principle. The aim of this step is

  • to create a visual control by appropriate markings like signs, color codes or similar,
  • to use the 5S checklist on a regular basis and
  • to be aware of one’s respective responsibilities.

5. Shitsuke (Self-discipline) – make the procedure a personal concern

In order to integrate the 5S into everyday work in the long term, one thing in particular is important at the end: every team member must participate. The goal of the fifth phase is therefore

  • not only to see the 5S as a requirement, but to live it in the corporate culture,
  • make success stories visible, e.g. with before and after pictures, and
  • to follow up positive results with rewards and recognition.

Recurring Process

Once carried out – everything is already tidy? Only to a limited extent, because it may not stay that way for long. When using the 5S method, it is important to continuously integrate it into the daily work routine. Only when the processes have been internalized will the goal intended by Toyoda Sakichi be achieved: less working time is wasted on activities that do not add value. In order to establish the method in the team, managers in particular have a role model function.

5S method in the production industry – and beyond

Having its origins in the production industry, the 5S method still seems to make particular sense in this context. If we compare the premises of manufacturing companies with the offices of service companies, for example, we can assume that there is a greater variety of different work and operating resources in the manufacturing industry – and thus also a greater need to structure the workplace optimally. But even if one considers the current developments with regard to office workplaces, the 5S method could gain in relevance. At the latest when principles such as desk sharing come into use, a neat, clean workplace structured according to certain specifications is a must – because who wants to have to clean up someone else’s mess whilst drinking coffee in the morning?


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