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5S Event, creating the 5S workplace

A 5S kaizen event is a method to implement the 5S methodology in sections of an organization. 5S is one of the most widely adopted techniques from the LEAN toolbox. The primary objective of 5S is to create a clean, orderly environment- an environment where there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. Many companies begin their LEAN transformation with 5S because it exposes some of the most visible examples of waste. 5S also helps establish the framework and discipline required to successfully pursue other continuous improvement initiatives.

5S, The “Gateway to Improvement”

5S is often called the “Gateway to Improvement” because it is difficult to Improve a surrounding that is unorganized and chaotic. Picture yourself walking into a supermarket to get ten items. It is the only supermarket within a 50-mile radius, so you are confined to using this store. You walk in to get your ten items and there is no rhyme or reason as to why any item is in an aisle. Everything is placed randomly. There is no sign telling you what any aisle is down. To find these ten items, you will have to walk down all the aisles multiple times. This would be very frustrating!

It amazes me how many organizations fit this very scenario.

Now picture the same supermarket but in a different environment. You walk in and it looks much like the supermarkets that you are used to. The items are sorted in each aisle logically by family or type. There are signs telling you what each aisle is down to keep you from traveling into an aisle that does not add value to your shopping experience. Each item is labeled. This is a much less frustrating scenario.

Preparation for your 5S Event

This event is easy to run and with some preparation can produce impressive results. It is great for morale and team building. Before you start, here are some things to consider:

  • What part of the company needs 5S? Choose the department that will create the most buzz and benefit the company. This area should be the model department or cell, which can be visited by other workers to get inspired.
  • You should ensure that you have sufficient time, supplies, resources, and people available to host the event.
  • Communicate 5S to everyone in the company. You can do this by giving a presentation to your team explaining the tool and the objectives. The best way to communicate successes is with before and after photos.
  • After clearing out the clutter, think about what storage solutions might be needed.

Now you’re ready to start your Kaizen5S event! 

Learn more about our 5S training programs

5S Event – The Five Steps

5S Event, Step #1 – Sort (or Seri)

The Mantra of the first “S”, Sort is “Get rid of what does not belong”

If you’ve ever seen the comedian George Carlin’s comedy rant called “stuff” [], you’ll understand most individuals (as well as organizations) obsession with collecting things. This is more prevalent in the U.S. because of not being constrained by space.

“Sort” uses the “30 Day Rule” as a rule.

5S Event, Sort 'When in Doubt, Throw it Out'

This rule states: If you haven’t used it in 30 days, get rid of it. This is a general rule that does not apply literally. High-dollar items and items used for insurance purposes are usually exempt.

This is where you are going to get the push-back of JIC (Just in Case). We tend to have a tough time letting go of even trivial things. Because we are obsessed with “stuff”, we can occupy a lot of space quickly. In Lean terms, “getting rid of it” means to disposition, unless it is truly trash (in which case we throw it away). We call this “Red Tagging” because we red tag everything is dispositioned. We disposition items to a “disposition area”.

Each item is red tagged with a value to be written off as well as a final disposal date. Dispositioned items are then advertised to the organization and given away; relocated to other sites that have been used for the item or sold.

5S Event Red Tag

If the item has not been removed from the disposition area within the “disposal date” on the tag (usually within 30 days), it is sold to employees, removed to a secondhand store (like the Salvation Army), or disposed of.

One of the greatest benefits of the first “S”, Sort is that it should gain you between 35%-75% of space on your first 5S event.

I have been called into many organizations that were in the planning phases of expanding with new multi-million-dollar structures. After a five-day 5S Event, they stopped the expansion project because they had found enough space existing in their present facility.

Where could you or your organization use the first “S” to regain much-needed space? Does your organization have the “hoarding mentality”?

5S Event Straighten

5S Event, Step #2 – Straighten (or Seiton)

Set In Order follows the simple rule of: “Everything has a Place and Everything in its Place”.

Visualize walking into a hospital to visit someone having orthopedic surgery. You enter through the main lobby and there are no directions, no map, and no one at the front desk to guide you. Throughout the hospital corridors, there is no sign directing you. To get to the orthopedic wing you would either know where it is or wander aimlessly in search of your destination.

It is amazing how many organizations that we visit fit this scenario.

Now picture the above scenario with maps at every intersection of the hospital; colored arrows and paths pointing you to different major areas and signage on the ceiling of each area to let you know where you are located. In this scenario, you would better understand your current environment

5S Event - Visual Management in a Hospital

In this segment of the 5S kaizen event, we want to organize critical items in priority by use. The product, service, and information that we use often should be easily identified and accessible. Less used items should be stored but still accessible and still identified. If the item is not in place, we should easily be able to see that it is missing. When we find an item that is out of place, we should know where that item belongs because the area is identified as well as the item.

This “S”, Set in Order, helps to reduce the waste of searching.

5S Event Shine

5S Event Step #3 – Shine (Seiso)

When I was young, my mom taught me a valuable lesson that helped me later in life. The lesson was “Clean as you Cook”. Back then I begrudgingly followed her rule without knowing the impact it would have. “Clean as you Cook” is at the core of the Third “S”. Shine is about building the habit and discipline to keep your area clean and organized all throughout the workday.

This continuous cleaning and organization are particularly important in Visually Managing your environment. It is difficult to identify problems in a chaotic (disorganized) area. How difficult would it be to find an item in a grocery store if there are no signs on the ceiling or down the aisles identifying the product in those aisles? What if the items were not placed in any logical order? The second “S” is about organizing the environment to reduce the need to search. Shine is about managing that organization every day. Without daily management of the 5S’s, the environment will quickly slip back into chaos.

The hardest part of this “S” is the discipline.

This must start with the leaders of the organization (execs, directors, managers, supervisors, etc.). If the leaders do not lead by example, then 5S will not sustain in your environment.

One of my favorite stories is of a Plant Manager that walked his facility every day and met with his teams of operators throughout the plant. If he saw trash in an area, he would reach down, pick it up and throw it in the trash. He didn’t yell at the operators. He didn’t tell them to go grab a broom and clean it up. He led by example. That example was contagious. Other operators started to do the same and it soon became a habit. Six months after the 5S implementation, the plant was significantly transformed.

How do we manage this “S”, “Shine”? How do build the habit of 5S? There are several things we can do to sustain this “S” (Shine) along with the rest of the “S’s” in 5S.

  • Clear definition of what is expected by the operators when it comes to cleaning and organizing. This is best defined and displayed on a 5S Information Board in the employee’s area. I like to use pictures as well as a concise explanation.
  • The area must be Audited for compliance with the 5S Standards. The Audit results in a score. The score can be used in team evaluations. Those teams that consistently score well are rewarded. We will talk about this more in the Blog about the fourth “S”, “Standardize”.
  • Someone must own or be a Champion for 5S in an area. The teams in each area should alternate as Champions throughout the year.

We need a reason to do the 5Ss. Competition between departments and/or facilities promotes friendly rivalry. Promote those teams that do well at the company picnic or Christmas party. Give gift cards or a Pizza Party to the best monthly team.

5S Event Standardize

5S Event, Step #4 – Standardize (Seiketsu)

Why don’t the improvements from a 5S kaizen Event sustain in many organizations? The first answer is the lack of infrastructure to support LEAN and therefore the 5S Event. Without education and buy-in of LEAN and 5S, the 5S efforts will be less important than production. If the Business Unit Leader/ Chief Nursing Officer / Plant Manager places less importance on 5S, then so will their teams. Therefore, the 5S event improvements will not sustain in an environment where it is not completely supported.

The second answer to the question “Why doesn’t the improvements to a 5S kaizen event sustain?” Is that we do not perform the 4th and 5th “S” effectively. Most companies have a 5S event but, only complete three of the S’s (Sort, Set in Order, and Shine).

To make a “process” a standard, we must have accountability for the standard. We find that the word “accountability” is often interpreted incorrectly. Most think of “accountability” in the negative sense. For example, if an operator does something wrong, he/she must be held accountable. Good Lean and Six Sigma practitioners interpret “accountability” in a positive sense. For example, when an operator excels at a process, he/she should be held accountable through reward and recognition. When an operator does something wrong, that is a sign that there was an error in the process. The error should be mitigated, and the process owner retrained.

To have “accountability”, we must have control and feedback that comes from the control. In the fourth “S”, Standardize, the control comes in form of a formal lean 5S Audit. The audit is customized to each functional area and specifically defines what that area should look like. The audit is performed by a group of people that are unbiased in that area.

The maturity of your lean 5S kaizen event implementation will delegate the frequency of the audits. You may audit weekly in the first three months of the implementation. As cleanliness and organization become habit, the frequency may lessen.

Feedback is an important part of the fourth ‘S”. When the audit is performed and an area falls short of a “passing” score, we then initiate “accountability”. If the area did not pass, there was something wrong with the process. Were the people in the area trained properly? Were they given enough time to complete their 5S duties each day? These questions can come from a Reaction Plan in a Lean Six Sigma Control Plan.

True training doesn’t come from a short seminar or meeting to inform everyone of the “new way”. Training (or Feedback) is a continual process. I may make an error multiple times, but with constant feedback, I will eventually make “doing it right” a habit. If that habit comes from a “standard” then my habit will have slight variation from others who perform the same process.

5S Kaizen Event Step #5 – Sustain (Shitsuke)

The fifth “S” is the most important “S” to implement. Unfortunately, most companies never make it this far in their efforts. This is where we build and maintain the Habit of 5S.

We do this by generating Excitement! Most would think that auditing (in the Standardize phase of 5S) would be enough to keep the 5S efforts alive over the long term, but today’s team members need to understand “what’s in it for me?”. How do we Build Excitement around the 5S lean Kaizen event Efforts?

Companies that have a good 5S program promote friendly competition as part of their efforts to Sustain 5S. Audit scores of cells, departments, and sites can be used as the measurement of lean 5S success. Several companies that we work with have bi-monthly kaizen 5S competitions within their facility. Every other month the department with the highest 5S audit scores gets a prize. The prize could be a Pizza party or gift certificates. There is a Yearly 5S Trophy given at the Company Picnic or Christmas Party. There are awards given for the most improved area.

Once the Habit is built, Sustaining the discipline becomes simple, almost self-perpetuating. You will see employees take pride in their work areas. You will see employees pick up trash off the floor and discard it. A new employee will get feedback from seasoned team members when that employee does not follow the rules of 5S. You will see increased morale in the team members. 5S is the first building block to truly transform a company through LEAN.


A 5S Kaizen event can be a fantastic way to keep your workspaces tidy and clutter-free. The team will be excited to see the results and encouraged to make further improvements. These improvements can be ingrained into the company’s culture if they are made correctly and continuously improved by the employees.