The 5S framework was originally developed by just-in-time expert and international consultant Hiroyuki Hirano. The 5S framework is an extension of Hirano's earlier works on just-in-time production systems. The 5Ss represent a simple "good housekeeping" approach to improving the work environment consistent with the tenets of lean manufacturing systems. The focus on the concept is how the visual workplace can be utilized to drive inefficiencies out of the manufacturing process. This framework also improves workplace safety, which makes it attractive to businesses. According to Hirano, without the organization and discipline provided by successfully implementing the 5Ss, other lean manufacturing tools and methods are likely to fail. The "5Ss" stand for the Japanese words seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. These Japanese "S" words roughly translate into the English words organization, orderliness, cleanliness, standardized cleanup, and discipline. Alternative corresponding "Ss" have also been developed for the English language: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain.

Seiri, or sort, focuses upon reducing the amount of rarely used material or tools that tend to attract clutter. Only those things required for immediate production should be retained in the work area. Seiton, or orderliness, facilitates the reduction of clutter and efficient access to material or tools by following the old adage "a place for everything and everything in its place." Workers readily know when a tool is missing due to a visual signals (e.g., empty space on a sign-board). Seiso, or cleanliness, focuses upon keeping the workplace, machinery, and tools clean. This includes keeping tools and machinery calibrated, performing preventive maintenance and the use of visual cues to signal when maintenance is needed. Seiketsu, or standardized cleanup, is essentially the condition that occurs when the first three pillars—the first 3Ss—are implemented well. However, it also includes institutionalizing the first three pillars. This includes developing rules, processes and procedures to ensure continuity and uniformity of achievements accrued by the first three pillars do not erode over time. Finally, shitsuke, or discipline, focuses upon putting procedures into place that sustain the psychological meaningfulness of the payoffs achieved by the overall framework. This may include periodic rewards for workers who excel in some facet of the framework or other visual signals that communicate the commitment of management to the continued implementation of 5S.

Use of color is a primary tool of the visual work-place. Examples include color-coded connections to mistake-proof and speed connections of all sorts of parts and colored boundary markers on shop floors. Information sharing is also an important aspect of the visual workplace. For example, processes can be designed to provide visual signals indicating that certain activities need to occur (e.g., empty inventory space on floor), or communicate productivity standards and output.

In recent years, many companies have utilized the simple guidelines provided by the 5S framework. However, implementing the framework is not always a simple task. It may require redesigning processes or buying new more reliable machinery. This difficulty has given rise to a burgeoning consulting business designed to help firms implement the 5S system including process design as well as employee training. Interestingly, while there appears to be a wide variety of firms utilizing the 5S framework, as of 2005, there is no published empirical research supporting its utility. There does however, appear to be some anecdotal evidence supporting the efficacy of the 5S framework.

SEE ALSO: Japanese Management ; Lean Manufacturing and Just-in-Time Production ; Quality and Total Quality Management

Jerry Bryan Fuller


Doehrman, Marylou. "The Fives in 5S Apply to Every Industry." Colorado Springs Business Journal, February 2005.

Gerard, Alexis, and Bob Goldstein. Going Visual: Using Images to Enhance Productivity, Decision Making, and Profits. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

Hirano, Hiroyuki. 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace: The Source Book for 5S Implementation. New York: Productivity Press, 1996.

Jusko, Jill. "Seeing is Believing: The Collins-Aikman Athens, Tennessee Operations Relies on Visual Signals, Good Housekeeping and Teamwork to Drive Its Lean Manufacturing Imperative." Industry Week, October 2002.

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