5S: Beyond Housekeeping

5S: Beyond Housekeeping

It’s surprising to see that many organizations or people perceive 5S as a housekeeping exercise and therefore don’t use it.

The fact is that 5S is an ideal starting point of Kaizen/ Lean journey as it helps to build the foundation. It tests the level of discipline of the management & its employees. It helps to achieving & maintaining a clean and orderly workplace. It helps the Gemba (real place) to speak for itself. It's easier to locate tools and equipment in an organized and standardized work area. A cleaned and straightened work area also gives a better impression when customers visit. Developing self-discipline ensures that a clean and well-organized work area stays clean and well-organized. 

5S is a tool for systematic approach for productivity, quality and safety improvement.

Why 5S?

Working in an unorganized or untidy environment is neither productive, nor safe. 5S is a simple tool that helps to make the work area clean & organized. It helps to instill a quality culture. It is relatively easy and requires minimal additional resources. The time & efforts invested in 5S gets paid off in a much bigger way when the results are realized. Below given are the few benefits of implementing 5S:

1.    The work place become clean, safe, well organized & more pleasant

2.    Space utilization is improved or space is released

3.    Since non-value added activities are minimized the workflow becomes smoother

4.    Time for searching tools, material & documents is minimized

5.    Equipment life is extended as machine breakdowns are reduced

6.    Defect free products/ services can be delivered as errors are minimized

7.    Productivity & quality of the products and services improves

8.    And last but not the least the employee morale & satisfaction improves

What is managements role in 5S?

Like in any other activity, managements role in 5S is equally important. Management has to facilitate & support the 5S initiative by:

1.    Allowing employees time for 5S implementation

2.    Providing resources

3.    Showing personal interest by getting involved in it

4.    Creating financial & non-financial reward system

5.    Promoting 5S at all levels and by engaging everyone

Guidelines for implementing 5S

For effective implementation of 5S, it would be important to:

• Sensitize everyone (from doorman to chairman) about the importance and benefits of 5S and get their                 commitment;

• Conduct a status audit with photographs ‘as is state’.

• Measure throughput time, time in materials handling, floor space, annual physical inventory time, etc. by using        before and after the 5S implementation.

• Develop an implementation plan, with clear roles & responsibilities and deadlines, in consultation with                      management and all employees concerned;

• Implement the 5 S plan;

• Take photographs after the implementation and see the difference;

• Share the experience and extend the implementation to other areas;

• Conduct periodic 5S Internal Audits with ratings to monitor progress.

So to conclude 5S system is not a housekeeping program, it is a problem prevention & problem identification system, so when something is out of place, the process should be to repeatedly ask why until we find the root cause and take corrective action.  Taiichi Ohno said that until you have asked why five times, you probably have not found the root cause.  Thus, the 5 Why root cause process is to ask, “Why, why, why, why, why” until you have found the source, or root, of the problem.  Sometimes five times of asking why is not enough, and you have to ask it several more times.

A good 5S program produces good housekeeping, but it is just an outcome, not the goal.  Five S should be a problem prevention tool and a way to identify & fix problems when they are still very small, and thus preventing big problems. 

“Take care of the small things, and the big things will take care of themselves.”

5S Checklist 


1.1 Is the floor area free of unwanted items?

1.2 Are tops and insides of all cupboards, shelves, tables, etc. free of unwanted items?

1.3 Are items stored according to frequency of use?

1.4 Are walls free of old posters, calendars, pictures, notices, etc.?

1.5 Is there a general clutter free appearance?


2.1 Are direction indications available to all facilities from the entrance onwards?

2.2 Do all items of equipment have identification labels?

2.3 Are all rooms, cubicles and similar areas clearly numbered or named?

2.5 Are specific areas demarcated for garbage/rejects/waste, etc.?

2.6 Are switches, fan regulators, controls, etc. labeled?

2.7 Are all cables, wires, pipes etc. neat and straight?

2.8 Is color coding used effectively for easy identification?

2.9 Is there a general appearance of orderliness?

2.10 Is it easy to find any item/document without delay?


3.1 Are cleaning schedules available and displayed?

3.2 Are floors, walls, windows doors etc. maintained at a high level of cleanliness?

3.3 Is use of adequate cleaning tools evident?

3.4 Are machines, equipment, tools, furniture maintained at a high level of cleanliness and their maintenance schedules displayed?

3.5 Is there a general appearance of cleanliness all round?


4.1 Are all 5S procedures standardized?

4.2 Are standard check lists used to regularly inspect 5S?

4.3 Are labels, notices etc. standardized?

4.4 Do isles/gangways have a standard size and color?

4.5 Are pipes, cables etc. color coded? 


5.1 Is there a system for how and when the 5S activities will be implemented?

5.2 Does management provide support to 5S program by recognition, resources and leadership?

5.3 Have first 3S become a part of the daily work?

5.4 Do employees show positive interest in 5S activities?

5.5 Are 5S posters and 5S points of work reminders displayed?

Checklist for Shop floor, Stores & Office are available. Please contact us to get the same.

5S table references

1. Imai, Masaaki, Kaizen: The Key To Japan's Competitive Success, McGraw-Hill/Irwin, first edition, 1986
2. Imai, Masaaki, Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management, McGraw-Hill, first edition,       1997
3. Munro, Roderick A., Six Sigma for the Office: Spiral, ASQ, pocket edition 2002
4. Van Patten, James, "A Second Look At 5S," Quality Progress, Oct. 2006 (ASQ members only)
5. Kubiak, T.M. and Benbow, Donald W., The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook, Second Edition, ASQ Quality     Press, second edition, 2009
6. Borror, Connie M., The Certified Quality Engineer Handbook, Third Edition, ASQ Quality Press, third edition, 2008
7. Bullington, Kimball E., "5S for Suppliers," Quality Progress, Jan. 2003, (ASQ members only)
8. Chapman, Christopher D., "Clean House With Lean 5S" Quality Progress, June 2005 (ASQ members only)

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