The 5S method - Optimising the workplace

Lean management is not necessarily a form of management, but rather a philosophy experienced in the company. It is about optimising processes and making value creation as effective and efficient as possible. Only processes that create added value from the customer's point of view are considered; if this is not the case, the process is not lean and is removed or adapted. This increases customer orientation enormously and ensures competitiveness. Lean management can be implemented with a number of methods. One of these methods is the "5S method".
5S method - A desk with a chair.
The 5S method optimises one's own workplace and working environment. Here, too, everything that does not add value is removed. This way, you can focus only on what adds value and waste is minimised or even eliminated. Everything you need for your work is given a designated place, so you don't have to spend a lot of time searching for it.
5S was developed in Japan and used by Toyota. Accordingly, the 5S are Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke, which means sort, set in order, shine, standardise and sustain. The steps take place one after the other and are repeated continuously.

In the first step, we take a look at our workplace and the environment. What is needed and what is not needed? What is not needed is removed and for the things that are needed, we figure out how often we need them.
Set in order

Then we put everything that is needed for the work to a designated place. A distinction is also made between what is needed frequently and what is needed less frequently. The more often we need something, the more ready to hand it has to be. A sensible and effective system is important here. To keep things where they belong, labels or coloured markers are very good. It can even be useful to fix work utensils firmly so that they cannot be misplaced.

A matter of course for some, a pain for others: cleaning the workplace. A clean and above all dust-free workplace not only helps you to work well, it is also well received by customers. In addition, you protect your product from damage caused by dust and dirt, such as scratches. 

Once one workplace is done, it's time to apply it to all the others. Create a standard that applies to all workplaces. Since not every workplace is the same and the standard for an office workplace cannot of course be transferred to the workshop, it is important to create corresponding standards for the same or similar workplaces.

You can try as hard as you want, but if you fall back into old patterns over time, the effort was in vain. That is why it is important to stick to the new procedures and tidiness. For example, it is a good idea to bring everything back to the established standard after work is done. Then you start the next working day well organised again.

Advantages and disadvantages of the 5S method

The benefits of this method include: 
  • An increase in transparency,
  • an increase in the throughput speed of processes, as less time has to be spent on preparing the actual work,
  • waste is reduced,
  • substitutes find their way into the work more easily and quickly due to standardisation and order, and (perhaps most importantly)
  • the quality of the work and thus the quality of the product and ultimately customer satisfaction increase. 
Where there are advantages, there are of course also disadvantages: 
  • The work steps are standardised, which leaves little to no room for introducing one's own ideas,
  • there is a reactive response to a problem instead of proactively avoiding it,
  • a very high degree of discipline is required and
  • the optimisation itself can be seen as non-value-adding.


The 5S method is a lean management method. This means that the company must be lean before one can even think of introducing this method. Once this hurdle is cleared, 5S is an easy-to-understand and easy-to-implement method for process optimisation. With sufficient employee discipline, this method is also comparatively easy to implement. However, to really shine, it requires more than just fulfilling the five aspects mentioned above. Upstream and downstream processes can have inefficiencies that do not allow the full potential to be realised. This is especially the case when you have no influence over them, for example when these processes are carried out by external companies.

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Author: IAPM internal

Key words: Project management, Methods, Tip, Lean, 5S method

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