What is 5S?

What is 5S

You may have heard about 5S in manufacturing and the importance to maximize efficiency on the shop floor. It seems that these deep-rooted methodologies are outdated. The truth is that mature industries continue using them today in their daily routines. So, to clarify how 5S can do you for you in your personal life and in the 21st century industries, this is a quick lecture on what is 5S is and why it is so relevant still today to create standards at work or at home. In other words, it is critical to understand 5S as a set action to achieve a result (this means excellence in everyday). If you are looking for tools to implemt a 5s model, read about our 5S tool.

Origin of 5S

5S is an organization system in the workplace whose purpose is to make as easy and efficient as possible the tasks within the factory. The 5S origin comes from the Toyota ‘s Production System which was developed by Tahichi Ohno during the 60s in Japan. Its five S come from five Japanese words which are Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke. Or, translated, Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. These five words correspond to five phases that must be followed by any company which promotes the 5S philosophy.

Since the Toyota Production System popularity –at first this 5S system was a very well-kept secret– benefits brought to organizations were so many:

  • Higher quality in the final product
  • Reduced costs in production
  • Increase in productivity
  • Greater employee satisfaction
  • Safer work environment.

From this last point, a 6th S has become popular in the last decades, the S for Safety, which many companies have embraced it as the 6th S.

Steps of the 5S

But, Let´s review what each phase involves and what is particularly important in each step:

Sort or Seiri

The basis of this first step is to determine what materials, equipment and tools need to be present in the workplace, removing everything that is unnecessary for the daily work routines. To do a good job in this phase, we will first have to set the frequency of use of each item. For sure, there are no better ones to do this task than the workers in each workspace. Workers must consider which tools are really needed and, with those ones that are not. This takes us to the process of red tagging or assign a red sticker or cardboard tag (filled with some information such as the location of the item, a description, and the date) so it can be stocked until it becomes necessary again. It also can be shelved if we believe it won’t be used anymore. The following example will help you to start your tour on 5S implementation.

The correct application of this first S is essential to avoid waste, if we keep unnecessary materials, equipment and/or tools, this will have a negative impact on the following S implementation: 2nd S = we will define and mark a space for them, 3rd S = we will define a cleaning plan for them, 4th S= we will unnecessarily apply standards, 5th S we will apply improvement actions or carry out audits on these elements unnecessarily.

What is 5S: Sort

Set in order or Seiton

It consists of organizing the storage for an efficient use defining what arrangements are most logical. And how? By thinking through tasks and the frequency those tasks must be done. The final goal of this phase is to have an efficiently organized work area.

It consists of organizing the best location for and efficient use of the workstation, defining which layouts are the most logical. A place for everything and everything in its place. And how? Thinking about the tasks, their sequence and how often they must be done. The goal of this phase is to have an efficiently organized work area:

  1. Where the safety of people in their movements / displacements prevail
  2. Where the frequency of use of the objects/pieces is defined
  3. Where the 4 principles of movement economy are integrated (pillars of standardization):
    • Reduce the number of moves
    • Simultaneity of movements (work with both hands)
    • Reduce travel distances
    • Make movements easier and more ergonomic
    • And using FIFO principles for some consumables, etc.…

Once the location has been determined, it is about imagining what is fair and necessary, so that:

  • there is no doubt what is found on each site
  • the absence of an object from its place is instantly noticed

The potential necessary stocks necessary for the proper functioning of the sector will also be calculated as fair and necessary and will be clearly defined.

The location defined for each of these elements, materials, equipment, and tools will be marked according to the standard colors to guarantee visual control of them (Visual Control) This stage therefore must:

  • Ensure accessibility to the position and all the elements
  • Use shapes, colors, identifying symbols
  • Avoid closed cabinets
  • Visually signal the areas of passage and stocks
  • Delimit all the spaces

Shine or Seiso

It refers to something as simple -and sometimes ignored- as cleaning up the work area. The critical part here is to identify the dirtiness source to eliminate, as a note, the cleanest is not the one that cleans the most, but the one that pollutes the least. But it involves not only the basic cleaning, but also regular maintenance work is also essential and must be planned to prevent breakdowns and accidents. An important point would be every employee paying attention to the basic cleaning and not leaving all this work to cleansers. Through the act of cleaning we:

  • Make our work environment more pleasant (there is no quality work in a rundown, dirty or inadequate environment)
  • Prevent the risk of breakdowns (allows repairs before failure)
  • Prevent the risk of accidents
  • Prevent parts damage
  • Examine the state of production means and detect anomalies

In summary:

  1. Identify sources of dirt
  2. Develop cleaning standards
  3. Simplification of cleaning by elimination of the dirt causes
  4. To reach an added value cleaning, it detects anomalies (sources of dirt)

Some hints to keep the workstation clean:

  • Have hoods / casings to avoid projections
  • Elimination of blowing in favor of aspirations
  • Implementation of a rational circulation of liquids/parts through channels
  • Control of the organs that can contaminate (barrels, drums, etc.…)
  • Ergonomics and easy access to cleaning points

What are the 5s, Lean Manufacturing

Standardize or Seiketsu

The objective of the first 3 “S” is to be able to build the state of reference that leads to a first level of efficiency and the result of the workstations in terms of selection, order and cleanliness. Therefore, this is the first step of the 4th S Standardize.

Once the state of reference has been reached, standardization is essential (but not sufficient) to combat the natural tendency to neglect and return to old (or even bad) practices.

After applying the first 3 S we have caused a break in our PDCA of Continuous Improvement. Here comes our 4th S Standardize that is:

  • Formalized the state of reference (photographs or sketches) is essential to detect a drift with respect to the “Standard” (the state of reference)
  • Activities necessary to ensure the maintenance of the Reference States:
    • Who does what, should be correctly defined
    • Create or modify operating methods regarding these activities: Depending on its complexity, each of these regular activities may require a specific writing operating mode, as created in Visual Standard for the job standardization
    • Formalize the rules of life (and behaviors in different situations)
    • Make the rules, instructions, risks, and prohibitions in the workplace visible
    • Define how to identify anomalies (labels or others)

It is essential that these activities indicated above are established by the protagonists of the area. To be consistent with the objective of 5S to give “those who do” the means to reconsider a work environment that is conducive to them, since “they are the ones who know“. Therefore, it is necessary for these daily activities, unfortunately little valued, to become natural practices and freely carried out.

After this standardization phase, the area can be tested with the visit of an outsider who must be able to quickly:

  • Understand the organization of the area
  • Visit without getting lost
  • Know the different tasks to be carried out in the different positions’, thanks only to the instructions that appear there
  • Do not put yourself in danger, do not take risks, or make others run them.
  • Adhere to the rules of life of the area
  • Communicate your observations and ideas

If this is the case, the degree of standardization achieved will be satisfactory.

To end this S, it is essential to have all the processes within the factory standardized which are the ones that will bring true efficiency to the company. We will stop continually reinventing the wheel, we will apply and standardize good practices throughout the value chain.

Then in the 5th S we will be able to see the closure of the PDCA Continuous Improvement loop.

Sustain or Shitsuke

We would have achieved nothing if we were not able to keep our 5S system working. And that is only possible by involving everyone in the work organization, from managers to employees. For this reason, we must practice, practice and more practice…, and continuously improve the standards established in the previous “standardization” stage (above all, the state of reference), according to cycles of continuous improvement P(S)DCA:

  • “P” = Define the objectives and deadlines for putting the 5 S into practice
  • “S” = Permanently apply the established standards, both from the reference states and the rest
  • “DO” = train, apply and enforce the defined standards, detect, and identify any anomaly
  • “Check” = check the application of these standards and their effectiveness, observing the job, evaluating the practice of the 5S, measuring the results obtained (and comparing / set goals)
  • “Act” = analyze and, corrected the indicated anomalies, “ReAct” : define new sources of progress (endless…)

In a first phase of application of the first 3 S we achieve a “break”, and with it our first standards of the state of reference in a very short time. Then we must make it “live” daily in cycles of Continuous Improvement SDCA based on the opportunities for improvement that we find:

  • Observing the maintenance activities of the state of reference like in the Job Observation
  • Carrying out 5S audits. These audits can be crossed between different areas of the company
  • Reviewing established standards (or creating) with visual standard
  • Solving problems in a simple way by applying the 5 Whys
  • Carrying out continuous monitoring of the state of progress of the action plans like in the mPS Lean Center

We must show them this new way, this new system, make them understand this philosophy that must be part of the company’s culture. It can only be achieved if all employees make this philosophy their own. The 5S should be a long-term program, not a rehearsal. It is important to maintain everything applied previously and for this, both internal and external audits must be planned, the malfunctions and/or opportunities for improvement that are detected will be taken to the PDCA panel for resolution. The continuous application of these Audits will allow us to bring out new opportunities for improvement, the Improvement has no end.

What does Lean manufacturing have to do with 5S?

As a matter of fact, the 5S system is a foundational part of the lean manufacturing. Only once the 5S system begins to be part of the organizational culture of the company, initiatives such as kanban or kaizen can be implemented successfully. As a result, it would be hard trying to promote lean manufacturing in your workplace without a previous 5S culture.

What is 5S and how it influences Lean Manufacturing

Benefits of the 5S

However, it is not all about the benefits of the 5S, it is more about the harm of not working with 5S in your shop floor and the main consequences. Maybe the most important is that your company will not be able to compete with modern companies as they will have a huge structural difference. Do not forget that 5S is a starting point for a new way of organization that focuses on efficiency and optimization.

The search and maintenance of competitiveness in companies is not always carried out in a logical way, for example:

The best resources of the Company are dedicated to bargaining with the aim of not increasing salary costs, a lot of time and effort is dedicated for this. However it is understood as a great achievement to be able to reduce 0.25 or one 0.5% the expectations of increases demands by the social security portion, and assuming that this is something important.

However, we do not pay the same attention or resources to Mr. Process, in some cases because we do not visit it, in others because even Mr. Process speaks up to us, we hear it, but we do not listen to it. It is with Mr. Process where we can find the important opportunities for improvement, through which we will achieve our competitiveness.

If you ask me what % we are talking about, it would not be reckless on my part to estimate the improvement of the process by at least 30%. Surely this statement seems utopian to more than one, and others will think that perhaps it is possible in other companies but not in theirs. But my question to them would be, do you dare to find out?

You can’t imagine the waste that surrounds us, you can’t imagine the cost reduction opportunities that await you. Please don’t make them wait any longer, the future of the company and its workers depends on it.

Until 1999 the 5S were in the Japanese dynamics, especially linked to the TPM with the detection of anomalies (3rd S). We can therefore say that autonomous maintenance, a pillar of the TPM, is based on this basic (5thS) for its deployment… Nothing good (in terms of Quality, Cost, Delivery, Safety) can come out of a poorly organized, dirty or inadequate workstation; And this is true whatever the job is.

How to implement the 5S

When implementing a 5S work organization in your company’s shop floor, you are looking for a way to make the complex, just simple. And it can be done in several ways, but all of them need a tool to help you in this implementation process. mlean Production System® is a digital tool that brings you all what you are looking for. With the sole goal of increasing efficiency to the maximum, the workplace will never be the same. You know: Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. It’s time to start!

Request a Demo

If you want to implement a 5S methodology, the best option is to use a specific tool such as our 5S digital Tool. Request a demo of our 5S software and define the state of reference of the workstation or line, following the 5S methodology. Launch the audit to maintain the standard. The 5S product allows you to keep up-to-date references for your workbenches. It is an intuitive tool that is easy to use. Optimize your workspace and keep quality standards via multimedia content, maintenance plans, the creation and planning of actions and workbench audits.

mlean® participates in the CYL-Hub launch event

Valladolid, Spain, February, 2022 – As part of mlean commitment to entrepreneurship, the company participated in the CYL-Hub launch event that took place on Valladolid on February the 4th.

CYL-HUB is an innovation and technological entrepreneurship hub which has received 1.3 million euros from the regional government (Junta de Castilla y León). This amount is part of the European Union program Next Generation. This project is designed to stimulate and promote innovation and technological entrepreneurship to support self-employed, startups, and innovative SMEs from the region.

This event was an opportunity for large corporations, institutions, venture capital firms, SMEs and startups to talk about challenges in Castilla y León and how to foster collaboration to position the region in the best competitive place.

All the stakeholders had the opportunity to speak up during the event at different round tables. Roberto Delgado, CEO of mlean participated in the last round table entitled “Startups and Innovative SME from Castilla y Leon”.

“We are pleased to be part of this event as a local scaleup company based in Valladolid,” Delgado said. The participants talked about their experiences and provide pieces of advice for novel entrepreneurs. “You must have your idea validated before getting investments because until your idea has not been adopted by your clients, it means your product is not ready,” added Roberto Delgado, CEO of mlean.

During the sessions the different participants discussed about how startups must be supported by institutions. “We have made ourselves where we are today with a lot of effort, passion and our people, that is everything. But a startup cannot be treated in the same way as a mature business.” Roberto Delgado ended.

mlean is one of the leaders worldwide in software for continuous improvement that has implemented the mlean® Production System in different size companies and industries all over the world.


Continuous Improvement Guide

Continuous improvement guide

Are you looking to implement a continuous improvement model? In this post, we are going to launch a guide that will help you understand what continuous improvement is and why it is important, as well as the methodologies used for it and all the associated tools.

What is continuous improvement

Continuous Improvement is all the activities created for the search, analysis, and resolution of inefficiencies, involving the people in an organization. Ensuring survival in any organization, which means profitability and competitiveness of companies, is the priority of continuous improvement.

The activities of analysis and continuous search for inefficiencies must be integrated at all levels of an organization and can be both daily and planned. Continuous Improvement is therefore a cultural issue, a state-of-mind of all the actors in continuous evolution (incremental improvement), it is a way of thinking that everything can evolve for the better.

It could also be said that it is a state of global dissatisfaction with what is established to identify improvement opportunities. From the moment we go to work, we can already think about doing things differently. Continuous Improvement, therefore, can never be a ¨trendy¨ matter, companies, in general, are risking their survival every day, therefore continuous improvement must be their main ally.

Why continuous improvement is important

The main reason for having a continuous improvement model is precisely the need for companies to be profitable and competitive over time. In other words, necessary to guarantee survival in the short, medium, and long term. Unfortunately, even in this century, many Continuous Improvement models implemented in many organizations serve only to demonstrate being fashionable or to justify ISO-type certifications or audits with clients.

Synchronization in quality, cost, delivery, and safety with customers is becoming more and more demanding. Increasingly complex and automated manufacturing processes and supply chains make the identification of waste, problems, production losses, improvement opportunities, etc… extremely complicated. However, companies are based on large mountains of “Gold” (Gold as the sum of all waste and Non-Value added activities for which the customer would not be willing to pay). A Continuous Improvement model is essential to help us in this task.

Continuous improvement methodologies

There are many methodologies for the implementation of a Continuous Improvement model (Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, TQM, WCM or even proprietary models that companies have created for themselves). There are neither better nor worse, each company must select one or several, but the key point is to embrace it.

All of them are based on what Deming formulated back in the 50s: the Deming cycle (PDCA). You must plan activities (Plan), execute them (Do), measure and analyze results (Check) and act and correct accordingly (Act). An endless circle.

Continuous improvement guide: PDCA

In any case, the methodology is not important. What is important is the implementation strategy in any organization. To ensure success in the implementation of a Continuous Improvement system, the following “Key Points” must be ensured:

  1. Leadership: We need leaders capable of knowing where they want to take their organization with their entire work team.
  2. Continuous Improvement and Excellence Model: Have a Continuous Improvement Model to rely on and compare over time and that guides us on the path to Excellence.
  3. Diagnosis: Being able to diagnose the current situation regarding where we are and where we want to go in the medium, short, or long term
  4. Orientation to results: Involve all members of the organization through the objectives deployed

Leadership and objectives deployment

It is necessary to ensure that the entire Management is very clear about the “Vision” of the company. Where do we want to go with agreed and shared objectives, involving all staff!. For this we need a leadership team that gets everyone motivated. If you want to learn more about leadership, read our post about leadership and continuous improvement.

And everything will start from a good SWOT strategic diagnosis, identifying our internal Strengths and Weaknesses and external Opportunities and Threats.

Continuous Improvement guide: Swot Graph

Continuous Improvement model availability

There are different Continuous Improvement Models on which to rely, as we have indicated previously. Personally, I have always opted for the Toyota model (Toyota Production System), which integrates all the principles of Lean Manufacturing and is valid for any type of industry.
This Model will allow me to define the Areas in which we will evaluate our organization. Traditionally we have defined the following:

  1. Team work
  2. Safety & Environment
  3. Quality Management
  4. Standard Operation
  5. HR Development
  6. Work Allocation
  7. Facility Management
  8. Cost Management

Each of these areas, in the Continuous Improvement Model, will have different tools that will allow me to advance in my degree of maturity, which we will talk about later in our blog.

Status diagnosis

We have an agreed Vision and a Continuous Improvement and/or Excellence Model that will guide us along the way. For each evaluated area, we will identify the existing deviations between where the organization is today and where it wants to be in the future, this is through quantitative and qualitative evaluations that indicate the degree of excellence in each of the areas. (We will be able to define our own set of criteria, as stable as possible over time, which will allow us to identify the situation in which we find ourselves in each diagnosis).


Based on the diagnose results, we will define the priorities and turn them into specific objectives for the entire organization. We will have transformed the deviations identified into specific problems and challenges for the organization (Improvement Projects). The path to Excellence. From here, the PDCA wheel will turn robustly towards where we want to go, applying the different improvement and problem-solving tools. With full guarantee, not without suffering and pain. Without forgetting that the Hoshin Kanri will help us manage our strategic PDCA. We will cover this in another post.

What is the best tool for continuous improvement

There is neither a better nor a worse tool for continuous improvement. Each tool must be applied at the time it is necessary… Therefore, we believe that more important than the tools, is the cultural aspect in the involvement of all staff, as well as the commitment to Continuous Improvement. For this reason, a good model is worth nothing without better Leadership Management and coaching.

Request a demo

Our mlean Production System is a great tool to implement continuous improvement models. If you want to learn more about it and it can help you, don’t hesitate and request a demo so we can show you how we can help in making your organization more efficient and profitable.


Leadership and Continuous Improvement

Leadership and continuous improvement

In this post, we share our vision of what we believe is the most important area to be successful in the implementation of a Continuous Improvement Model, and why it is more important than the model itself: leadership. You can complement this information in our guide on how to implement a continuous improvement model.

Leadership, the key to success in the implementation and maintenance of Continuous Improvement

Throughout our professional careers, we have had the opportunity to analyze the implementation of continuous improvement programs in different companies. In all those in which continuous improvement was implemented and still alive with strong development, it was due to the presence of a transformative, visible, committed leader who championed the continuous improvement program.

On the contrary, in those in which the start-up or, even the maintenance of continuous improvement had failed, it was unequivocally due to the absence of the leadership. And this is not new, in 1985 Bernard M. Bass defined in his book Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations what a leader should be Transformative leadership is made up of four elements according to Bass.

The four transformative leadership elements

Idealized influence

The leader understands charisma, transmits conviction and confidence, trust, takes a position on difficult issues, and highlights the importance of commitment and ownership. The leader does not limit himself to preaching continuous Improvement, he walks the talk, demands it, and monitors its fulfillment and the collaborators see him as an example to follow.

Inspired motivation

The leader transmits clear objectives, develops a vision that contains attractive goals, and encourages them to excel, motivates their collaborators to achieve results beyond expectations, the vision challenges their collaborators to achieve them, transmits enthusiasm, and acknowledges their effort.

Intellectual stimulation

The leader questions established ideas, suggests new ways of thinking and doing things, and encourages the expression of one’s own ideas. Continuous improvement is an endless process that requires permanent creativity.

Individualized consideration

The leader treats his/her collaborators as people, promotes personal development, knows how to listen, delegates, trains and recognizes.

The importance of a good leadership in continuous improvement

Why is leadership important for continuous improvement?

The presence of a leader is imperative to guarantee success. In addition, if it is not available a model to implement continuous improvement, the team in charge will be operating in a series of isolated efforts and will probably fail. Therefore, the importance of having a robust model and a leader capable of driving it. Unfortunately, this key point is many times overlooked.

Leader shop floor tools and behaviors

There are many moments throughout the day to demonstrate Leadership, we are going to cite some examples that seem especially critical to us and related to Continuous Improvement:

Review objectives and action plans

Through the Hoshin Kanri, we will be able to analyze the situation of the objectives, as well as the action plans with all the teams. Systematic meetings at each level of the organization (Top-Down and Bottom-Up) are critical. Especially important in those meetings is finding the opportunity of coaching through deviations, complementary actions, allocation of resources, etc.

Daily shop floor visits

The visits to the factory are diverse on a day-to-day basis, observing the performance of tasks, participating in QRQC-type meetings, following up on problem resolutions, carrying out audits, etc. However, the most important thing is “that they see us”, that they feel our involvement in continuous improvement and the team’s recognition. It is advisable to have a coach (trainer) role for any leader.

Participate in Workshops

The leader as one more member of the team must participate in the different workshops or training stages of the continuous improvement model methods/tools. This is another essential point: help their teams in the role of Leader – Coach.

Recommended “best practices” for continuous improvement leadership

As we have indicated previously, a leader needs to rely on robust tools for the improvement model. mlean applications will optimize the time spent and efficiencies (we know that time is a scarce resource):

Learn more about our digital continuous improvement software

Request a demo of the mlean Production System and learn how we can help you implement the best continuous improvement model.