The 5S method

The 5S methodology is a Japanese improvement tool developed by Toyota in the 1960s, who popularized it – initially within the automobile sector – but has proven to be a methodology suitable for any company and sector with good results.

It was designed to increase productivity by improving working environments. This approach, focused on people and conditions in the workplace, is part of the essence of the TPS (Toyota Production System), the origin of the Lean methodology that incorporates this method.


The 5S are thus known by the name of their five stages, all of them with the letter S (in Japanese), Seiri (classify), Seiton (order), Seiso (clean), Seiketsu (standardize), Shitsuke (maintain).

SEIRI (classify): The objective of this stage is to identify the elements necessary to develop the activity in the workplace. It is necessary to separate the necessary elements from the unnecessary ones in order to eliminate them. During separation it is important to identify the frequency of use of the required elements as well as the correct quantity. Once the necessary elements identified by frequency are available, they must be classified to group those with similar frequencies of use. It should be noted that the initially separate elements as unnecessary may be necessary for another work center.
The results of this stage are observed with the decrease in stocks, obsolete stocks, a greater useful space and the improvement of productivity among other benefits.


SEITON (order): The objective of this stage is to design a new workspace with the classified elements. You must decide which location is the most appropriate for each thing so that each item has an assigned location, i. e. a place for each thing and that everything is in its place. In order to choose the location of each element, the classification by frequency of use carried out in the previous phase must be taken into account. This way, we will keep those elements with a greater frequency of use as close as possible to the workstation and we will move away from it as the frequency of use decreases.
Once the places have been assigned, it is necessary to organize and arrange all these elements in their space in such a way that they can be easily used. The identification of these spaces helps to keep the elements in place and reinforces the visual character of the methodology, for example by using labels, colours, etc.
At the end of this stage, productivity increases and an improvement in the working environment conditions can be observed, considerably reducing the visual’ stress’ of the worker.


SEISO (cleaning): the objective of this stage is to achieve a clean and safe working environment. A clean working environment facilitates visual inspection and the identification of possible deviations or incidents that previously could go unnoticed, helping to prevent them from entering the value chain causing quality problems. Not only must the cleaning of the work pieces and the environment be carried out, but also the sources of dirt must be identified in order to eliminate or minimise them. During cleaning, it is time to check the entire working environment by eliminating unnecessary elements and placing elements that have been left out of place, thus reinforcing the previous stages.
The improvement of conditions in the workplace and safety for the worker as well as the prevention of incidents in the value chain are the most relevant benefits of this stage.
SEIKETSU (standardization): the objective of this stage is to consolidate the results of the previous stages by incorporating these dynamics into the daily work. Updating of working procedures and instructions is necessary to incorporate the improvements defined in the previous stages. Standardizing the new work dynamics requires updating these procedures, as well as the creation of new documentation that includes the new situations and decisions taken. The new labour standards must be agreed with all the workers involved in order to consolidate the system and facilitate consolidation. Visual management at this stage is more relevant than in previous stages, because managers can identify improvement opportunities more easily.
This stage consolidates and reinforces the previous stages and is necessary in order not to return to the starting point.

SHITSUKE (discipline): the objective of this stage is to maintain the results of the previous stages by incorporating this system into the habits of all workers, creating a culture based on continuous improvement. To this end, the discipline and commitment of all employees is essential to ensure the success in maintaining these results over time. The human factor is key at this stage, which requires individual responsibility, the adoption of new habits, the monitoring of agreements, the participation of all people and constant support from management.
It is advisable to establish at this stage a simple and brief checklist that gives us the level of maintenance of the improvements adopted, not so much with the aim of obtaining a numerical result but so that the person responsible for your application can identify deviations that can be corrected at the same time.


The key to this methodology has been to have an order and sequence in activities that are usually carried out in any company to obtain a correct working environment but that can be carried out in a disorganized and/or incomplete way. The apparent simplicity of this methodology is also its greatest complexity, due to an over-confidence and relaxation once the first results have been obtained, so it is critical to ensure the final Shitsuke stage (discipline).

Lafotografica 016After years devoted to architecture, in 2011 José María López struck out on a new career path when he enrolled in the Master’s programme in Corporate Quality Management at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. There he found his true calling, so he gave up his personal endeavour at Arch and dove headlong into quality consultancy, first at The Flow Factory and later at Comtec. José María is also certified as an EFQM accredited assessor and an internal auditor of ISO 9001 quality management systems. His main area of specialisation is business process management.