What is 5S Lean and why is it important? (Plus benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Having the right methodology in a workplace is important so a team can focus on getting results as quickly and effectively as possible. A methodology that places a large emphasis on staying organised is key, so everyone knows what to expect. This is where the 5S Lean methodology is useful. In this article, we answer the question 'What is 5S Lean?', why it's important and a range of benefits available to companies implementing 5S Lean in their workplace.

What is 5S Lean?

In answer to the question 'What is 5S Lean?', it's an effective system companies use when tidying workplaces and increasing the level of organisation in a space. It works effectively in increasing the efficiency, safety and orderliness of a workplace, where equipment performs a key role in the implementation of working practices and solutions.

What are the main benefits of using 5S Lean?

There are several benefits of applying the 5S methodology to the workplace. Some of the main benefits are:

  • creates a clean and pleasant environment

  • encourages self-discipline

  • creates more space by removing unnecessary items

  • allows you to notice and reduce waste

  • allows you to improve safety measures

  • allows you to improve employee morale and create a more positive company culture

  • enables you to spot issues with equipment or supply issues

Related: Organisational culture importance: benefits and examples

What companies benefit from 5S Lean?

There are several different types of companies that benefit from the 5S Lean methodology. These come from different industries and the current state of the company has a further impact on the efficiency of the 5S Lean methodology. Below are just a few examples of the different companies that benefit from 5S Lean implementation:

Disorganised companies

One of the main types of organisations benefiting from the use of the 5S Lean methodology is those without a significant level of organisation in the company. Whether this is disorganisation in a digital space such as a hard drive, in the office itself or disorganisation of the company's structures, there are plenty of benefits from using 5S Lean. 5S Lean focuses on increasing neatness and tidiness in companies, so in this example, a company benefits from finding resources more easily and completing tasks without delays.

Related: What are organisational skills? (Types and examples)

Companies with physical materials

The vast majority of current businesses make use of the digital world for hosting information, focusing on secure hard drives and the cloud to store important data and customers' personal information. But, many companies require the use of physical forms for disclaimers, especially in high-octane services such as skydiving where a paper trail is a necessity. Using 5S Lean, in this case, ensures that if there's an incident, finding the relevant paperwork is quick and easy.

Healthcare

Healthcare companies typically host a vast amount of personal data and there can be significant consequences if this data isn't handled correctly. 5S Lean plays an integral role in ensuring that mistakes aren't a possible part of the process. For example, tidying up patient information ensures that each patient receives the relevant treatment, protecting them from potential medical mismanagement. The medical provider sees benefits too, in the form of better reviews and positive word-of-mouth.

Related: The importance of project management in healthcare

What are the aspects of 5S Lean and why are they important?

5S Lean refers to the five key S's associated with making the most of your workplace. Each of these is an integral part of making the most of the resources and skills available in the workplace, converting the potential of a company into real results. Here's what each 'S' means and why they're important to the 5S methodology:

1. Sort

The first part of the process entails sorting through each of the items on a worksite. Although most items have their role in the workplace, not every piece of equipment is as important as another. This stage of the process involves going through all the equipment on a worksite, establishing which item is essential and then disposing of anything entirely unnecessary.

There's a range of questions employees and managers ask when sorting through workplace equipment. Answering honestly and correctly is key, as being incorrect runs the risk of getting rid of some necessary equipment in the workplace. Some of the questions companies ask themselves when sorting through equipment are below:

  • 'How often do members of staff use this piece of equipment and for how long?'

  • 'At what point in upcoming processes is using this piece of equipment a necessity?'

  • 'What does this piece of equipment do and does the company own something else that also does this job?'

  • 'Would the company miss this piece of equipment if the item was no longer here?'

2. Set in order

This is the second part of the process and involves organising what remains of the workplace after sorting through unnecessary items. From identifying each tool in the workplace to establishing its function and categorising it with similar pieces of equipment, setting each of the pieces of equipment in a sensible order helps increase clarity in the workplace. This set order means that finding things is a significantly easier process, as they're exactly where the order dictates.

One threat to the effectiveness of the 'Set in order' phase is the idea of consistency. Consistently focusing on 5S Lean and returning each piece of equipment to its sorted location is integral, as this prevents the loss of items and increases efficiency in the workplace. The early stages of 5S Lean are integral as they encourage better habits in the workplace, which benefits everyone.

Related: How to be organised at work (plus benefits and tips)

3. Shine

'Shine' is the phase where the team cleans the work area. Occurring after the equipment is in place, removal of rubbish from a workplace is an integral part of completing your work to a high standard. This stage of the process extends beyond removing physical and visible rubbish from the workplace, as it typically involves a thorough sanitising, mopping and dusting of the space. After this part of the process, the workplace appears almost new, as the company undergoes an overhaul under 5S Lean.

In this phase of the process, it's important to encourage a high level of independence amongst employees. Each employee typically has their own space and property within that space unless the workplace involves hot-desking. Making employees responsible for the space they work in means that they have a higher level of personal investment in the state of that area. Therefore, encouraging individuals to clean their workspaces themselves is a key part of building a beneficial workplace for them and their colleagues.

4. Standardise

Once the three prior stages of the 5S system are in place, creating a system of standardisation for routine tasks is a key part of retaining the benefits of the 5S methodology. This includes assigning members of staff to ensure that their personal workspace is clean at a certain time on a certain day, setting certain members of staff the responsibility of retaining cleanliness in the staff kitchen on a rotating basis and other related cleaning tasks. Drawing employees into the process ensures a greater degree of investment in the state of their workplace.

A key aspect of this part of the 5S methodology is the consistent rotation of tasks between different members of staff. Employees thrive when transitioning from one task to another, moving away from their least favourite tasks and towards those that interest them the most. Task rotation improves the benefit of the 'Standardise' stage, as members of staff enjoy their work and complete it quickly and effectively.

5. Sustain

Finally, sustaining the 5S methodology is integral to a better workplace in the long term. This involves significant work on maintaining and organising the workplace over a length of time. Completing the 5S methodology once is an encouraging start, but active effort ensures that members of staff retain the principles and understand what 5S Lean is and what it involves as part of their daily working practices. Involving every member of staff in the long term improves the chances of the company retaining these principles.

The end goal of 5S Lean implementation is integration with the underlying culture of a company. When this methodology becomes a part of a company's culture it becomes natural for employees to maintain a clean and tidy workplace, which helps improve efficiency in the workplace, without the need for conscious effort.

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