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The Principles of 5S

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5s principles outlined by girl pointing at the principles of 5S

The 5S methodology is one of the main methods for improving manufacturing processes & practices. It enables companies to streamline manufacturing processes and organize a workforce more effectively, ensuring that the entire staff of a manufacturing plant is involved with productivity, efficiency, and safety goals.

Learn more about how the 5S methodology can improve manufacturing processes with this guide.

History of the 5S Methodology

The principles of 5S were devised at the Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan in the 1950s. The principles of 5S were initially 4S as employed by Toyota, with the “Set in Order” and “Shine” principles combined into one.

The 5S methodology was created to improve efficiency at manufacturing plants and integrate the workforce more closely into the manufacturing process. It has been identified as an important development in manufacturing, partly for its role as a precursor to the “just in time” delivery system. Still, the 5S methodology has benefits stretching far beyond its historical impact.

The “S” characters are the beginnings of each principle in both Japanese and English. When translated to English (with the Japanese original in brackets), the principles of 5S are as follows:

  • Sort (Seiri)
  • Set in order (Seiton)
  • Shine (Seiso)
  • Standardize (Seiketsu)
  • Sustain (Shitsuke)

These principles enabled Japanese manufacturing to lead the world in the decades following the adoption of the 5S methodology. They constituted an early form of lean manufacturing that gave workers greater control and responsibility for ensuring that best practices were followed and significantly reduced outdated supervision practices that treated workers as parts of the process that required constant micromanagement.

The principles of 5S have always had their home in a manufacturing setting and continue to be essential components of successful management in industrial settings today. However, the principles of 5S have also directly influenced many work environments, including:

  • Software engineering
  • Product development
  • Healthcare provision
  • Education

The core principles of 5S remain consistent – that workers’ connection to the manufacturing process is key to achieving high-quality results consistently and to enable continuous improvement. The increased involvement and responsibility of the workforce also mitigates the need for over-involved management, freeing up management figures to address the core needs of the business and building a more trusting employer-employee relationship.

What Are the Principles of 5S?

The principles of 5S are as follows: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. Below are the requirements to meet each of the principles of 5S.


This stage of the 5S methodology is concerned with ensuring that the only items present in a manufacturing area are those that are essential for the process at hand. Workers sort through the work environment and remove any tools, materials, or equipment that will not be used in the immediate future.

Unnecessary items are typically “tagged” and filed according to where they should be taken. This avoids clutter and helps streamline the workstation so that there is no confusion over the purpose of the work area. It also helps useful items be taken back to their proper stations, and waste materials can be tagged appropriately to be disposed of or recycled.

This method also helps to identify key shortages in equipment. If a necessary tool is missing, it will become obvious during the sorting process in a way that is impossible with a cluttered working environment.

Sorting enables a workforce to guarantee efficiency during production and helps organize the manufacturing workplace simultaneously. It reduces production times, the risk of faults and allows workers to take responsibility for their environment.

Set in Order

“Set in order” is the part of the 5S methodology that enables a workplace to be organized for maximum efficiency once sorting is complete. All tools and equipment are taken to a designated “home” area where they will be easily accessible from stations where they are needed most.

This minimizes the need for workers to move around during the manufacturing process, maximizing staff efficiency while on the floor and reducing the risk of confusion. Floor and wall markings often form a key part of setting a manufacturing floor in order, clearly denoting where important items and stations are.

Visual management aids are important parts of maintaining worker morale, providing a well-organized environment for staff that minimizes confusion and allows staff to perform their roles effectively. The “set in order” principle of 5S also reduces the need for active supervision on the manufacturing floor, as staff easily understand what is required of them. This way, management time can be spent more productively elsewhere. 


Of all the principles of 5S, “shine” is perhaps the most self-explanatory: it means intensive cleaning of the work environment. There are several benefits to the “shine” part of the 5S methodology:

  • Hygiene. Unsanitary environments can lead to sick workers. Ensuring that problems like dust build-up are addressed every day means minimal chance for workers to become sick on the job. An unclean work environment is detrimental to staff morale and will also increase sick days.
  • Safety. Spillages, wet floors, blocked parts of manufacturing equipment, and other safety hazards are huge problems in disorganized manufacturing plants. Using the principles of 5S, worker safety is prioritized highly, and workers are encouraged to take responsibility for an environment that they feel proud to operate in. This also minimizes the risk of auditors finding dangerous practices and potential action.
  • Pride. Studies have found that staff in all industries dislike operating in dirty environments. Increased engagement with the workforce can’t be achieved without providing a clean, safe environment, and the organization-wide pride that drives the 5S methodology can never be enacted.

This step also involves maintaining elements of “set in order,” such as replacing loose floor tape and making sure that visual management aids are clean and easily visible.


Standardization is key to continuous improvement. Among the principles of 5S, this one calls for a written plan. Today, this can be communicated to employees through software, providing a checklist that helps keep track of progress in real-time.

Standardization involves:

  • Writing up every action that was taken in the previous 3 steps
  • Ensuring that workers understand these steps
  • Ensuring that workers understand the benefits of the first 3 steps
  • Make sure that the relevant actions and instructions are communicated to every staff member (where appropriate)
  • Creating a checklist so that workers can track and report their progress to ensure that the first 3 steps are conducted properly every day
  • Using an up-to-date system for reporting. This is great since paper can be wasteful and inefficient. Software apps are often preferable for efficiency.


Once standardization has been implemented, the last of the principles of 5S is ensuring the practices are sustained going forward. This involves building a culture of mutual pride between the workforce and management in implementing the 5S methodology. In turn, this creates a safe, clean, productive workplace and enables staff to understand the control they have over their work environment.

A workforce learns from good practices. Once management has put these in place, and the staff understands the benefits, workers appreciate the care shown by management.

Encouraging staff to present ideas for continuous improvement to management builds better employer-employee relationships and can lead to valuable developments in best practices. Improvement and engagement are key elements of sustainability.

Benefits of 5S Audits

The 5S methodology is designed to optimize efficiency but is just a process by itself. Even the principles of 5S can stand to be tested for efficiency, which is why 5S audits are used to ensure that the 5S methodology is being properly implemented.

Benefits include:

  • Checking that the principles of 5S are understood by management and the workforce: if not, why not? Communication is key to the success of the methodology, and communication practices need to be reassessed if workers appear confused
  • Ensuring that staff understands the benefits of the 5S methodology in terms of the hygiene, safety, and efficiency of the manufacturing floor. The 5S methodology relies on staff recognizing the benefits of the system to each staffer and that it is not merely a management tool
  • Make sure that staff is checking items off properly according to the first 3 principles of 5S. Audits can ensure that it is understood that every item on a checklist is mandatory and of benefit to the workplace as a whole; there are no unnecessary tasks in the methodology
  • Enabling management to check if tasks are being completed properly. The checklist should never be treated as a non-essential chore but as an integral part of the working day. If staff is answering that tasks are completed, an audit allows management to perform quick inspections and identify problem areas easily.

Implementing the 5S Methodology Today

The principles of 5S remain as useful to manufacturing today as they were to Toyota in the 1950s. However, today, manufacturers have access to intuitive software that allows them to implement the process seamlessly and keep track of progress on the manufacturing floor in real-time. These solutions make the methodology more manageable and effective than ever before.


Rever is Your Tool to apply the Principles of 5S

Rever is all about sharing and reusing, doing, and tracking for the connected worker. Continuous improvement and executing 5S principles becomes a hundred times easier with our innovative digital platform. Using Rever’s dashboard, you can monitor the performance of your teams, the summary of their impact, and easily identify the people making the biggest difference at your company.

Rever Cycle is our version of the PDCA methodology and guides your teams on the exact steps to follow to execute their own ideas. It allows them to capture the entire process, from identifying a problem to experimenting and implementing a solution. They can use it to capture the before and after with pictures, notes and drawings, making their ideas a reality in no time. The time of your team is too valuable to be wasted in handmade drawings and complex explanations. 

 At Rever, we believe that anybody can be a knowledge worker and thrive. What makes us human is the capacity to grow our intellect and will, and to use them for good. We observe, especially at work, that most people are asked to stop thinking and do as they are told. We want to change that. We enable people to achieve their full creative potential.

Are you interested in learning more about continuous improvement or discussing case studies? Then get a demo today with one of our connected worker experts.


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