5S principles

5s Principles, Processes and Tools for Quality Improvement

The 5S principles are said to originate from Japan, by the Toyota Motor Company. They used it as part of their production system in the mid-20th Century. 5S principles

The 5S principle is a quality improvement tool used for organizing workspace. It focuses on maintaining cleanliness, safety and efficiency of the workspace. A cluttered workspace can lead to accidents, mistakes and waste of time. These could slow down or even interrupt the flow of activities in the process. Hence, the 5S system helps to identify and eliminate wasteful activities from the production process. Ultimately, 5S helps to increase the value of products and services for consumers.

In addition, 5S is very important and beneficial to health facilities. This system helps organisations to increase productivity while reducing costs. Besides, a safe and organized workspace helps to increase the quality of output. More so, employees will get their jobs done faster and manage their time properly. In general, employees will be satisfied with their work.

Like every many other quality improvement tools, 5S has a very broad scope. Therefore, this article will focus on:

  • 5S principles
  • 5S process
  • 5S continuous improvement
  • 5S tools of kaizen

5S Principles

As economic conditions continue to change, health facilities need to adjust their resources in line with their strategy. Usually, this leads to the desire to achieve more work with fewer resources. However, for organisations to be productive and profitable, they must find a way to reduce their costs. This is what 5S principles help organisations to achieve.

The 5S principle is a system that helps organisations maintain a clean, safe and efficient workspace. It is a six sigma tool that promotes continuous improvements. In addition, during 5S implementation, visual controls are set in place to detect any non-conformance. The concept of visual workplace helps to improve safety and makes the workspace conducive for workers. Visual workplace makes use of colours as a fundamental tool. For example, health facilities can use colour-coded connections to speed up connections of different parts of the process. Also, health facilities can make use of visual signals to represent certain activities in the process. Nevertheless, information flow and communication are essential parts of a visual workplace.

Furthermore, the 5S principles can be implemented in any type of organisation. It has proven to be an effective tool for increasing efficiency and reducing waste. The 5S system evaluates the workspace for inefficiencies and eliminates them. Ultimately, this system helps to improve the workspace and enhance productivity.

The 5S principle represents Japanese for sort (seiri), set in order (seiton), shine (seiso), standardise (seiketsu) and sustain (shitsuke). When these steps are implemented in a service process, they help to eradicate waste. Typically, an organized workspace cuts off excessive movement from one place to another. Hence, an organized workspace helps to save time and cut off unnecessary activities.

More benefits of 5S

In addition, in an organized workspace, every tool or equipment has its unique location. This helps to save time spent to look for tools and gadgets. Thus, it is very easy to know when something has gone missing or is misplaced. Moreover, a clean workspace helps to prevent certain safety hazards. It becomes easy to spot out spillages and leakages. Leakages in the workspace can cause accidents like falls and slips. Besides, when there is a leakage, it is a sign that the equipment needs a check, maintenance and repair.

More so, 5S principles encourage employees to be on their toes. They are eager to look out for possible errors in the service process. This culture can help to solve problems before they go out of hand. In essence, the 5S system can cause a positive change in the general outlook of an organisation.

Although many companies utilize 5S principles in their processes, it is very cumbersome to implement. Most times, a health facility may require to redesign the entire work process. They may also need to change some equipment. In addition, implementing 5S principles requires a lot of training.

5S Process

Health facilities that do not have a strategy and vision for improvement cannot successfully implement 5S in their processes. 5S should not be a goal in itself, but a part of the overall goal of the organisation. Health facilities need to have a clear picture of what they want to achieve with 5S processes. This will enable them to successfully persuade management to become a part of the 5S process.

However, management will require proper education on 5S principles and process of implementation. If management has a proper understanding of 5S processes, they can set an example for other employees. Also, management will be trained on how to identify wastes in their processes. There are eight forms of waste that 5S addresses. They are overproduction, excessive inventory, nonvalue-added processing, waiting, transportation, unnecessary motion, defects and untapped potential.

For 5S to be effective, it is appropriate to select a specific area for implementation. For example, health facilities can start with an area that requires simple improvements. It is also important to set up an implementation team. The team should comprise of a supervisor from the area under review. Nevertheless, the team can also comprise of employees from other departments. After setting up the team, choose a team leader.

The next step in the 5S process of implementation is training the entire team. It is necessary to train the team so that they will understand the objectives of implementing 5S principles. This will give them a clear picture of their roles in implementing 5S.

After the team has received proper training, they will observe the area under review. The team will evaluate the current situation of the area. They can take photos and collect relevant data. With the current state of the area in mind, the team will brainstorm and identify opportunities for improvement. furthermore, they will map out an improvement plan with details of activities, timeframes and responsibilities. The team can include resources and financial requirements in their plan.

The next step is the actual implementation of the 5S processes. During implementation, the team will spend adequate time executing each of the ‘5S’. which is sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain.

After implementation, the team will analyse the area. They can take ‘after implementation’ photos and compare them with ‘before’ photos. Then, the team will publish their observations on the 5S notice boards. In addition, the team will develop control measures to sustain improvement.

More so, it is essential to sustain improvements made until they become a part of the work culture. The best way to implement 5S processes is to see it as a journey instead of a destination.

5S Continuous Improvement

5S continuous improvement is used to organize and maintain a workspace. It creates a more efficient working environment and improves safety and quality. 5S reduces wastes in service processes. It should not be a one-off exercise, but a partway to continuous improvements.

In addition, 5S represents five simple practices for continuous improvements. They are sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain.


The first step in implementing 5S continuous improvement is sorting. The project team goes through all the items, tools and machines in the work area. They identify those that are important and those that are not. The team determines how important an item is by its frequency of use. Next, they tag the important tools and catalogue them. Then, the team moves the remaining items to storage. At the sort stage of implementing 5S continuous improvement, excess inventory is considered as waste.

Set in order

Furthermore, the team sets in order the items that remain in the work area. They assign a specific location to every item. This helps to eradicate waste of time and unnecessary movements. Frequently used tools are kept in the work area close to the operator. Meanwhile, items that are not used frequently are stored according to how often they are used. Also, the team labels all part bins according to number, description, storage location and quantity.


After the team sets the work area in order, the next 5S continuous improvement step is to shine. Shining requires cleaning everything in the work area. Besides, dirty tools and machines can lead to equipment failure. In addition, any time lost as a result of equipment breakdown is a waste. A dirty workspace can pose a safety hazard to workers. The purpose of the “shine” step in 5S continuous improvement is to improve employee efficiency and minimize waste.


After the team is done with sorting, setting in order and shining, they standardize work processes in accordance with 5S principles. The team achieves this by developing new standards of work based on the recent changes done. Without standardized work processes, employees will naturally slip into old practices. Therefore, visual management is a very essential part of this step. Also, the team trains employees to be able to quickly detect non-conformity and fix them.


The final step in implementing 5S continuous improvements is “sustain”. Sustaining simply implies continuous sorting, setting in order, shinning and standardizing of the work process. This is the actual goal of implementing 5S principles. Hence, the sustain step is the most important step in 5S continuous improvements. The goal of this step is to make the 5S system a permanent part of the organisational culture.

5S Tools of Kaizen

At every step of implementation, the project team makes use of 5S tools of kaizen to make the process easier. Some of these tools include tags, shadow boards, labels, checklists and visual communication tools.

A common 5S tool of kaizen is a red tag. This is a labelling tool used during the sorting stage of 5S. it is used to mark items that are necessary for the work area. When items are red tagged, the team analyses how often they are being used. Then, after a period of time, they remove those items that are not used frequently.

In addition, 5S checklists help the team to track areas that require improvement or maintenance. The 5S checklist includes audit checklist, trend charts and preventive maintenance checklist. The 5S audit checklist enables the team to monitor improvements. Meanwhile, trend charts help managers monitor the progress of changes in their processes, outputs etc. On the other hand, preventive maintenance checklist ensures that maintenance is done when due.

Furthermore, an effective 5S system emphasises visual communication. Therefore, 5S visual communication tools are essential 5S tools of kaizen. Labels are visual communication tools. They help employees identify items that belong to a particular place. Labels are used for shelving tools and storage bins. More so, procedure labels can help employees complete their work accurately and on time.

Also, a shadow board is a board that describes which tools need to be placed on a particular board. Shadow boards help workers to identify where every tool belongs. As such, employees can get their tasks done faster and easily recognise when tools get missing. Hence, shadow boards should be clean, accessible and clearly marked.

Meanwhile, floor marking helps to distinguish areas for scrap and areas for repurposed items. Apart from indicating where items should be placed, floor markings can be used to mark places that are of limits. Similarly, floor markings can be used to identify travel lanes.

However, process tools like PDCA, 5S notice boards and colour coding are other 5S tools of kaizen.


5S principles help organizations maintain a clean and organized work area. A clean and tidy workspace is important to organisations because it reduces wastes and inefficiencies. Also, a clean workspace minimizes accidents and boosts productivity. It reduced frustrations and time spent searching for an item. In addition, a tidy workspace gives employees a good feeling about their work environment. They will be motivated to look out for defects and non-conformity.

Furthermore, 5S is implemented by a project team. The steps in the 5S processes begin before implementation and continue thereafter. 5S is not a one-off exercise, but a pathway for sustaining continuous improvements. Therefore, the steps for implementing 5S continuous improvements are sort, set in order, shine, sustain and standardize. These are the foundation of 5S principles.

More so, during implementation, the project team deploys various 5S tools of kaizen. Some of them are a red tag, shadow boards, floor marking, 5S checklist and 5S visual communication tools. Each of these 5S tools of kaizen plays their role in keeping the work area safe, organized and tidy.


Although 5S principles may not solve the challenges of competition, it serves as a basis for operational efficiency. Also, 5S boosts teamwork and discipline amongst employees.

For more about quality improvement methods, feel free to explore the following articles:

Six Sigma in Healthcare: Concept, Benefits and Examples

Lean in Healthcare – History, Tools & Examples

Total Quality Management Principles, Concept and Importance

Kaizen Event – Types, Examples, Agenda and Checklist


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