QMS Audit


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5S is a reference to a list of five Japanese words which 'start' with S. This list is a mnemonic for a methodology that is often incorrectly characterized as "standardized cleanup", however it is much more than cleanup. 5S is a philosophy and a way of organizing and managing the workspace.

What is 5S?

The key targets of 5S are workplace morale and efficiency. The assertion of 5S is that by assigning everything a location time is not wasted by looking for things. Additionally, it is quickly obvious when something is missing from its designated location. 5S advocates believe that the benefits of this methodology come from deciding what should be kept, where it should be kept, and how it should be stored. This decision making process should lead to a dialog which can build a clear understanding between employees of how work should be done. It also instills ownership of the process in each employee. As a result, it is often executed in tandem with standard work which standardizes the processes in which the items organized in 5S are used.

The 5S's are: Sort       Straighten       Shine        Standardize       Sustain

  • Seiri (整理): tidiness, organization. Refers to the practice of sorting through all the tools, materials, etc., in the work area and keeping only essential items. Everything else is stored or discarded. This leads to fewer hazards and less clutter to interfere with productive work.
  • Seiton (整頓): orderliness. Focuses on the need for an orderly workplace. "Orderly" in this sense means arranging the tools and equipment in an order that promotes work flow. Tools and equipment should be kept where they will be used, and the process should be ordered in a manner that eliminates extra motion.
  • Seiso (清掃): systemized cleanliness - shine. Indicates the need to keep the workplace clean as well as neat. Cleaning in Japanese companies is a daily activity. At the end of each shift, the work area is cleaned up and everything is restored to its place. The key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work - not on occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.
  • Seiketsu (清潔): standards. This refers to standardized work practices. It refers to more than standardized cleanliness (otherwise this would mean essentially the same as "systemized cleanliness"). This means operating in a consistent and standardized fashion. Everyone knows exactly what his or her responsibilities are.
  • Shitsuke (躾): sustaining discipline. Refers to maintaining standards. Once the previous 4S's have been established they become the new way to operate. Maintain the focus on this new way of operating, and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways of operating.

Translations and modifications

Often in the west, alternative terms are used for the five S's. These are "Sort, Straighten, Shine, Systemize and Sustain". "Standardize" is also used as an alternative for "Systemize". Sometimes "Safety" as a 6th optional S. Similarly 5Cs aim at the same goal but without the strength of maintaining the 5S name.

  • Clearout and Classify
    • Clearing items no longer required
    • Tagging items that may be required and storing away from workplace
  • Configure
    • A specific place for specific items
    • “ A place for everything & everything in its place”
  • Clean and check
    • Identify cleaning zones, establish cleaning routines
  • Conformity
    • Consolidate the previous 3C’s by standardizing the new process and use of ‘Visual Management’
  • Custom and practice
    • Monitor process adherence
    • Continually validate process
    • Make further improvements using the PDCA cycle, otherwise known as the Deming cycle

Alternative acronyms have also been introduced, such as CANDO (Cleanup, Arranging, Neatness, Discipline, and Ongoing improvement). Even though he refers to the ensemble practice as "5S" in his canonical work, Hirano prefers the terms Organization, Orderliness, Cleanliness, Standardized Cleanup, and Discipline because they are better translations than the alliterative approximations. In the book, there is a photo of a Japanese sign that shows the Latin "5S" mixed with Kanji.

Additional practices are frequently added to 5S, under such headings as 5S Plus, 6S, 5S+2S, 7S, etc. The most common additional S is for Safety mentioned above, and James Leflar writes that Agilent adds Security as the seventh (7th) S. Purists insist that the other concepts be left out to maintain simplicity and because Safety, for example, is a side-benefit to disciplined housekeeping.

Relation to other concepts

5S is used with other Lean concepts such as SMED, TPM, and Just In Time (JIT). The 5S discipline requires clearing out things which are not needed in order to make it easier and faster to obtain the tools and parts that are needed. This is the foundation of SMED, which in turn enables JIT production. The first step in TPM is operator cleanup of machines, a mandate of 5S.

5S in a business context

The 5S methodology has been adopted into a variety of organizations from small business to Fortune 500 companies. All implement the 5S's in the hope to improve productivity and performance. Peterson, Jim & Smith, Roland give examples of the uses of 5S in the business context. Such organizations and their achievements include:

Hewlett-Packard Support Center

  • Improved levels of quality communication and information sharing
  • Reduced training cycle for new employees
  • Reduced call backs
  • Reduced call time per customer

Boise Cascade

  • Reduced stored parts inventory at one facility by $300,000
  • Incident rate division wide reduced by 1.5%
  • Reduced machine Downtime
  • Office and plant space made available


  • Improved productivity
  • Improved morale
  • Increased levels of product quality
  • Improved safety