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5S Organization

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

5S organization using bins

Workplaces revolve around organization. For example, organization in the workplace is foundational to reducing waste and improving the bottom line. Organization in the workplace improves both safety and quality. And organization in the workplace results in happier more motivated employees. All of these benefits, and more, come from getting the workplace cleaned up and organized.

But, how does this work?

Organization in the Workplace -The Five S's

Five S is a process using five steps that result in organization in the workplace. Five S is easy to do and it does not need to cost a lot. Yet it can deliver huge benefits. The major stumbling block in implementing 5S is that of sustainability – the 5th of the Five S's. While establishing organization in the workplace is a goal that can easily be accomplished, sustaining what was gained requires changing habits and existing work practices, and that can be very difficult.

Introduction to 5S

The fives steps used in a 5S system are:

  1. Sort
  2. Set In Order
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain

As we go through a brief description of each of these five steps you'll see how they result in organization in the workplace.


The first step involves sorting what is useful from what is not needed. Sort and separate the tools you need from the tools you don't need. Sort waste materials from needed materials. Anything that is not needed should be marked with a red tag and placed in collection area for later disposal.

Set in Order

Everything that remains needs to be put away in a appropriate and close-by storage location. Both the materials, tools and supplies to be stored, and the storage locations, should be marked with labels or tags so that it is easy to return them to their proper storage location in the future.


Now get everything cleaned up. Sweep the floors, wipe leaking oil from machines (and fix the leak), clean tools and pick up scraps and debris. By cleaning up everything, defects, leaks and safety issues become easier to spot and correct.


This is an important step that cannot be skipped. Without standardization the next step, "sustain," will be impossible. What "standardize" means is to make the best practices, procedures and methods used to accomplish the first three steps into written standards. This includes defining job responsibilities, integrating 5S principles into regular work activities, and using standardized signs and labels to identify work stations, equipment, tools and storage locations, and to remind workers about both 5S principles and required procedures.


This is the hardest step. Most organizations go through the first three steps m and sometimes the first four steps, and leave it at that. Everything gets cleaned up and organized, but it doesn't last. And there are no measurable benefits. Five S is judged to be a failure and it's time to move on to the next thing.

This fifth "S" is critical. The changes that were made require effort to sustain them. Sustain means to develop new habits that involve properly following 5S procedures. Sustain means to monitor what is happening, and taking corrective action whenever behavior starts to drift away from the desired behavior. Sustain means to go back to the beginning and go through the five steps of 5S again, identifying additional corrective actions that need to be taken.

Sustaining 5S requires management commitment. For example, time might be needed for employee training. Or an investment in storage cabinets, cleaning supplies, or even doing capital repairs or improvements to the building may be necessary. These typically require management involvement and approval.

Organization in the Workplace - A Visual Workplace

Make sustaining 5S as simple and easy as possible by making your workplace a visual workplace. What this means is that signs and labels are used to visually communicate information that helps sustain 5S. A common example is that of a shadow board for tools. The shape of each tool is shown by a label cut in the shape of the tool's shadow. The labels are color coded by location and a color coded label is applied to every tool. Simply based on the tool's shape, and the color of the label, it's simple to return the tool to its proper storage location.

In addition, the labels on the tools can include a barcode, text, or diagrams. For example, operating instructions can be included on power tools.

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