5S: Make (and keep) any work place LEAN

A work place, be it a garage, your computer, desk, or kitchen, can get quite messy. Within the extensive domain of Lean Production, there is a logical set of simple principles to keep it all in order: 5S. Originally, the S’s in 5S are Japanese names. But luckily, English is flexible enough to translate 5S to English S’s.

1. Sort. The work place can get cluttered with unnecessary elements. Sort the needed from the unneeded, remove the latter. This not only goes for physical environments. Think about your computer files. Your mails. Your internet hangouts. Isn’t the majority simply unneeded and thus distracting to your productivity?

2. Set. Even if you know that the needed must be somewhere, you may have to search it. Set what is needed such, that you and anybody who could need it knows where to find it. Think for instance about a certain file that you need. Is it always instantly at your fingertips?

3. Shine. What is needed and accessible, should also be in good condition. So keep everything maintained, such that it is also in the right state when you need it. Have software in recent versions. Clean your hard disc. (Keep knives sharp. Et cetera.)

4. Standardize. You can do S1, S2, and S3 just for once on a Friday afternoon, but you’ll find out that in time, things get messy again. Standardize the periodical execution of Sort, Set, and Shine (S4 “operates” on the first 3), e.g. by doing it monthly.

5. Sustain. You can have Sort, Set, and Shine standardized once, but you can always improve this routine. Sustain the whole practice by adding discipline and gradual improvement to it (S5 “operates” on S4). E.g. agree with yourself to set stricter norms, to be challenged by external assessment, etc.


As you can see, there is an intuitive inner logic to 5S, and it is easy to apply it to any environment in which you want to be productive. Go “lean up” that desk / computer / kitchen!

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