The 5S Method Maintains Clean, Lean Order At Your Workspace

The 5S Method Maintains Clean, Lean Order At Your Workspace

Many of the physical setups and mental tactics we’ve recommended to banish desktop clutter and the like can be summarized by the 5S methodology. It’s a Japanese system consisting of five principles to keep any work station clean, labelled, orderly, and efficient.

Commenter peter.sletmoe pointed out the relevance of 5S to the kind of clutter posts we love around this joint, noting that it “works just as well at home as it does at the office”. Wikipedia has, as always, the best starting point for understanding and researching 5S.

It’s a method that seems to have gained adoption among manufacturing firms, but it can just as easily be applied to desk and knowledge work. Each “S” is actually a Japanese word that can be loosely translated into an English S-word—Sorting, Straightening, Sweeping, and Standardizing—but the fifth S is a kind of recursive container that captures the essence well:

Phase 5 – Shitsuke (躾) Sustaining the discipline: Maintain and review standards. Once the previous 4 S’s have been established, they become the new way to operate. Maintain focus on this new way and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways. While thinking about the new way, also be thinking about yet better ways. When an issue arises such as a suggested improvement, a new way of working, a new tool or a new output requirement, review the first 4 S’s and make changes as appropriate.

The wiki’s editors suggest 5S is closely tied to the concept of kaizen, a kind of continuous improvement that was illustrated in a recent This American Life episode, “NUMMI,”, about the Japanese method of car manufacturing. You can hear a condensed summary at about 17:30 in.

If you’ve received a form of 5S training, or have read up on it, we’d love to be pointed to more resources and reading on the matter, or hear your own experiences, in the comments.

5S (methodology) [Wikipedia]


  • The 5s are, sort, store, shine, simplify, sustain. Sustain is simply the repeating of the first four steps on a regular basis.

    1) Sort any rubbish from tools or materials.

    2) Store tools and materials, make sure there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.

    3) Shine, keep machinery and associated tools and materials clean, do one major clean per month and incorporate minor cleaning as part of the work process, especially at the end of the day, make this part of standard machine operating procedure. As part of the cleaning process keep an eye on any parts of the machinery that may require mechanical maintenance.

    4) Simplify, all previous steps as much as possible and look for ways to automate or autonomate cleaning processes, also look at ways of simplifying and improving cleaning and maintenance procedures.

    The 5s method, is a subset of Total Productive Maintenance, the main of aim of which is to use the cleanup process to look at opportunities to both improve the operation of machinery and improve machine maintenance as well as improve worker productivity through kaizen.

    In a desktop environment, it would most probably be used to sort your desk, remove rubbish, make sure all “tools” and “material” such as graphic tablets, pens, software disks, are put in their own storage space, and that this storage space is easily accessible to retrieve items from storage and return them to it. During the cleanup (shine)process special attention would be made to computer peripherals as well as the desktop itself. A good example of how the shine process of the 5s’s can positively impact an office is the inclusion of a monthly air clean of dust out of desktop computers, this greatly extends the life of this most expensive of assets and also improves its performance. Any issues that require maintenance are also usually spotted during the shine process, things like loose cabling, frayed wires etc, and minor repairs made before they become major and cause computer downtime. Looking for ways to simplify and improve the 3 previous standard procedures by taking note of how long these procedures take and what can be done to decrease time spent cleaning and improve equipment efficiency and worker productivity is perhaps the most important stage of this 5 stage process. Sustain this by repeating these four stages as part of a regular Total Productive Maintenance Standard Operating Procedure.

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