What is Lean 5S and why is it useful in a small business?

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Can 5S be used in a small business and how?

What is Lean 5S and why is it useful in a small business?

What is 5S? Why do we think that all small businesses would benefit from using it?At its simplest, 5S is a lean methodology that seeks to eliminate waste and create value within an organisation. Some may consider it just another tool but trust me it’s much more than that. It should become the guiding principle for any business, large or small. It’s a deceptively simple and practical solution, however if you live it it will transform everything your business does and ensure that you are always focused on making your business ‘the best it can possibly be’  it is as much a successful philosophy as a toolkit developing a culture of continuous improvement.

What is 5S?

The name 5S comes from the Japanese – seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. Translated into English, these are:


These five steps are the torchlight for improving a business’s operations. Originally conceptualised for lean manufacturing, the principles are nevertheless important for develop a lean approach within any type of organisation.

At its heart, 5S embodies the idea that an orderly workplace is a more efficient one. If anything, such a principle is more important to the small business where there are few resources and time is precious. However, it can be easy to overlook when you’re the only person involved.
5S for small businesses

Sort – This stage involves sorting the contents of the workplace and removing unnecessary items. This way you can eliminate all unnecessary items from where you work – your home office (desk), your garage, your rented office space, premises etc.

Let’s imagine you run a car repair shop. What do you need in the garage and what do you need in the office? Strip back all that is not needed in each. For example there is a pile of older type of tyres in the corner that have not been touched for ages. They are for trucks that are no longer sold or even obsolete. Move them, sell them off cheap or scrap them.

Set – Now you want to make sure everything that is required has its place. Eg, each tool has to have a spot – eliminating wasted time looking for an spanner. Consider what should be in easy reach – what tools are used most often? Which are used rarely and could be placed out of the way? In the office, which files need to go where? If you spend 5 minutes looking for a stapler, would it benefit from having its proper place? (the answer is usually yes).

Further more when you set things in order pay attention to which things you use the most. The most frequent used tools should be in the easiest to reach places close to where you regularly use it. It makes sense to put the compressor in the tyre changing area and not at the other side of the workshop.

Shine – This is simply about establishing a cleaning and inspection regime to ensure that all the work in steps one and two last. Your business operation will inevitably mean that the sorting and setting comes undone – your mechanic grabs some tools and leaves them lying around because, for example, he’s busy and has another job to do. The Shine phase is therefore important to help see what’s being used and to put them back in their place.

Standardise – Now you want to establish standard procedures for maintaining your newly clean, systematically organised workplace. Roles and responsibilities need to be assigned. For example, your head mechanic is tasked with ensuring all tools are cleared and replaced in their right spots each evening, while your junior mechanic has responsibility for cleaning oil spills and ensuring the tools are clean and not going to rust. If you’re a sole trader, this phase is still important so you may detail what you need to do each day to maintain the system.

Sustain – Perhaps the hardest part of all. This is where the first 4 steps are embedded into the culture of the organisation. Training of any employees is required and ongoing reassessment of performance and actions is necessary. Sustain is also linked to the principle of continuous improvement as employees and owners build the process into the daily work routine in order to add value and eliminate waste.

These are just a few basics of 5S for small businesses, we believe that just thinking in these terms will provide a simple focus ensuring that you make good decisions which after all is what good business is all about !  get in touch to learn more.

Picture by Roay Ahram published under creative commons

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