All About 5s: Creating a Self-organizing, Clean, and Safe Workplace

Created by Cannsult in Articles 20/08/2022
All About 5s: Creating a Self-organizing, Clean, and Safe Workplace

5S is an improvement method that, if implemented correctly, can result in a clean, uncluttered, safe, and well organized workplace that ultimately has reduced waste and optimized productivity. Familiarity breeds blindness, and most organizations have become so accustomed to workplace disorganization that they don’t even see it anymore. They’ve accepted the status quo! And even worse, many people get used to the fact that clutter hides inefficiencies in their processes.

A company that hasn’t implemented 5s will often have clutter everywhere (both digital and physical) and will have a million inaccessible files, dirty floors, workspaces, kitchen, keyboards, equipment, etc. They will often hear phrases like…

What many people forget though is that 5s is about much more than just cleanliness. Some other warning signs of a disorganized workplace are leadership with scattered approaches to problem solving, sloppy procedures and employees allowed to do things their own way, and cleaning only when the manager comes.

5s is typically the first lean method that organizations implement either as a standalone improvement effort, or as a component of a solution for a larger project.

The 5Ss

For 5s to be successful, ALL steps must be properly implemented. The first 3 are about cleaning and organizing and the last 2 are about instilling a culture of discipline and sustainability. Many organizations who have tried 5s pick and choose which steps they want to do (usually one of the first 3), resulting in a small improvement, a quick relapse, and a massive waste of time and money. So how do we start "5sing", and what are the 5S's?


The Sort stage involves going through all the contents of the workspace and determining which are needed and which can be removed. Everything that is not used to complete a work process should not be in the workspace! A common practice in the Sort stage is to go through the work area and “Red Tag” items for removal. These items can either be out-of-place, broken, outdated, etc.


The purpose of the Shine stage is to remove dirt and debris from the workplace and to prevent it from getting dirty in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, keeping your workspace clean is not just the job of the janitorial staff! Creating a clean workplace that shines and minimizing sources of contamination should also be done consistently as part of the work process, and not just once a week or when the area is being audited.

Set In Order

The purpose of the Set in Order phase is to create a well-ordered, visually instructive workplace that results in minimal waste and minimal human errors. A famous phrase that is used when going through the Set in Order phase, is “a Place for Everything...and everything in its place”. Diagramming the work area and designating a spot for all essential tools and materials (digital and physical) greatly increases work efficiency and reduces waste.

A famous example of this is the shadow board seen in America’s most infamous prison, Alcatraz, where inmates with access to things like kitchen knives had to place items on the board to keep the area organized (and for the guards to be able to find out in an instant if a knife went missing!)


The standardize phase is all about establishing standards to maintain 5s improvements. It is in this phase that we develop procedures, checklists and other mechanisms to maintain a visually instructive productive, clean, organized and healthy workplace. There is generally lots of brainstorming during the standardize phase, and upon completion leaves stakeholders with documentation like work area diagrams, flowcharts, work procedures, as well as updated training for new employees.


Just because you have “completed” a 5s project, does not mean it’s over! Workplace organization is an every-day every-minute every-second process that will need to be constantly monitored, expanded, and refined. This is where the Sustain phase comes into play. It helps sustain a workplace that habitually restores order, regulates activity and continuously improves.

5s for the Digital Workspace

A commonly overlooked area where 5s can be skillfully executed is on digital workspaces. At this point, nearly everybody has experienced clutter on wither their personal or company computers.

According to a Mckinsey Report from 2012, employees spend an average of 1.8 hours a day looking for documents. That's 9 hours a week!

It is not uncommon to see companies adding more and more servers because the sheer amount of junk on the computers stacks exponentially. If you were to take away this time spent searching for the right documents, imagine the possibilities to improve efficiency and cost! As you go through the 5s's in the physical workspace make sure to follow along on the digital workspace by...

SORT - red tag files/folders, decide red tag destinations, etc

SHINE - Clean screen, keyboard, make sure wires are organized, run diagnostics

SET IN ORDER - Establish naming convention, create a folder system

STANDARDIZE - Documentation, creating checklists, set KPIs for number of clicks, etc

SUSTAIN - Review and audit

Make sure to check out Cannsult’s 5s E-Course, a full Kit to Create a Culture of Workplace Efficiency & Discipline. Don't waste your time doing just 1, 2 or 3 of the S's. Start "5sing" like a pro and learn how to create an efficient & disciplined workplace with this full kit. Our module includes a narrated video, workbook, 8 templates and a One-Point Lesson on 5S.

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