The 5S Approach to Waste Elimination for Lean Businesses

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  • 0:03 Japan and the Origin of 5S
  • 0:58 Identifying the 5S Approach
  • 1:37 Theory
  • 4:13 A Lean Business Is a…
  • 4:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christian George

Christian has a PhD in Business Management and an MA in Accounting & Financial Management

This lesson introduces the steps of 5S and explains how these steps lead companies to eliminate waste through process improvement. We'll also discuss American adoption as lean manufacturing and look at an analysis of the five steps.

Japan and the Origin of 5S

Imagine it's Japan, 1945. World War II has ended and the Japanese people are beginning to rebuild from the devastating realization of war. With the end of the war, modern-day manufacturing processes have been introduced to the Japanese economy struggling to rebuild. The Japanese people have always been highly regarded for their sense of order and lifestyle of hard work. They pick up where they left off prior to the war, incorporate foreign business practices, and hope for a brighter future.

Speed ahead 40 years…

A little known and modest Japanese businessman creates an overall approach to production systems that uses five Japanese words, later translated to English, to create an organizational approach to manufacturing. The method describes how to organize one's workplace to maximize efficiency and effectiveness of work by identifying items used and storing them accordingly, maintaining one's work area and items and maintaining the new standard of order.

Identifying The 5S Approach

The 5 Japanese words, seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke describe the approach known as 5S that was introduced to American businesses in the 1980s. The English translation of the Japanese words also all begin with an 's.' They are:

  • Sort
  • Set
  • Shine
  • Standardize
  • Sustain

These steps were thoroughly undertaken by companies such as Toyota who adopted the method of standardization and continual improvement of processes. An American named John Krafcik labeled these steps as lean manufacturing and was instrumental in helping many businesses improve their production processes with this method of operations.


The theory behind 5S, created by Hiroyuki Hirano, and eventually lean manufacturing, is that each of the five steps builds upon one another in a process improvement pattern to help manufacturing companies maximize resources during production. The basic principles of 5S had always been understood by managers in manufacturing but had never had a set order that built upon one another to outline the undertaking of creating a lean, clean environment to work in. Let's address each of the steps in 5S and analyze the ability to eliminate waste in the manufacturing process through implementation of the steps.


The element of sort builds upon the idea that one must remove unnecessary items, tools, and materials from the work area to achieve order. By removing these obstacles, the area is free of potential injury-causing risks. Tools and equipment needed for the work space to function must be arranged in an orderly fashion and in the most efficient pattern. For example, a tool peg board is used at a work station with all of the necessary tools for the job to be completed at that particular station. Tools are arranged in a linear order of use to avoid over-reaching and other safety and time hazards.


The element of set follows the element of sort, and requires the worker at the work station to set in place the required tools, equipment, and materials. A smooth workflow is accomplished with this step so that there is no waste of time and resources finding tools or obtaining materials. This work is done on a regular basis and ensures the work station is always set in place for the work day's events.

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