5S is the name of a workplace organization methodology that uses a list of five Japanese words which, transliterated and translated into English, start with the letter S. The list describes how items are stored and how the new order is maintained. The decision making process usually comes from a dialogue about standardization which builds a clear understanding among employees of how work should be done. It also instills ownership of the process in each employee.
The 5S's are:
Phase 1 - Seiri (整理) Sorting: Go through all tools, materials, etc., in the plant and work area. Keep only essential items. Everything else is stored or discarded.
Phase 2 - Seiton (整頓) Straighten or Set in Order: There should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. The place for each item should be clearly labeled or demarcated. Items should be arranged in a manner that promotes efficient work flow. Workers should not have to repetitively bend to access materials. Each tool, part, supply, piece of equipment, etc. should be kept close to where it will be used (i.e. straighten the flow path). Seiton is one of the features that distinguishes 5S from "standardized cleanup".
Phase 3 - Seisō (清掃) Sweeping or Shining or Cleanliness (Systematic Cleaning): Keep the workplace clean as well as neat. At the end of each shift, clean the work area and be sure everything is restored to its place. This makes it easy to know what goes where and insures that everything is where it belongs. A key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work - not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.
Phase 4 - Seiketsu (清潔) Standardizing: Work practices should be consistent and standardized. Everyone should know exactly what his or her responsibilities are for adhering to the first 3 S's.
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.
A sixth phase, "Safety," (安全) is sometimes added. It is reasonable to assume that a properly planned and executed 5S program will inherently improve workplace safety, but some argue that explicitly including this sixth S insures that workplace safety is given primary consideration.
It is important to have continuous education about maintaining standards. When there are changes that affect the 5S program such as new equipment, new products or new work rules, it is essential to make changes in the standards and provide training. Companies embracing 5S often use posters and signs as a way of educating employees and maintaining standards.