The Continuous Improvement Blog

How to improve productivity and employee engagement with lean 5s

Written by Colin McArdle on 11 Oct 2017

Untitled design (50).jpgMost organisations want to eliminate waste and be more efficient. But knowing where to start can be a challenge.

The Lean 5s methodology is a structured systematic approach to organising the workplace. It ensures employee engagement and increased productivity are driven from the ground up.

Any business can benefit from using Lean 5s. Famously implemented by Toyota in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, it is now used by businesses around the world, across a range of industries.

In this post, we take a closer look at Lean 5s, and outline how deploying it in your workplace will help you make improvements in your business.

What is Lean 5s?

The main focus is on reducing production downtime. 

Lean 5S aims to reduce time spent looking for things, minimise risk of equipment stopping or breaking down, and stop people carrying out tasks in non-standardised ways. The 5S workplace is well-organised and has a clean working environment.  

It has five ordered steps:

  1. Sort- Eliminate what is not needed.

The first step involves sorting through the contents of the workplace and removing unnecessary items such as tools not in use, or clearing obstacles that slow down the workflow.

Examples: removing out of calibration test meters located on a shelf alongside calibrated test meters, or removing old unusable hand tools.    

  1. Set In Order- Arrange items so they can be located quickly.

Once unnecessary items are eliminated, remaining items are organised, labelled and placed in locations where they are easily accessible to workers.

Examples: arranging tools in order of how frequent they are used, or arranging screwdrivers in order of their size.

  1. Shine- Keep tools and equipment ready to use.

The workplace and equipment are cleaned on a daily basis, so that any signs of potential problems, e.g. decaying or broken tools, leaks, or hazards, are easily spotted and can be addressed to avoid more serious breakdowns or delays to production.

Examples: voltage meters working correctly and calibrated, or fixture locating clamps in serviceable condition so as not to impact productivity.

  1. Standardise- Implement standard ways of working.

Standards for processing parts at standard time intervals are defined so all workers can carry out tasks to set times and to the highest standard. These standards are maintained by revisiting all 5 steps on a regular basis. 

  1. Sustain- Keep to the rules and continue to improve every day.

A core focus of the Lean 5s methodology is to make best practice sustainable. Emphasis is placed on maintaining standards, regular auditing, showing progress and celebrating success to drive continual improvement.

What are the benefits of Lean 5s?

Improves efficiency

By simply walking into a workplace, the trained eye can immediately identify where the work environment is organised for efficient operations. Deploying a Lean 5s approach examines the activities in detail, and at the lowest level, so efficiency is improved from the ground up.

Lean 5s eliminates waste by getting rid of unnecessary items, so items needed are easier to locate. It organises, labels and positions closer to the process hand the tools and materials needed on a regular basis. It identifies best practice so standards can be developed. And practices are regularly audited so standards are sustained and continually improved upon.

Improves health and safety

A clean working environment means any health and safety issues are more immediately identifiable. Spillages can be spotted and cleaned up immediately, minimising the risk of accidents. Removing clutter means hidden hazards can be revealed, such as loose electrical cables. And having tools and materials close by reduces need to travel and potential for injury, which is particularly important in an industrial or factory environment.

Improves quality

By setting standards for best practice, and committing to continually improving, you ensure everyone in your organisation is working to optimum standards and highest quality.

Engages the workforce

As much as your workforce may love their jobs, there will inevitably be things that frustrate or slow them down on a daily basis. Simply moving an item they use regularly to a more convenient place could have a significant impact on how easy it is for them to do their job, and allow them to get more done in less time.

By providing a better organised, safer, and well-maintained work environment, your workforce will be more engaged, more motivated, and happier in their jobs. And this improved morale and engagement will mean a greater commitment to the business, leading to increases in workforce  retention and reduced workforce complaints and grievances.

Reduces downtime

Downtime can occur when a regularly used item is lost or suddenly stops working. A well-organised workplace means any problems can be quickly identified and addressed so any potential downtime can be avoided.  'Best in class' manufacturing companies record downtime in seconds so as to ensure no stone is left unturned in the quest for perfection.

Reduces costs

Engaging the workforce to help improving efficiency, health and safety, process and product quality with reduced downtime means you will be a lower cost more productive producer. 20-30% improvement is not un common.

You may also be surprised at how much space you can free up by removing clutter and better organising tools and materials. This could reduce how much you need to spend on cleaning and maintaining the space. You may find you don’t need such a big space, and consider a smaller working environment to save on rental costs.


The Lean 5s methodology is fundamental to business improvement. It’s about driving efficiency by having the right tools in the right place, clear methods and standards, and a motivated workforce. It is just one of many tools that, together, aim to deliver the benefits of lean.

When deploying the Lean 5s methodology, consider the views and frustrations of your workforce. They know the processes best - what works well, what tools and materials are not needed, and what steps require more time and effort than they should.

Typically, a small team of employees will be involved in the implementation process, led by a facilitator, normally an experienced Lean expert. Of course you can nominate someone in your business trained in Lean and 5s methods to lead the initiative. But if you want to find out how we at Kaizen Kulture can help you implement a 5s programme within your business, please get in touch.

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Topics: lean

Colin McArdle

Written by Colin McArdle

Colin McArdle, the Founder and Managing Director of Kaizen Kulture is a Lean and Six Sigma Master Black Belt who has over 30 years industry experience. Kaizen Kulture's mission is to be true to the ethos of continuous improvement.