Lean 5S: Now Is the Perfect Time to Clean Up!

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Many of us have a lot more time on our hands these days.  And a lot less money.  This is true for businesses as well as individuals.  But it doesn’t mean that we can’t make improvements.  In fact, this is the perfect time to do some of those things we just never had time for in the past.  Whether it’s organizing your work station, archiving your computer files*, or cleaning up your inventory storage, you can accomplish a great deal by employing a very simple Lean tool, the 5S.    

These five simple steps (as you might have guessed, they all start with the letter “s”), will not only get you organized, but they’ll keep you that way.    They must be done in this order:   

  1. Sort: Separate the stuff you use from the stuff that just sits there. You have to decide how often you use something and if that qualifies it to stay at your work station (or whatever space you’re organizing).
  2. Set in Order: A place for everything and everything in its place.
  3. Shine (some call it Sweep): Clean it up
  4. Standardize: Train everyone in how/why we’re doing this
  5. Sustain: Make it easy to keep it this way. Label bins and boxes and drawers. Make sure there’s room (in the Set in Order step). Draw outlines (such as tool boards) so we all know where it goes.

For a real-life example (photos and narration) click here…    

The trouble that most of us get into is that we do the first three steps.  Every once in a while we enjoy a burst of ambition which we apply vigorously to cleaning up a space.  But within a very short while, it looks like this again:   

The owner of this desk does not use 5S!

The owner of this desk does not use 5S!


That’s because we failed to follow through…essentially wasting all the effort of cleaning and straightening in steps 1-3.  It takes discipline, but it’s a habit worth getting into. To learn more about Lean principles and tools, enroll yourself in the Lean 101 course at BeeLearn.com.  It’s free; all you have to do is create an online account.    

*Note:  The 5S works for electronic messes as well.  How much time do you spend looking for a file and how many versions of the same file do you have stored in various places?  Mmmm…

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