6S System: The Basics

Let’s take a moment and go back to the basics. The ‘5S’ system, as it’s called, stands for Sort, Set In Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. The system outlines how to go about organizational projects in a way that is efficient and effective both in the short and long term. In this blog post, we’re going to go over each step, but we’re also going to add in the 6S, “Safety.”


Start your sort by going through the workspace and using colored tags/stickers to mark every questionable object. A questionable object is something that isn’t essential, or that you aren’t sure is actually worth keeping around in the environment. Next you’re going to have a holding area, items in the holding area are to be disposed of after a certain period of time – the length of time for items to remain in the holding area will vary depending on the nature of your business or projects.

Take a look at all the items that you’ve marked as questionable. Do you seldom or never use them? Put them in the holding area. Items that are used once per month to once per week should be stored around the work facility. Items used once a day or more should be stored in the immediate work area.

Set In Order

Now that you’ve got your clutter items out of the way, setup the remaining items to encourage the best possible flow. Think about things like which areas will be the busiest/most congested and how far people will have to move or bend with or in order to lift heavy objects. Also consider what items are going to get in people’s way and which side of the body things should be stored on to be most accessible. Your goal is to reduce unnecessary motion and movement.


Now is the time to polish and get everything looking spiffy. In the Shine step we will be cleaning everything from the ground up. There are a few reasons for this: First of all, slips, splinters happen less in a clean environment when debris and spills are cleaned up well. Plus, people just like working in a nice place – plain and simple. Your maintenance and daily cleaning will become much less of a task if things start organized and clean. Also, be sure to assign cleaning tasks to specific employees and maintain a schedule to your shining cleaning gets done.


Standardize is about getting a plan in writing about how to maintain the progress of the first three steps. Write out instructions for how to go about each of the previous three for any task, this way the system can be easily implemented by others in the future for other projects. Remember, assign duties and schedules to make sure that everyone is doing their part here, it pays to keep organized after your organizing.


Sustain is about making the system a habit by keeping up the good work you have been so far. Unlike standardize, however, this S is less about making a plan and more about just continuing to take positive action. Doing activities that reinforce the concepts, checking that things are still sorted and being kept clean, etc. All of these will help make sure you don’t have to start all the way back at square one.


Safety needs to be integrated into the standard 5S system because safety should be the #1 priority in any project or work task. Integrate safety training into the daily routine and consider placing materials around the work space that put safety procedures in everyone’s face in order to keep the message constant. Work with employees individually to correct unsafe behavior, and keep safety training and equipment up to date at all times.

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