Employing 5S Tools to Improve Efficiency and Productivity

5S as a tool for lean enterprise was developed by Toyota to transform the then infant multinational into a major global player. The transformation did indeed take place with very fruitful lessons to all business managers worldwide. The raging misconception that these tools are only applicable in large organizations with complex structures is ill-informed as indeed they can work well in a small sized enterprise even better than in larger outfits.


Like most business processes philosophies, 5S is concerned with elimination of waste within an organization. Waste is a broad term that denotes negative energies and counterproductive efforts that are common in an organization. To achieve the true potential an organization must harness all the energies towards the achievement of the sole objective of success. While success can be contextually described the basic sub-objectives such as reduced cost and increased productivity are common to all. 5S aims at improving the workflow processes with an ultimate goal of bringing about improved customer satisfaction.

The basics

Loosely translated to English, 5S emphasizes on sorting, setting straight, shining, homogenizing and sustenance. Sorting is the first in these processes and involves going through the existing system, technology and stuffs in the organization and eliminating what is not needed. The items are labeled in terms of their importance. Green for instance can be used to mark items that are to be kept within reach, while red can be used for stuffs that are to be discarded. The basic motivation here is to save on time while retrieving items.

There is also the need to carry out a system of arrangement to create efficiency in storage and retrieval thus improving workflow. 5S also insists on the workplace being cleaned and everything stored in a particular order without piling up stuffs. All the team members should be adequately informed of this crucial step and compliance should be enforced. Consistency in processes is a major plus as it ensures that everyone is aware of their responsibilities as well as of where to store and retrieve certain tools and equipments. It is also important that this be sustained with strict measures being put in place to avoid the returning into the old ways.

Importance of leadership

5S cannot function in a vacuum but rather has to emanate from the management and enforced downwards. Although lean enterprise experts talk of an organization as being a family, there is an emphasis on the importance of leadership to ensure compliance. It is the managers to design plans and devise ways of implement these tools with an aim of eliminating waste and creating efficiency. Again, it is crucial to understand that this is not a one-off activity. When the management makes a decision to overhaul company processes it becomes a perpetual process with an objective of changing the company culture. All areas that can do with 5S tools should be indentified and overhauled with an intention of making the process more efficient, maximizing resource utilization and in the end keeping the customers satisfied.