Remember when you couldn’t find the stapler? You know you saw it on that desk over there, but now it’s gone and the receptionist doesn’t know where it is.

Every minute you spend looking for that stapler is a frustrating waste of time, morale, and efficiency.
5S is a method of organizing the workplace that dovetails beautifully with lean methodology. It’s an important component in Continuous Improvement (Kaizen), and fosters efficiencies by saving time, improving discipline, and being a constant reminder of the importance of workplace standards.
It’s Japanese methodology and the name derives from a list of 5 words, which translate into seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. Companies embarked on a deliberate Continuous Improvement path typically employ 5S to some degree.

Sort (seiri)
Even with the time wasted in looking for staplers, how many old ones do you have lying in the bottom of drawers and at the back of office cupboards?
Before establishing a system, we need to first clean up from years of not having a system.
Ask yourself which items you need and which you don’t. Do all the pens on your desk actually work?
Do you really need 4 coffee mugs? Fewer items cluttering up your daily space will keep your head clearer and make it easier to find the items you do need.

Set in Order (seiton)
Give the stapler a fixed address.
Establish a home for all equipment and mark it off with tape or labeling if necessary.
People use the equipment on a first come, first served basis. It goes home after it’s finished with; no exceptions. Equipment is kept close at hand, so the people who need it most often don’t have to go far for it.
“A place for everything and everything in its place.” It reminds us of elementary school, but it’s the central pillar of 5S’s effectiveness. If you use the stapler, put it back. Elegantly simple.

Shine (seiso)
Clean the stapler. Clean equipment is not only more pleasing to use, but we tend to take better care of items we see as new over items we see as old and dirty.
Not only is clean equipment better for morale, it’s also safer. In 5S, equipment is cleaned while inspected and inspected by cleaning, so damage is caught as early as the next polish.

Standardize (seiketsu)
Now that your clean and functioning stapler has a home: standardize it. Creating high standards will formalize 5S and pivot it from one-off housekeeping to expected workplace standard.
The standards will help you maintain the order you’ve established moving forward. If you fall off the horse, refer to those standards to get back in the saddle. Eventually you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sustain (shitsuke)
This is the hardest part.
Right now your mind is on keeping the stapler in its proper place but it won’t be for long.
Our busy minds move from focus to focus, but 5S cannot become “last month’s project” when we become engrossed in other things.

5S must become engrained in company culture if it’s to be maintained. More than just housekeeping, its long term integration requires a shift in how employees see their workplace.

It’s a microcosm of Continuous Improvement as a whole, in that it requires a shift in company culture and ongoing focus and discipline to be successful in the long term.