One of the most difficult parts of being a Lean Coach arrives when I have to explain some of the lean terms. Much of the terminology comes from Japanese words, and sometimes the translation is less than ideal. When I explain 5S, I tell people to think of it as a sort of structured Spring cleaning. While my analogy may not be entirely accurate, the 5S events I have been involved with feel very much like a spring cleaning.

Here are the phases of  5S’s:

1. Seiri (整理) Sort

Going through all the tools, materials, etc., in the plant and work area and keeping only essential items. Everything else is stored or discarded.

In software:

  • Remove unused code
  • Uninstall useless software
  • Remove unused libraries

2. Seiton (整頓) Straighten or Set in Order

Focuses on efficiency. When we translate this to “Straighten or Set in Order”, it sounds like more sorting or sweeping, but the intent is to arrange the tools, equipment and parts in a manner that promotes work flow. For example, tools and equipment should be kept where they will be used (i.e. straighten the flow path), and the process should be set in an order that maximizes efficiency. For every thing there should be place and every thing should be in its place. (Demarcation and labeling of place.)

The intent is to arrange the tools, equipment and parts in a manner that promotes work flow.

  • Build Scripts
  • Shortcuts
  • Symbolic Links to reach dev paths
  • Labelling of builds / deploy to QA

3. Seisō (清掃) Sweep, Shine or Clean

Systematic Cleaning or the need to keep the workplace clean as well as neat. At the end of each shift, the work area is cleaned up and everything is restored to its place. This makes it easy to know what goes where and have confidence that everything is where it should be. The key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work – not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.

  • Keep desk clean
  • Keep the OS desktop clean
  • Sort out emails

4. Seiketsu (清潔) Standardize

Standardized work practices or operating in a consistent and standardized fashion. Everyone knows exactly what his or her responsibilities are to keep above 3S’s. Standardize work practices or operating in a consistent and standardized fashion.

  • Communicate clearly
  • Use a common language

5. Shitsuke (躾) Sustain the discipline

Refers to maintaining and reviewing standards. Once the previous 4S’s have been established, they become the new way to operate. Maintain the focus on this new way of operating, and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways of operating. However, when an issue arises such as a suggested improvement, a new way of working, a new tool or a new output requirement, then a review of the first 4S’s is appropriate.

A sixth phase, “Safety,” is sometimes added. Purists, however, argue that adding it is unnecessary since following 5S correctly will result in a safe work environment. Often, however a poorly conceived and designed 5S process can result in increases in workplace hazard when employees attempt to maintain cleanliness at the expense of ensuring that safety standards are adequately followed.

There will have to be continuous education about maintaining standards. When there are changes that will affect the 5S program—such as new equipment, new products or new work rules—it is essential to make changes in the standards and provide training. Companies embracing 5S often use posters and signs as a way of educating employees and maintaining standards.

Phase 5 – 5S definitions are taken from wikipedia

Software interpretation from toniBlog


from Richard Durnall’s blog:

5S for IT Strategy

I’m going to take a break from looking at Lean process principles and talk about a really practical application I’ve found of one of the tools used by Toyota. Let’s apply the 5S to IT strategy and in particular a strategic view of application portfolio management.

The 5S

The 5S are five terms beginning with ‘S’ that are used to create a workplace suitable for visual control and Lean production. This is the point that it gets a bit weird though because the translations of the terms to English seems to have been interpreted quite broadly and there are lots of different versions. Below are what I believe are the most accurate translations of the terms to English….

Seiri :: separate needed from unneeded items.

Seiton :: neatly arrange what is left – ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’.

Seiso :: clean and wash.

Seiketsu :: cleanliness resulting from the first 3S’s.

Shitsuke :: discipline to perform the first 4S’s.

For IT strategy work I like to use a translation of the terms that I don’t believe is as pure as the one above but works really nicely in an IT context. This model focuses on the assessment of the existing application portfolio rather than planned projects or programs of work, however it can be used as a high-level framework for both…


Sort through the exisitng applications in the enterprise categorising them by the criteria that are important to you (platform, business process supported, business units the system is used by). This is an identification and categorisation exercise.

Set in Order

Prioritise the value of the applications based on the value of the processes that they support and expected returns. Try to implement plans to remove any unneeded systems or unneeded components of systems at this stage. Assess the alignment of the applications to the business processes they support and the business strategy. Identify the frequency of enhancements to the system and the likelihood for future change. We now have a categorised and ordered portfolio.


Put in place activities to remediate any problematic technical debt in high-value, high frequency of change applications. Develop metrics to monitor the cleanliness of the portfolio such as average cost or cycle time per change. Introduce instrumentation to help monitor the health of the applications at this point (test coverage %, cyclomatic complexity…).


Standardise technology platforms where appropriate to reduce total cost of ownership. Put in place plans to consolidate applications and simplify the portfolio as much as possible. This is usually part of a long-term strategic outlook.


Put in place plans to sustain the health of the portfolio, perform regular monitoring of performance and perform regular, at least annual, refreshes of the portfolio strategy.

Within this framework we can then apply other IT strategy tools to ensure business alignment, strategy alignment and a long term outlook for our application portfolio and new projects. I like it as a simple framework to perform these kind of activities. I’m always interested in any similar models that you are applying…