The 5S Formula That Improves Efficiency and Helps Your Company Shine

Many Japanese organizations practice a method of cleaning and organization called "4S." Some American companies have adopted this practice, added a fifth "S" and simply call it 5S.

What is 5S?
Five S represents a strategy to develop and maintain a working environment that is clean and organized. Such an environment almost guarantees a better working environment for workers, a more organized system for tools and equipment, and a safer work environment.

Now let's explore what the the five Ss stand for.

This demands that any item that is not bolted down to the shop floor or welded to one of our trucks be identified. It means that each item is identified and clearly tagged. The tag can be small and attached by string, small chain, or affixed like a sticker.

The information on the tag clearly states what the item is, what its part number is, and even what the purpose for the item is. It is also very helpful if the tag states where the item is to be kept when not in use. Often the tags on items are a color easy to spot.

Set in Order
This suggests that once items are tagged that they are then segregated into a predetermined area where the items can be easily kept and found. Setting tagged items in order is no different than purchasing a "shadow box" for hand tools such as screwdrivers, hammers, wrenches, etc.

Once all items are set in order it is wise to create a "map" of the area so that anyone looking for or returning a tool can easily recognize where a tool is to be found or returned.

The third S refers to cleaning. For contractors this means the cleaning of all tools, equipment, and vehicles. It should also mean that a crew leaves a jobsite at least as clean, if not cleaner, as how they found the jobsite.

The fourth S demands that we formalize our effort to tag items, to determine an ordering process for placement of tools, equipment, and even vehicles.

This requires that we develop standard operating procedures where helpful to educate all workers on how we take care of tools, equipment, and vehicles.

Standardizing even our cleaning efforts will help develop our workers into alert employees interested in becoming known as a clean company whom customers love to have performed their particular trade.

Holding your workers accountable to maintaining the sort, set in order, and shine is at the heart of the fifth and final S.

This requires a balance of both proactive support through the creation of standard operating procedures, signs, tags, etc. and the immediate handling of those workers who fail to comply with 5S practices.

The five Ss can be very helpful to your efforts to create and maintain a cleaner and more organized construction firm.

Many employees prefer working for a contractor who is serious about running a tight ship. Start today to make 5S part of your strategy of bringing greater effectiveness and efficiency to your business.

Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting and educational company committed to the construction industry. For information about Brad's firm go to