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Use Japan’s 5-S System To Optimize Your Business

It’s no coincidence that Japanese cars continue to outshine US vehicles in quality. The Japanese have made achieving the highest levels of quality part of their business DNA. These major guiding principles are captured in Japan’s Five “S” System.

Even if you are not a manufacturing organization, adopting these principles from the top of your org chart to the bottom will greatly increase efficiency, quality and reproducibility. Organization tips are always good and these have proven themselves to be among the most effective—just ask US automakers who have been trying to catch the Japanese for 40 years.

Use Japan’s 5-S System To Optimize Your Business

#1. Sort

The idea here is to optimize organization at every level of your business. Tour your business looking for what would be a better fit for the trash bin than the work area. Jack B. ReVelle’s “Quality Essentials: A Reference Guide from A to Z” includes a checklist that prompts users to distinguish between what is needed and what is not needed.

Sort the needed from the unneeded and toss the unneeded in the garbage. Look around for unused furniture, purge the bulletin board, chuck unneeded inventory and office supplies, and generally just be relentless.

#2. Straighten

Get everything back where it belongs. Adopt the philosophy, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Have you brought in equipment or supplies that are orphaned? In other words, they don’t really have a home. Correct those problems.

As you can see from the first two “S’s” we are getting things in order. It’s a fact that when the workplace is orderly, people are less likely to make errors. The direct result of fewer errors is greater productivity, which lowers costs and gives you a competitive advantage.

By the way, as the Japanese have discovered, higher quality is also a strong competitive advantage. In fact, people will pay a premium for the assurance of higher quality.

#3. Shine

Cleanliness is next on our list. Inspect your facilities to find the problem areas. Discover if there are areas that “fall between the cracks” and nobody is responsible for keeping them clean. Correct those deficiencies in your systems. Look at all your signage and make sure it’s in good repair.

Note that the steps we have discussed so far involve inspecting your facility and correcting problems you find. When you do this—and if you take our last step to heart, “Sustain”—you send an important message to all employees that you care about the details. That is as important as any of the individual items on these lists.

#4. Standardize

Once you have thoroughly dealt with the prior three items, you must put systems and training in place that maintain your facility at those high levels. This involves training, delegating responsibility and follow-up. The Five “S” System is not a “once and done” project.

The checklist mentioned above asks this question, “How many items can’t be located in 30 seconds?” That is a great self-check. If you, or any of your employees, find yourselves hunting for something that should have been easy to locate, find out why and correct the problem.

#5. Sustain

Once you have established the Five “S” System, keep it going. Demonstrate your commitment to it. Train new employees. Have various employees do weekly inspections to make sure the system is being adhered to.

There is no question that competition among businesses today is more keen than it has ever been. Small differences in quality and efficiency often determine winners and losers. Grab all the advantages that the Five “S” System offers your business.

Images: ”5S Methodology Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain /


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Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for Chamber specializes in helping small businesses grow their business on the web while facilitating the connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide. As a small business expert, Megan specializes in reporting the latest business news, helpful tips and reliable resources, as well as providing small business advice. She has significant experience with the topic of small business marketing, and has spent several years exploring topics like copywriting, content marketing and social media. When she’s not publishing a weekly newsletter to educate small businesses on the vast importance of building up their web presence, she likes to keep her finger on the pulse of the latest small business products, services, apps and other reviews. She also keeps tabs on the foremost events for small business owners to attend. Megan spends much of her time building partnerships and establishing new relationships on behalf of With a strong suit for managing business partnerships and developing partner relations, she often cultivates topics around the partnerships she’s established by reviewing and highlighting what makes each business unique. She prides herself on keeping up with the diverse variety of services each business specializes in to spotlight new offerings. With her extensive repertoire, Megan regularly contributes to a growing number of publications, like,, Vistaprint, Yext, Infusionsoft, among many others. She can be reached at

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  • Hi Megan, As you say: adopting these principles will make a business leaner and meaner & I love “The Five “S” System is not a “once and done” project”. Really interesting, thank you.

  • Thanks for sharing these tips Megan. I hadn’t heard of the 5 S system before but it makes complete sense.

  • Is the 5-S system a part of the Kaizen method?

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