Well, July almost killed my wife and me. Packing, moving, traveling and coaching certification candidates while we were both fighting off one of the worst summer colds ever. It was not pretty let me tell you.

But, we’re moved into our new house and clearly have lots of work to do. You don’t want to see the garage.

5S to the Rescue!

It seems only fitting to talk about a Lean organizing and cleaning technique called ‘5S,’ which is very much on our minds these days and one that you can use in your business and personal life.

That time you spend looking for a tool, form, kitchen implement or on-line course? WASTE.

Those hundreds of feet you cover running around from room to room or lab to lab gathering materials or trying to locate something? WASTE.

This technique is called 5S because there are five steps and each step, coincidentally, starts with the letter ’S.’ They are:

  1. Sort
  2. Set
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain


This is getting rid of stuff you don’t need and is, frankly, the most important step.

You have to be brutally honest and it’s best to do this step with people who can interrogate your true need for an item. If you’re feeling weak, give them the power to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ And once you’ve made a decision, get rid of the item immediately! It’s too easy for stuff that’s hanging around to creep back into a drawer or closet.

While we usually only think about physical spaces, the clutter in the cloud is really getting out of hand! Software for backing up and sharing files saves copies of everything in multiple places, which is a nightmare for locating and version control.

If you’re in L&D, how many courses do you have in your LMS that are TRULY useful? Be honest. How much time to employees spend trying to find what they need? And how often do they abandon their search because they can’t find it quickly enough?

2S – SET

This means putting what you do need in its proper place, i.e., at the point of use and immediately visible.

A healthcare system in New Jersey was designing a new hospital and estimated that the average nurse was walking OVER THREE MILES A DAY trying to find medicines, charts, equipment, etc.! That’s time away from delivering patient care and hard on the feet. The new hospital was designed to minimize this wasted time and energy.

How many miles do you and your colleagues waste walking every year looking for things? It’s a lot more than you think.


Just like it sounds, this means cleaning, polishing, oiling and otherwise maintaining the tools and equipment that you’ve decided to keep. And don’t forget the area where they’re kept and used!


This means creating systems that perpetuate the order you’ve created and keeps everyone doing them the same way. A great example is the shadow board, which clearly shows where something belongs and when something is missing.

5S Food Safety Shadow Board

This is an excellent example because the tools are color coded for their specific application, which makes it even easier to grab the right one.


The hardest part of any organizing effort is keeping it going. It’s easy to not put that tool back in it’s proper place at the end of the day. Just do it first thing tomorrow, right? And then it doesn’t happen. Part of sustainment is prioritizing cleanliness and organization and, then, allocating time to do them everyday.

My wife and I are now on a ‘5S Mission.’ We want to spend less time searching for stuff and more time enjoying our life and work.

Let’s Shine!

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick