5S vs Six Sigma

Inefficiencies in internal business practices cost companies between 20 and 30 percent of their revenue. With the right approach, companies can greatly reduce these inefficiencies resulting in greater revenue and value to their customers.

Deciding the right approach for addressing inefficiencies in a company is a challenge. There are different methodologies proposed by productivity consultants such as 5S, Six Sigma, Kaizen, Kanban, and Lean.

5S and Six Sigma are two of the most popular methodologies but how different are they from each other and which one will be best suited to your company? We explore the similarities and differences between these two concepts below.

Which is Better 5S or Six Sigma?

Neither 5S nor Six Sigma can claim to be inherently better than the other. Although both of these methodologies have the overall effect of increasing efficiency and improving a company’s productivity, they are typically applied in response to different problems.

The methodologies used in 5S are excellent for improving the physical organization of spaces and removing items that don’t add value to the work done from individual stations. It makes workspaces less cluttered and ensures tools and equipment are in good working order.

On the other hand, the methodologies that fall under Six Sigma are useful for eliminating errors, defects, and variations in products or services. It relies heavily on structured processes and statistical tools.

Identifying which of these methodologies will be better for your company will require an understanding of their underlying philosophies and the nature of the problems in your current business practices.

Why is it Called 5S?

5S gets its name from the five words that define the five steps you need to take to make a workspace more efficient and productive. 5S was first used in Japan by Toyota and is a core component of the famous Toyota Production System.

Objectives of 5S

5S is designed to improve productivity and reduce waste. It achieves this by keeping workspaces clean and well-organized. This reduces clutter by ensuring access to important items is easy and unimpeded.

An additional step also ensures the tools and equipment used in different spaces are well-maintained. This maintains the quality of workmanship at a high standard and reduces delays due to equipment failure.

The 5S’s of 5S

The 5S’s that give this concept its name are:

  • Seiri
  • Seiton
  • Seiso
  • Seiketsu
  • Shitsuke

All five words are Japanese, but they have English equivalents. Seiri can be translated to Sort and it refers to the act of sorting through a workplace and removing items that have no use.

Seiton refers to the act of organizing workspaces. Any item needed in a space is placed in a specific location that it must be returned to when it’s not in use. This step is usually stated as Set-in-Order.

Seiso translates to cleanliness and it refers to the act of cleaning tools and equipment. However, it goes further because it also requires the inspection and routine maintenance of these items during this cleaning process. This is how this step, referred to as Shine, prevents breakdowns.

Seiketsu is all about standardizing 5S procedures undertaken in the earlier steps. Standardized procedures ensure the necessary steps in the removal of waste, organizing of items, and maintenance of tools are regularly taken.

Shitsuke can be translated as self-discipline or sustain. This step is about ensuring that the company doesn’t stray from the 5S path. The goal is to get to a point where workers implement 5S without being told to.

What is the Six Sigma Concept?

The Six Sigma concept refers to a collection of measurement and optimization tools employed to improve business processes. Six Sigma is the brainchild of Bill Smith, an American engineer who pioneered the concept at Motorola.

The Main Goal of Six Sigma

Six Sigma’s primary objective is to improve the quality of the manufacturing process. It does this by eliminating the causes of defects and minimizing variations in manufacturing processes.

The Six Sigma approach is structured, following a well-defined methodology to achieve a very specific outcome. It relies on statistical methods and the name of the concept is actually a reference to how a low defect rate would be represented in a normal (Bell) curve.

The Five Steps of Six Sigma

The most commonly used methodology in Six Sigma is DMAIC. This is an acronym for the five steps taken in this methodology. These are:

  • Define: The problem to be solved is defined from the point of view of what the customer expects. The outcome or goals of the project are also defined
  • Measure: Measurements are taken to understand the current state of things and form a benchmark.
  • Analyze: The team attempts to get to the root cause of defects by isolating inputs to understand the relationships between different factors.
  • Improve: Based on the previous analysis, the team comes up with data-driven solutions and defines a future state for the process. Pilot tests are also conducted.
  • Control: The solutions from the previous step are implemented and controls are put in place to ensure the system does not revert to the previous state.

Similarities Between 5S and Six Sigma

There is some degree of overlap between 5S and Six Sigma. These similarities can be seen in both their objectives and implementation.

Improving Productivity

Both 5S and Six Sigma can increase productivity in the workplace. 5S can make individual workstations more efficient by eliminating items that get in the way of actual work and reducing equipment breakdowns.

Six Sigma projects can be conducted to identify bottlenecks and can be used to optimize the process. This should result in greater productivity.

Waste Reduction

The activities carried out in both 5S and Six Sigma will result in less waste. 5S is more likely to eliminate waste at a lower level while Six Sigma can eliminate waste on a much wider scale by redesigning the production process.

Employee Participation

5S and Six Sigma both require buy-in from the top management to succeed. They also require a high level of commitment from the employees who are required to participate.


One of the main steps in 5S is the standardization of procedures used to sort, organize, and maintain items in the workplace. In the case of Six Sigma, standardization ensures there is minimal variation in the manufacturing process, minimizing variations in the products.

5 Step Implementation

Implementation of both concepts is guided by five steps. For 5S, these are the five S’s described above while in Six Sigma, common methodologies such as DMAIC and DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Validate) are also composed of five steps.

Differences Between 5S and Six Sigma

Despite their similarities, the differences between these two concepts leave no doubt that they are different methodologies that are often not applied to the same problems.

Primary Objective and Scope

In 5S the main objective is to optimize the organization of items in the workplace and keep things clean and well maintained. It’s mainly applied to physical workstations.

Six Sigma’s main focus is the elimination of defects and keeping product variations low. It’s applied to whole processes and will affect multiple workstations or even a whole company.


5S is a relatively simple process and implementation doesn’t require a whole team of experts. The ideas are relatively straightforward and can be summarized as keeping workspaces organized, logically organizing items, and cleaning and maintaining tools.

On the other hand, Six Sigma uses a structured approach that requires the use of statistical tools to analyze problems and define solutions. Although Six Sigma projects may involve all personnel, they also rely on a team of well-trained and certified individuals.

Use of Data

Both 5S and Six Sigma make use of data. However, in the case of 5S, the use of data is mainly for tracking progress and determining the impact of 5S efforts in the organization. By contrast, Six Sigma is a majorly data-driven process. Statistical tools are even necessary for quantifying the problem and analyzing the current state of things.


5S activities can be carried out from start to finish over a short period. The goal is for 5S to become a series of activities that are undertaken daily.

The process of implementing Six Sigma, however, requires a lot more time. It takes much longer to go through the various steps and longer for the impact of the project to be realized.

How to Choose Between 5S and Six Sigma

Although they have some similarities, 5S and Six Sigma are very different methodologies. The most important challenge in choosing between the two is understanding the specifics of your problem and how much change is required to eliminate it.

5S is well-suited for making quick physical interventions and can be done on a limited scale, e.g., a few workstations. It’s an intuitive process that won’t require workers to receive extensive training. Workspaces that have problems with safety, material flow, speed, and regular breakdowns can benefit from 5S.

Six Sigma is better suited for implementing system-wide changes that affect whole processes. For example, it can be used to find out why a process has been producing a larger number of defective parts and how to eliminate these defects. 5S can also be used to complement Six Sigma efforts.


5S and Six Sigma are both sound methodologies for increasing productivity. Six Sigma has a greater scope than 5S and can have a greater impact on a company. However, 5S is easier and faster to implement.

Both concepts have to be well understood to be correctly implemented. It could be said that the simplicity of 5S gives it an advantage in this regard. It doesn’t require a team of well-trained individuals to direct and manage the process.

At the end of the day, 5S and Six Sigma are not competing ideologies. Depending on the needs of your company, you can decide to deploy either or both at the same time.

Additional Resources