9 Challenges of Implementing 5S In Manufacturing

Initiatives designed to improve productivity in manufacturing often make sense on paper but many companies struggle to implement them. As a result, these initiatives often underperform or fail to effect any lasting change and 5S is no exception.

5S is a simple model that has been proven to improve productivity. However, its implementation faces many challenges. Anticipating these challenges can help you to prepare for them.

In this article, we will examine the common challenges you may face when implementing 5S in manufacturing and how you can overcome them.

What is the 5S Model?

5S is a byproduct of the Toyota Production System. It’s a system for organizing workspaces to reduce the wasteful movement of workers, improve the reliability of tools and equipment, and boost the productivity of organizations.

5S is implemented in five steps whose objectives are captured in five Japanese words. These are:

  • Seiri – Translated to Sort. This first step refers to assessing all the items in the workspace, keeping only items that are needed, and getting rid of the rest.
  • Seiton – Usually translated to Set-in-order but a more apt translation is orderliness. In this second step, the items that were kept after Seiri are organized with logic, accessibility, and ergonomics in mind.
  • Seiso – Translated to Shine. Items that have been organized are cleaned and inspected. Some routine maintenance may also be performed.
  • Seiketsu – Translated to Standardize. The actions performed in the first three steps are standardized by transforming them into sets of repeatable procedures. These are documented and checklists are also created to help with execution.
  • Shitsuke – Usually translated to Sustain but the actual translation is closer to discipline. This step is about sustaining 5S through disciplined repetition of the first three steps. Procedures are also periodically reviewed based on inputs and past results.

5S makes great use of visual management and the tools used to implement it include shadow boards, floor tapes, red tags, and signs.

Specific Challenges in Implementing 5S in Manufacturing

Commitment from Top Management

One of the most commonly cited reasons why 5S efforts fail is a lack of commitment from top management. The top management in many companies is always eager to try the next new thing and this can cause them to jump from one idea to the next.

Introducing and implementing 5S won’t be new for long and it can be a challenge to get the company leadership to commit to their efforts for the long term without shifting direction.

Resistance to Change

Implementing 5S represents a significant cultural shift in many organizations. Although it brings many rewards to both the company and employees, 5S will also require breaking from tradition and this may encounter some resistance.

Some employees will also resist 5S since it will introduce new/additional responsibilities or due to past negative experiences with similar initiatives. For this initiative to work, it has to become deeply integrated into the culture of the organization.

Defining Objectives

5S should not be blindly applied and must be implemented to solve specific problems. When 5S activities don’t have specific objectives there may be competing strategies applied within the same company or it may be applied in areas that don’t need it.

Before implementing 5S it is necessary to have objectives that state what the initiative is supposed to accomplish.

Identifying and Tracking Metrics

It’s important to be able to quantify the impact of 5S in a company. Without appropriate metrics, 5S efforts may be incorrectly deemed to be ineffective or their impact may be exaggerated.

Before the actual implementation starts, you should identify the metrics that will be used to measure the impact of 5S in the company. The metrics chosen must be appropriate, measurable, and easy to track over time.


Employees at every level of the company will require training to properly implement 5S. This will help them to understand how to handle the five steps of 5S, how their efforts contribute to the objectives of the initiative, and why 5S matters to them and the company in the first place.

Without training, 5S will face even greater resistance. Training will require resources and time which the company must plan for. Additionally, the type of training should vary depending on the company, employee levels, and job functions.

Access to Training and Implementation Resources

Implementing 5S correctly requires certain tools. These tools are required for:

  • Organization of tools, materials, and equipment
  • Proper disposal of waste
  • Signage
  • Demarcation of different sections
  • Auditing and tracking 5S efforts
  • Training of employees, etc.

These resources will have to be purchased and made accessible to every employee who needs them.

Integration With Overall Lean Strategy

Many companies will have different initiatives running at the same time with similar objectives. This is usually the case with 5S which is usually implemented as part of a greater lean manufacturing strategy.

The company’s 5S strategy must be designed to complement other lean strategies to avoid duplication of efforts or contradicting efforts between different teams.

Integration of Procedures With Daily Schedule

5S activities are supposed to be undertaken daily not occasionally. This is the most effective way of making it part of the company’s culture, hence, sustainable.

Implementing 5S activities into the daily schedule may be challenging at the start especially if employees perceive it to be nothing more than a cleaning exercise.

Auditing 5S

A 5S audit is important for assessing the effectiveness of 5S efforts. It can help the company identify areas that require improvement or procedures that need to be upgraded.

Audits must be scheduled, audit forms or checklists must be prepared, and audit procedures must be in place. A system to report the results of the audit should also be in place.

Overcoming Challenges Of Implementing 5S

Many of the challenges encountered when implementing 5S are not just predictable, they are also avoidable. Some of the measures you can take to handle or avoid the above challenges are discussed below.

Ensure Top Management is Fully Committed to Implementing 5S

Implementing 5S requires that the company provides certain resources and will require employees to take on new responsibilities on company time. Therefore, top executives and managers must be committed to seeing the process through for 5S to succeed.

Ensure that the top management is fully committed to the project by properly communicating the goals of the initiative and the strategy. Top management should also know if they’ll be expected to undertake 5S activities suited to their levels and functions.

Proper Communication And Training

The objectives of 5S must be well communicated to all employees who are expected to participate. Employees will be more likely to embrace 5S if they understand the ‘Why’ behind the different actions they’ll be undertaking.

Employees should also receive training that helps them to understand what 5S is, its benefits, and their role. The training should be tailored to the job functions and workspaces of every employee. Retraining should also take place regularly to reinforce concepts.

Communication channels between the 5S team and ALL participating employees should be open. Ideas for implementing 5S in any workstation will mainly come from the employees within those stations.

Implement 5S to Fix a Known Issue

Not every workplace requires 5S and in some cases, 5S itself can become a form of waste. Identify the issues that will be fixed by 5S before working on a strategy to implement it or allocating any resources to it.

When the issues that 5S is intended to fix are known, it will be easier to figure out a common 5S strategy, how to integrate it with other company goals and initiatives, and defining the metrics that will be used to determine whether 5S has been effective.

Standardize Procedures Well

The standardization step is the key to ensuring that 5S activities are undertaken daily. Activities undertaken in the first three steps should be documented and the procedures should be converted into a form that makes them repeatable and easy to carry out during a working day.

With good standardized procedures, it becomes easier to carry out efforts to sustain (5th step) 5S in a company. Auditing of 5S efforts also becomes easier thanks to checklists developed during standardization.


As is the case with any worthwhile initiative, implementing 5S comes with its fair share of challenges. Some of these challenges such as lack of commitment to 5S and resistance to change within the company can easily mean the end of the project.

However, these challenges to 5S implementation are not unique to any company. Because these challenges are known, they can also be overcome by ensuring that 5S is right for the company and that everyone is onboard and committed to seeing the process through.


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