Is Kaizen Part of 5S?

Different strategies can be used to improve productivity in the workplace. This has its benefits but can also lead to confusion due to conflicting ideologies, overlapping efforts, and competing strategies. At some point, workers may not even be able to distinguish different philosophies.

5S and Kaizen are both used to improve productivity and reduce waste. In some spaces, the two terms are used together or interchangeably. This has led to confusion over the objectives and activities associated with either.

Are Kaizen and 5S the same thing, are they two separate things with some similarities, or is one a component of the other? These are the questions we’ll be addressing below.

Is Kaizen Part of 5S?

Kaizen is not a part of 5S. In fact, 5S is often implemented as a part of Kaizen. Kaizen is a broad concept that champions continuous improvement in many scenarios. 5S activities can be implemented as one way of attaining this improvement.

5S can be implemented successfully on its own without introducing the broader views of Kaizen. However, it was originally one of the different tools used in Kaizen to improve efficiency in workspaces.

Introducing 5S is often seen as the first step to implementing a larger lean manufacturing strategy. However, it is no longer exclusive to Kaizen. Other frameworks such as Six Sigma can also adopt 5S as part of their strategy for increasing productivity or eliminating waste.

What is the Relationship Between Kaizen and 5S?

5S and Kaizen activities can be hard to distinguish. This is down to their overlapping objectives and their origins.


5S is a methodology for keeping workplaces organized. The term 5S refers to a series of five steps that must be taken when implementing this methodology. The five steps are captured through five Japanese terms, i.e., Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke.

Kaizen is a combination of the Japanese words ‘Kai’ and ‘Zen’. It directly translates to ‘change good’, but as a philosophy, it refers to continuous improvement in the workplace. In Kaizen, the goal is to implement change gradually by making small improvements over time.


Kaizen and 5S both came from the Toyota Production System (TPS). This is a model that was developed by Toyota to make their vehicle production as efficient as possible at a time when Japanese companies could not afford to carry large amounts of inventory.

The big idea was to eliminate all kinds of waste from the production system including physical waste that can cause clutter, unnecessary production, and unnecessary movement.

As products of the Toyota Production System, the elimination of waste is a recurring theme in both 5S and Kaizen. For instance, Seiri (Sort) in 5S advocates for sorting through items in workspaces and removing anything that isn’t needed. In Kaizen, the elimination of wasteful practices and activities is one of the key objectives.

Similarities Between 5S and Kaizen

Although 5S is regularly implemented as part of Kaizen, it can also be implemented as an independent concept. However, even when thought of as independent philosophies, there are major similarities between the two.

Improving Efficiency

Improving efficiency is an objective in both Kaizen and 5S. In Kaizen, efficiency is improved by eliminating wasteful practices and identifying and implementing helpful changes to the manufacturing process and the workplace in general.

In 5S efficiency is achieved by removing distractions from workspaces and organizing these spaces so items that are needed can be accessed faster.

Elimination of Waste

In Kaizen, the elimination of waste is a major target. Its classification of waste is broad and includes overproduction, time spent waiting, unnecessary material handling, manufacturing defects, unnecessary movement of people, unnecessary product features, and too many parts and materials in storage.

5S eliminates physical waste or clutter by removing all items that are not required from a workspace. It also eliminates wasteful movement through better organization of tools, and equipment.

Cyclical Implementation

5S and Kaizen are both cyclical methodologies. In 5S, Seiri, Seiton, and Seiso are all meant to be repeated. The goal is for workers to make 5S activities part of their daily schedule. This is why the last two steps are Standardize (Seiketsu) and Sustain (Shitsuke).

The Shewhart or Deming Cycle is a common tool used when implementing a Kaizen activity. This cycle has four steps; Plan, Do, Check, and Act. In the Act step, solutions that work are standardized while issues that come up provide a base from which to launch the next activity.

Improving Safety

One of the benefits of implementing both 5S and Kaizen is better worker safety. 5S eliminates physical hazards while Kaizen improves entire processes. The latter requires the identification of process deficiencies which may include unsafe conditions.

Employee Engagement

The foundation of both 5S and Kaizen is that the key drivers of change are employees who work in different spaces and directly handle different processes. Both ideologies can also suffer significant pushback if employees are not involved in decision-making.

In Kaizen, all employees are expected to be involved in the process and are encouraged to contribute their own ideas on possible improvements.

In 5S, employees who work in specific spaces are considered to be best placed to know what is required there, how different items are used, how they move about that space, etc. This means they’ll know best how the space should be organized.

Improved Product Quality

Continuous improvement of the manufacturing process will inevitably result in an improvement in product quality. When workers can work in a clutter-free environment using tools and equipment that are well maintained, the quality of the product will also improve.

Rule of Fives

Five is a common theme in both methodologies. 5S has a five in its name and is made up of five steps that are represented using 5 Japanese words.

Kaizen has five core principles and is often said to have five key elements. Workers are also encouraged to ask ‘Why’ five times to get to the root cause of any problem.

Differences Between 5S and Kaizen

At the end of the day, Kaizen and 5S are different methodologies and can be applied independently of each other. This results in a few key differences.


Kaizen typically has a wider scope. This is why 5S activities can be executed as part of a Kaizen strategy. Kaizen’s main goal is to foster a mentality of continuous improvement in companies.

This could mean immediately improving the conditions in a specific workstation i.e. point Kaizen or working on a wider company strategy that is expected to improve the system at large i.e., system Kaizen.

Process Vs Workspaces

5S is focused on improving the physical state of a workspace. This is achieved through the removal of unnecessary items and the organization of tools, equipment, and materials.

Kaizen is focused on coming up with ways of handling processes as efficiently as possible. This means it eliminates more kinds of waste too.

Available Tools

Kaizen has more tools available to it such as PDCA cycles, 5S, the five whys, and Kanban. This means that there are many ways of implementing Kaizen. On the other hand, implementing 5S usually means following the 5 steps.

Which is Best for Your Company?

Kaizen and 5S may be presented as opposing methodologies but they are quite complementary. Implementing 5S can be the start of a process of implementing a larger lean initiative such as Kaizen. 5S activities can also be part of point Kaizen. A Kaizen program can help to sustain 5S.

The question of which of the two should be implemented will depend on the exact problem you’d like to solve. Using either methodology to solve the wrong problem can negatively impact productivity. By taking time to understand what each offers, you can decide whether your company can benefit from implementing one or both of these methodologies.


Kaizen and 5S both came about due to the Toyota Production System but are regularly implemented independently. The choice of which should be implemented should be guided by the unique needs of your company.

In their modern interpretations, Kaizen and 5S have many similarities including their goals of improving efficiency and eliminating waste. They both also rely on employee participation at every level. However, Kaizen has a wider scope and more implementation tools.

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