What is the Most Important Step in Implementing 5S?

5S is a simple initiative that can drastically improve conditions in a workplace while increasing productivity. Each step makes a significant contribution to this effort, and each step has to be undertaken for the implementation to be a success.

However, it is not uncommon for companies to give up on 5S and return to their original way of doing things. This is often because of poor implementation of one particular step.

In this article, we state which step is the most important in 5S and highlight what makes it more important than the others. We’ll also go through the challenges companies face in implementing this step and offer some useful elements that help with its implementation.

What is the most important step in implementing 5S?

The most important step in 5S is Shitsuke or Sustain. If it is not properly implemented, any gains realized in the initial steps will be undone. Sustain is the last step of 5S and it’s also the step most companies struggle with.

Although some companies will struggle to implement even the first three steps of 5S, a common theme in failed 5S initiatives is the failure to sustain the initial efforts.

Sustaining change is a well-known problem within companies. There are many accounts of initiatives being launched with plenty of excitement at all levels. This excitement may last for a few weeks and some positive changes are even realized. However, after a while, the excitement dies down and things start being ignored, postponed, or outright shut down.

In the case of 5S, the excitement can last long enough for the first four steps to be implemented. The challenge comes about when the change needs to be sustained for months or years.

What is Sustain in 5S?

Sustain is the step in 5S whose goal is to make 5S an autonomous system. It aims to get the company to a point where the procedures established and standardized in the first four steps are executed by employees without needing to be reminded.

Sustaining 5S means finding ways to motivate workers to repeat the first four steps continuously, but this is just one aspect of this step.

Another important aspect of the sustain step is that it must ensure the standards keep up with changes in the workplace. This could be the introduction of new products, equipment, or regulations. Changes could also be necessary based on past audit results.

Why is Sustain in 5S Important?

Sustain in 5S is made up of activities such as auditing and training. These activities are important because:

  • They ensure that workers are following through and implementing 5S activities daily.
  • They keep the workers motivated to continue performing 5S activities.
  • They ensure new workers are properly trained on 5S and also retrain existing employees to reinforce 5S concepts and the correct way of undertaking certain activities.
  • They help to spread good implementation ideas between departments or workstations.
  • They ensure that any progress is measured and documented.
  • They help to identify procedures that don’t work.
  • They provide information that is needed to update goals, procedures, and standards, and improve the implementation of 5S.

Overall, Sustain is an important step in 5S because it ensures that 5S becomes a cycle and, eventually, the culture in the workplace.

Elements for Sustaining 5S Implementation in the Workplace

The initial enthusiasm for improvement cannot be relied upon to ensure 5S is implemented well into the future. Certain elements will need to be in place to sustain 5S in the long term.

Support from Management

The company management should be committed to providing the necessary support to sustain 5S activities in the long run. This means ensuring that workers are continuously provided with the time and tools needed for 5S activities and the necessary training to execute 5S activities.

Top management should also show their support and commitment by participating in 5S. This could mean being present to get feedback from employees or participating in the auditing of 5S processes.

Up-to-Date Training

The environment that 5S takes place in is constantly evolving. New tools, equipment, processes, and machinery can be introduced at any stage. Industry or company regulations can also change.

The 5S training offered to employees must reflect these changes. This will ensure employees know how to clean and inspect the new items, or the best way to store them.


Whether or not any changes have taken place, it’s important to retrain employees on 5S principles regularly. This can remind employees of the correct way of performing certain activities, in case they’ve been getting it wrong.

Retraining is also an opportunity to reiterate the benefits of 5S to keep workers motivated to repeat the process continuously.


Auditing is the process of periodically checking if the objectives set for 5S are being met. Auditing will provide key data such as which measures are being implemented well, areas where implementation is good, areas where implementation is lacking, and even areas where implementation is good but not yielding necessary results.

The results from a 5S audit will inform many future decisions regarding training, updates to standards, strategy, etc.

Performance Evaluation

The performance of everyone participating in 5S should be evaluated. Performance evaluations will help to keep track of how different members are performing in their 5S efforts. This allows for top performers to be celebrated and rewarded and can serve as motivation for the rest. Evaluations should be based on specific, measurable, and realistic goals for each worker.


Incentivizing implementation is an easy way to sustain enthusiasm for participation. Long-term benefits may be initially exciting but may soon seem out of reach. Short-term rewards can serve as a constant incentive to sustain 5S activities.

Signs that Sustain is Failing

Failure to sustain 5S is unlikely to happen all at once. The failure will likely be gradual, and there will be warning signs that this happening. Some of the signs you should look out for are:

  • Disjointed efforts: When there is no consistency in how 5S is implemented, this is a red flag. Disjointed efforts could mean only specific individuals or departments are actively participating, activities are undertaken without following a plan, or implementation efforts are not aligned. These could be signs that the initiative is losing momentum.
  • Low usage of 5S tools: Implementing 5S involves the use of tools such as checklists, red tags, signs, and storage boxes. When you notice that very few checklists are getting filled, few items in the reg-tag holding area, or low demand for storage resources, this could be an indicator that implementation is low or not being done as documented.
  • Lack of tangible improvements: If 5S efforts yield results on paper while the workers don’t seem to realize the benefits, this could be a sign of impending failure. This could indicate that certain issues are still not being addressed or certain employees are not following the process as required.
  • Lack of top-management interest: When the company leadership is not actively involved in 5S efforts, it could be a sign that the initiative is of low priority to them. This lack of interest can translate to a loss of focus and motivation from the team, postponement of important 5S activities, or axing of the program.


The Sustain step in 5S is the most important one because it ensures companies practice 5S long enough to enjoy its main benefits. Many companies’ 5S initiatives fail at this step because sustaining change requires more commitment than initiating it.

Getting the necessary support from management, rewarding successful 5S efforts, auditing, and other elements play a key role in sustaining 5S. In case your 5S efforts are not succeeding, there will be warning signs that can alert you to this so you can make timely changes.

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