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Lean for Services: Spring clean your office with 5S

Version published in the Law Institute Journal July 2015 89 (7) LIJ p76.

Housekeeping for an effective and efficient office.

Developed in Japan, 5S is a method of creating and maintaining neat and organised workplaces that encourage efficiency and productivity. It is now applied across many industries including the service profession.

The method uses a list of Japanese words that all begin with the letter "S” and can also be translated into English words that begin with the letter “S”.

This form of housekeeping is a popular – and effective – starting point for professional offices. While 5S is something you can implement today, it is important to understand that it is a mindset. Support and encourage your people to understand the benefits of a more effective and efficient office, see those benefits for themselves and be involved in making 5S work.

The five phases to work through in implementing 5S are:


Decide what you need – sort the useful from the unnecessary. The only things that should remain in your workplace are the tools and instructions to do your job. Remove all unnecessary clutter.


Here’s where the saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place” applies. Organise your office, computer, tools and equipment so that everything has a home. For example, the files in your computer are systematised, your inbox/outboxes are always in one spot, your pens in another, your legal pads and sticky notes in their own spots. Use tapes and labels as visual markers for those spots. Ensure things are available as needed at the point of use. Shine Create a spotless workplace. Do a spring clean. Sweep, dust, wash, rinse, scrub, polish and paint. Make your work place shine. Take the time to do this

Standardise – Standardisation is about creating an environment in which the first three stages occur regularly. Generate a maintenance system with procedures, schedules and practices such as colour coding or flowcharting. Regularly audit with checklists and measures.

Sustain This is when 5S has become a routine way of life. You have created a system to maintain the order created, that is, it has become a good habit and is part of your workplace mindset.

The litmus test is the 30 second rule. When 5S is properly implemented, you must be able to locate an item within 30 seconds – whether physical or part of your electronic records.

To enable 5S’s ongoing success, remember that lean tools are implemented as a part of a holistic approach to the goals of a more effective and efficient office. Your people are key: they need to endorse the goals, be on board and be actively involved.

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