The third and fourth Ss: Seiso & Seiketsu

The two next Ss — Seiso (清掃) and Seiketsu (清潔) — also share their first kanji character, 清, which connotes pure, clear, and/or fresh, and is associated with water. The latter kanji in Seiso, 掃, means “sweep”. The second kanji in Seiketsu, 潔, is a very positive character describing something pure, clean, holy, and/or free of dust and germs. Clearly both of them are related to cleaning. Seiso literally means “cleaning” and Seiketsu is a general term referring to “maintaining cleanliness” (as in good hygiene) and is a very usual expression in Japan

In Japanese primary-, secondary- and high schools, it is a very common practice that students have daily cleaning time, for example 30 minutes. They clean not only their classrooms, but also shared areas such as the corridors, toilets, entrance, etc. A more common Japanese word for Seiso is “Souji” (掃除). It is one of the fundamental Japanese customs. An illustrative example: In the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil, the media broadcasts pictures of Japanese soccer fans tidying up their seats and sitting areas after the games.

Sticking to the letter S, the English translation of Seiso is often “sweep”, “scrub” or “shine”, even though “cleaning” would arguably be closer. Note that Seiso is not just about brushing and washing, it aims to keep machines, equipment and facilities in a functional, visual and well-maintained state. Because “dust attracts dusts” and “litter stimulates littering”, the absence of Seiso quickly results in an impairing factory.

Seiketsu is often translated to “standardize” in the meaning of maintaining a standard. This might result in wrong interpretations: Seiketsu is not the activity of making work standards (another important element of lean production), but rather the activity of sustaining all the three first Ss. Seiketsu is the ideal status after you have sorted, set-in-order, and cleaned up. In some sense it means creating and maintaining standards for Seiri, Seiton, and Seiso. Seiketsu is the foundation for improvement, well-being of the employees, and effective production. One of my Japanese colleagues, who moved to Europe a few years ago, provides an illustrative example:

At my kid’s school, the kids rarely have opportunities to clean the shared area. Instead, the school hires a janitor for cleaning, and the parents do big cleaning event twice a year. In Japan, we always think that it is much better to let pupils clean by themselves so that they use the areas with more care and find improvements for a better school environment. To have and keep “Seiketsu” should be a goal in the school.

How to do it

The cleaning activities of Seiso can typically be carried out at the end of every shift. Five or ten minutes are sufficient. The obvious drawback is that such cleaning routines often mean five or ten minutes lost production. Therefore, we should strive to do the cleaning while machines are running. Not cleaning at all is equivalent to never brushing your teeth. It is simply a bad idea. Note that Seiso also includes other activities that help implement the “visual factory”, such as installing sky lights, painting the factory walls in light colors, and replace non-transparent covers with transparent ones. Making the factory more beautiful is important too, but not the main objective of Seiso.

Seiketsu can be achieved by applying a combination of reactive and preventive actions. Reactive actions include practices like regular Gemba walks and scheduled 5S audits with the purpose of identifying areas for Seiri, Seiton and Seiso. These practices are very usual, but require a routine and sustained management commitment to be effective in the long run (which is why we need the fifth and final S). Weekly or monthly 5S audits are maybe the most used (and misused) lean tools. An obvious risk is that it favors compliance over understanding.

Examples of preventive Seiketsu actions are installing ventilators, air filters, door mats, surface treatment of concrete floors, and so on. The best preventive actions are those that eliminate the cause of unnecessary items, disorder, and dirt altogether. For example, areas where dust is entering the factory can be sealed permanently. Also, appropriate wardrobe and canteen facilities may be good preventive actions. Clearly, Seiketsu cannot be achieved by one-off Katazuke campaigns alone, but requires “Kaizen” (continuous improvement activities).

The fifth S: Shitsuke

The fifth S, “Shitsuke” (躾), is different from the first four Ss that Shingo and Ohno discussed in Toyota (4S). According to the Japanese colleagues, Shistuke is a rather strange word to use in a professional business setting, because it is usually reserved for raising children or pets. Shitsuke can be translated to “discipline”, “educated” or “following the rules”. Shitsuke implies a set of rules that somebody is taught. For 5S, the set of rule is 4S. The kanji character (躾) can be split into two parts: 身 and 美. 身 means body and 美 means beauty. In this sense, Shitsuke is the process of training the (mental) body to become beautiful – which refers to developing a healthy and disciplined organizational culture.

The most usual English translation of Shitsuke, “sustain”, can be misleading: Shitsuke is not about sustaining the first four Ss per se (remember that Seiketsu is the process of sustaining Seiri, Seiton and Seiso), but rather a fundamental culture-building process that makes sure people see the purpose of and are motivated to act on the rules of 4S. It fosters self-motivated discipline in the members of the organization. Shitsuke should manifest itself in deeds and habits, such as, for example, washing hands, using safety equipment and proper working clothes, respecting the work time, prioritizing team over self, following standard operating procedures, and contributing with creativity to improve the standard. In is only until recently that we have started to understand that power of Shitsuke in the lean production literature (see, for example, the books The Toyota Way to Lean leadership by Jeffrey Liker and Gary Convis, and Toyota Kata by Mike Rother).

How to do it

Admittedly, Shitsuke appears paternalistic—but the intention is good. In the Japanese system, the operator is taught by the foreman, the foreman by the line manager, the line manager by the production manager and so on. The relationship between a sub-ordinate (Kohai) and a senior (Senpai, or sometimes “Sensei”, which means teacher) is not of “do what I tell you” or “tell me what to and I’ll do it”, but rather a coaching relationship aiming to provide guidance from one with experience to one without. In particular, the role of the foreman is essential for the success of 5S. It is the job of the foreman to provide regular on-the-job-training for his/hers operators. The shop-floor operators should implement and sustain 4S through Shitsuke.

Just as for the other Ss, there are practical methods that can assist the Shitsuke process too. On-the-job- and class room training are obvious activities. Others include information billboards and slogans, daily team meetings on the shop-floor, regular newsletters, town hall meetings, “gemba” walks by senior management, showing performance indicators on team boards, offer rewards and recognition, and perform checklists of adherence to standards. But none of this will be successful if the management style is that of “command and conquer”.

Managers need to lead by example to develop the right culture. There is no quick fix in creating discipline towards a 5S culture. On a day-to-day basis, managers must be visible, enthusiastic, and supportive. Teams should be empowered with budgets and time set aside for 5S activities. Everyone in the organization should be trained and developed. An effective way to do this is the “train the trainer” system, where the responsibility of 5S gets disseminated in the organization. Building a good 5S culture takes years.


5S is extremely popular in industry. It is often celebrated as the first “tool” to implement in a lean journey. Unfortunately, countless firms never make it beyond the first Ss, and then they regress to “no S”. As this discussion of 5S shows, 5S is not a tool, but rather a full concept that builds a foundation for any professional business. Introducing the two first Ss, Seiri-Seiton, result in an orderly, effective and logical workplace. Adding the third S, Seiso, makes the workplace clean, functional and attractive. These three Ss are good housekeeping practices and create “visual control”, which is a wanted result of any 5S project. The fourth S, Seiketsu, is about sustaining the result. And the fifth S, Shitsuke, is about building discipline in the organization towards the idea and standards of 5S.

Let’s face it, remembering five Japanese words (even remembering five sequenced words of your native language) is a challenging task. It is much better to understand the underlying idea of the concept. Not forcing a translation of 5S into words staring with S, I find the following suggestion to be more correct (see Imai, 1986, and Hirano, 1996, for similar translations):

  • Seiri – Sort items to retain, return and rid
  • Seiton – Organize items in the workplace
  • Seiso – Clean the workplace
  • Seiketsu – Maintain Seiri, Seiton and Seiso
  • Shitsuke – Discipline the organization

Individual perceptions of 5S differ widely. Very often it is wrongly perceived as a mere tool for tidying up and cleaning. These are indeed essential elements of Seiton and Seiso, but do not capture Ohno’s and Shingo’s original idea of 5S. We can hardly blame anyone for this limited understanding of 5S. First, there are different translations of the concept—some more correct than others. Even best-selling books on lean production get 5S wrong, most often misinterpreting Seiketsu and Shitsuke. Second, 5S is not a very intuitive concept; Seiketsu is the integral of Seiri, Seiton and Seiso, and Shitsuke is the integral of Seiketsu and a higher-level characteristic of the organizational culture. Third, because companies usually do not understand Shitsuke, the other Ss can never be sustained. This leads to cyclical restarts of incomplete 5S projects. Fourth, 5S itself has a direct cost, but doesn’t save a penny; the benefits are plentiful, but indirect and hard to measure. Fifth, 5S is not sexy; it makes people start daydreaming of the weekend. We all know that a certain level of industrial housekeeping is needed, but can we ever succeed with 5S?

Here is my conclusion: Try not to make 5S a goal in itself. It could probably be a good idea to never introduce (or re-introduce) 5S as a “tool” for your company. Focus instead on the leadership part, building the right discipline and culture in your organization towards the objective of 5S:

Create, maintain, and improve an efficient workplace organization with high levels of visual control.

Good luck with getting 5S right!

Recommended reading

If you want to study the concept of 5S further, I recommend you the following books:

  • Imai, M. (1986). Kaizen, the key to Japan’s competitive success. Random House Business Division.
  • Ohno, T. (1988). Workplace management. Productivity Press.
  • Osada, T. (1991). The 5S’s: five keys to a total quality environment. Asian Productivity Organization.
  • Hirano, H., & Talbot, B. (1995). 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace. Taylor & Francis.
  • Hirano, H. (1996). 5S for Operators: 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace. Productivity Press.
  • Kimura, K. (2014). Untitled manuscript about 5S. Unpublished manuscript.


To learn more about Shistuke (the fifth S) see the following books:

  • Liker, J., & Convis, G. L. (2011). The Toyota Way to lean leadership. McGraw-Hill.
  • Rother, M. (2010). Toyota kata: managing people for continuous improvement and superior results. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional.


About the author

Dr Torbjørn Netland is an Associate Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and a Senior Researcher at SINTEF Technology and Society, Trondheim, Norway. He has been a Visiting Researcher at the University of Cambridge in the UK, and a Fulbright Research Fellow at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., USA. His research on “Managing Corporate Improvement Programs” is performed in close cooperation with global companies like the Volvo Group, Jotun, Hydro, Madshus, Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace, and Kvaerner. It appears in several peer-reviewed journals including the Journal of Operations Management, Production and Operations Management, MIT Sloan Management Review, International Journal of Production and Operations Management, among others.  Please find more information and get in contact at: