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Rod Gapp, Department of Management, Griffith Business School, Griffith University,
+617 55528767, r.gapp@griffith.edu.au (Author for correspondence)
Ron Fisher, Department of Management, Griffith Business School, Griffith University,
+617 55529022, r.fisher@griffith.edu.au
Kaoru Kobayashi, Department of Management, Griffith Business School, Griffith University,
+617 55529294, k.kobayashi@griffith.edu.au
This paper builds on previous research on the application and understanding of the 5S
concept (5S). In order to gain greater understanding of 5S this research identifies and presents
the key concepts from a Japanese management perspective and links these to aspects of
Japanese management approaches.
Data was collected from organisational websites of Japanese companies that use 5S as a core
management approach. This material was examined via the use of Computer-aided lexical
analysis (Leximancer) which provides an insight into the nature 5S within a Japanese
(original) context.
The research provided several findings that indicate key concepts behind the Japanese
approach to 5S management. These finding demonstrate both the technical (visible) and
philosophical (invisible) approaches required for each of the 5S components and are
discussed in a managerial rather than cultural framework.
Practical implications
The findings are important both practically and theoretically as they provide insight into the
meaning and logic that is applied to the application of the 5S management approach within its
original environmental context.
The originality and value of the paper is derived from the holistic understanding of the
application of 5S and its use as a problem solving intervention at the system or process level,
which is a necessary initiating point within lean management philosophies.
Keywords: 5S, Integrated Management System, Japan, Management Philosophy
5S is initially based on the Japanese acronym of seiri (organisation), seiton (neatness), seisō
(cleaning), seiketsu (standardisation) and shitsuke (discipline), which are used as a platform
for integrated management systems by the parallel use of total productive maintenance
(TPM) [3]. In the West both 5S and TPM are sometimes disregarded or at least underutilised
[11]. The major definition of 5S in the West is “housekeeping” [4][7-9][12]. A framework of
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applying 5S to business was first formalised by Takashi Osada [16] in the early 1980s. The
practice of 5S attempts to embed the values of organisation, neatness, cleaning,
standardisation and discipline into the workplace [35]. In Japan the 5S practice was initiated
in manufacturing and then extended to other industries and services. The Toyota Production
System provides a well-known example of 5S principles in practice, the early version was
based on 3S which then became 4S [33]. Boeing in the USA pursues 5S as a world-class
strategy [2]. Even with these examples it appears that many researchers and practitioners
have difficulty going beyond the concept of “housekeeping”. This is suggested by Hyland
and others where they argue that Australian manufacturing firms have only a slight
perception of the importance and the potentiality of 5S [18]. These authors indicate that
among ten continuous improvement tools they examined, the usage and perceived importance
of 5S was quite low. At the abstract level, 5S is “easy to understand” [4][12][48]. However, it
seems much more difficult when one fully tries to understand the values that lie behind 5S. In
addition it is also believed that some definitions may confuse practitioners [17][37],
compounding the difficulty Western business has in fully appreciating the benefits of 5S.
This paper is aimed at optimising an understanding of 5S and it full potential. This can be
enhanced through the understanding of the organisational and management perceptions of 5S
in the originating country (Japan). Based on the previous study [25] texts from Japanese
organisational websites were re-examined in depth, using computer-aided lexical analysis
[24]. The result revealed some important factors in the understanding of nature of 5S. The
authors suggest that these factors could be crucial for the successful implementation of 5S in
non-Japanese contexts.
A Background to the concept of 5S
Understanding 5S in Japan is detailed and engrained as it stems from life wisdom and
everyday practice [34]. Because of this foundation, 5S is easily included in management
practice and can contribute to cost-effectiveness by maximising both efficiency and
effectiveness. When understood and developed, regardless of size or type, 5S can be use to
engage improvement activities within any environment including: homes, schools,
communities and workplaces [10]. The implementation of 5S can also uncover hidden
problems that may have otherwise remained unnoticed. Some of the important benefits of
implementing 5S are summarised as:
Orderliness (seiri and seiton) to maximise efficiency and effectiveness by reducing
peoples workload and human errors through simplifying processes;
Cleanliness (seiso and seiketsu) to maximise effectiveness by contributing to a healthier
life, safety and wellbeing as well as enhancing transparency; and
Discipline (shitsuke) through training and education to enhance the level of morale,
which leads to increased quality of work/life and work standards [35].
Within Japan it is endeavoured that the practice of 5S be integrated with another Japanese life
wisdom kaizen (change for better) and me-de-miru (visual) method [26]. This integrated
system of thinking or managing becomes me-de-miru kanri, which is a visual control system.
When initially introduced as a management system in Japan, the first 3S (seiri, seiton and
seiso) of the 5S concept received most emphasis. Given that this occurred with little
prescription of the concept [41] perhaps this led to the English translation of “housekeeping”.
The development of 5S from this initial starting point to the current comprehensive
framework was first formalised by Takashi Osada in the early 1980s. Over this timeframe
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Japanese approach to quality, just-in-time (JIT) method and TPM were developed
concurrently. The KAIZEN (continuous improvement) principle was formalised by Imai [19].
As a response to these industrial developments, periodicals started compiling articles and
case studies of 5S from both practitioners and industrial researchers [27]. In the 1990s this
lead to visual control and 5S being jointly compiled and translated into English [31]. The
primary objectives of practising 5S are maximising the level of workplace health and safety
and increasing productivity. A longitudinal survey by Japan Industrial Safety and Health
Association (JISHA) [20] showed the development and evolution of 5S between 1945 and
1998 in relation to reducing the frequency of work incidents. The numbers, 2S, 4S and 5S,
indicate the order of elements in 5S respectively (for example, 2S stands for seiri and seiton).
An additional sixth S safety is sometimes added to promote the reduction of work injuries.
The significance of implementing 5S goes beyond direct productivity, for example industrial
accidents decreased noticeably during the survey period [20], shown in Table 1.
Table 1: The development and evolvement of 5S
Work injuries
1 (1950-1955)
44.08 (1950)
24.49 (1955)
2 (1956-1972)
22.99 (1956)
7.25 (1972)
3.6 times up from the previous period
3 (1973-1980)
7.25 (1972)
3.59 (1980)
1.4 times up from the previous period
4 (1981-1998)
3.23 (1981)
1.75 (1998)
1.5 times up from the previous period
(Source: JISHA, 1999)
While the traditional Japanese understanding of 5S follows the 5 step model, there is some
difference within some organisations in the elements used for 5S. For example, some
organisations adopt 3S [30] whereas others implement 6S [39][48]. These variations appear
to depend on the level of maturity of the 5S practice within an organisation or the emphasis
on corporate objectives of the organisation along with its industrial characteristics [29]. There
has also been a change in the organisational objectives of 5S. Originally elimination of waste
was emphasised in Toyota production system (TPS) or “lean production” [47]. Now, quality
has become the primary purpose of 5S practice for most Japanese manufacturers. This quality
focus is globally accepted in conjunction with other Japanese approaches to quality [37].
Recently, because of the applicability of its tools and techniques 5S has been linked with
environmental management systems (EMS) to achieve sustainability [5][45].
What the Japanese 5S entails
The original 5S has both socio-historical and philosophical roots [23]. Many practices in
Japan are often denoted by do (way: philosophy) and jyutsu (techniques), such as
kendo/kenjyutsu (Japanese fencing) or judo/jujyutsu (Japanese unarmed combat), which are
intended to train the body and mind through discipline [42]. This creed is also applicable to
Japanese management which encompasses both “management philosophy” and “management
techniques”. An example of the former can be seen in private supplemental schools, such as
The Matsushita Institute of Government and Management (MIGM) founded by Konosuke
Matsushita in Matsushita Electronic Industry. They provide lectures to CEOs, politicians and
economists, including management philosophy, visions, economics, policies and ethics (see
http://www.mskj.or.jp). The 5S concept is also included with its “way of life” and
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management context (MIGM graduates, personal communication, July 2006). This view is
consistent with Osada’s framework [34] but has not been reflected to any extent in the
English edition [35] of his work. The management techniques can be obtained at an
individual basis from publications, workshops and seminars provided by management
consultancy services. For example, Hiroyuki Hirano successfully promotes 5S using manga
(cartoon comics) and audio-visual materials [e.g., 44]. This view places greater emphasis on
the use of the first 2S (seiri and seiton) and its importance for corporate survival [15].
The current recognition of 5S in the western literature
While much of western literature still acknowledges 5S as “housekeeping” [4][7-9][12] or a
“lean tool” [14][36], others perceive 5S as having a more strategic focus. For example,
Hyland et al [18] refer to 5S as aproblem-solving tool”. Bamber, Sharp and Hides [3]
suggest that 5S and total productive maintenance (TPM) can be practised not only
simultaneously but also in conjunction with other process improvement methods used in total
quality management (TQM), KAIZEN and just in time (JIT) methods so that organisations
can take an integrated approach, which incorporates EMS. This view is empirically supported
by Zutsushi and Sohal [49] who identified that there are benchmarking standards available
for EMS which can be used to achieve optimum level of operations or “best practice” in
Australia, as shown in Figure 1.
In practice, enormous effort may be required to achieve this integrated management system.
Therefore small-to-medium organisations may resist taking this view due to economies of
scale. The authors therefore recommend considering 5S in a more philosophical or at least
strategic way. When 5S becomes a way of doing business, operations will need to be
approached differently due to the behavioural changes required as a basis for 5S to succeed.
Once all members within an organisation can fully understand and implement 5S,
organisational readiness towards best practice becomes more realistic, since one of the
outcome of successful 5S practice is increased morale and organisational resilience [35]. The
literature [3][45] suggest that 5S contributes to the following important strategic priorities:
productivity, quality, costs, delivery, safety and morale, as shown in Figure 1. Recently in
western writing [45][46] there has been recognition of the potential of 5S in line with
environmental management, an approach which already been exercised in Japan [5]
Figure 1:
The Integrated Management System (Source: [3][49])
AS 4801:2000
Health and
ISO 9000 Series
ISO 14001
Improvement Focus
P = productivity
Q = quality
C = costs
D = delivery
S = safety
M = morale
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The literature [11][16] has suggested that 5S is still underutilised by Western organisations.
Others have implied that 5S has received a focus on specific applications rather than on its
holistic meaning [25]. The aim of this research was to understand the message from
organisations who practise 5S in Japan its country of origin. This research looked at existing
established secondary data in relation to the managerial and organisational application of 5S
within Japanese businesses. Organisational websites were selected as the research frame. This
is possible as messages in organisational websites are becoming dialogs which represent
organisations strategic intentions rather than just as a marketing device [13][21][22].
Corporate websites are now an important primary sources of information in relation to that
organisation [1][32]. This study also sought to ascertain keywords commonly used by
organisations. Therefore, the approach reflects that of a case study investigation of messages
from Japanese 5S practicing organisations.
Eighty-four Japanese organisations which publicly describe 5S on their organisational
websites were purposively sampled. Based on previous research in this area [25], both
accessibility checking was conducted, followed by a test-retest reliability checking before
analysis. Computer-aided lexical analysis [24] was used for this study, which enabled
triangulation of the data set. Leximancer Version 2.2, was used as a data analysis tool, its
learning capability generating and putting similar words into groups automatically as
synonyms, then representing them as a concept [38].
In computer-aided lexical analysis, each word forms the unit of analysis [28]. The initial
execution of Leximancer identified 21 concepts by generating a number of words. The
number of concepts to be considered by Leximancer was increased incrementally and the
program again executed. This was continued up to a setting of 40 concepts. After these
iterations it was observed that no new concepts above 31 were evident; therefore the concepts
identified in the analysis were deemed to be saturated, as proposed by Strauss and Corbin
[40]. All 84 pages were used for the analysis. A feature of Leximancer is its ability to display
concepts and the relationships between them, in a conceptual map. The type of mapping
selected was linear which emphasises co-occurrence between concepts [38].
Content validity, the accuracy of translation, was checked using Brislin’s [6] back translation
method. In the previous study [25] all the pages were independently translated into English
and content validity was conducted by the use of both a Web translation service and a
verification sample of these translations was assessed by an independent translator. Data
which contained industry-specific terminologies were confirmed by another translator to
assure accuracy. As consequence of these validity checks, some modifications in assigning
words were made. The term organisation was replaced to either company or arrangement to
avoid confusion in its meaning (eg the organisation component of 5S rather than the business
form). As most Japanese put the first S seiri and the second S seiton together in use as an
idiom, which appeared significantly in the previous studies, the concept arrangement was
manually assigned to represent these two elements altogether. The third S seiso and fourth S
seiketsu were assigned as cleaning for the same reason.
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The 5S as a means of management
The most frequently occurring concepts were: cleaning (seiso and seiketsu), improvement
(kaizen) and arrangement (seiri and seiton). All three concepts were strongly linked to each
other, followed by place, management and activity. The fifth S shitsuke was emphasised as
training which was linked to the concepts of method and workplace. Table 2 shows the 31
concepts extracted from Leximancer.
Table 2: The list of concepts regarding 5S appeared in the Japanese context
Note: AC: absolute count; RC: relative count
The proximity of concepts in the cluster map was derived from a combination of the direct
and indirect relationships between those concepts listed in Table 1. The cluster map only
displayed the higher levels, that is the more abstract concepts. It can be seen that there are
several clusters which can be grouped as: (a) standard-cleaning-activity; (b) machine-
improvement-management; and (c) plan, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: The conceptual map of 5S in the Japanese context
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When looking at co-occurrence, the concepts of cleaning, arrangement and training were
linked to each other. Another frequently occurring concept of improvement was linked to
place, cleaning, and activity, followed by arrangement, training and management. The
concept of place mostly included the word genba (shopfloor); organisations investigated
often expressed this as (immediate/actual) place of management. The concept of
improvement included both the words efficiency and effectiveness. However, the word
efficiency was related mostly to the concept of production whereas the word
effectiveness was linked to the concept of management. Japanese organisations clearly
perceived 5S as a holistic, stand-alone management method for workplace improvement.
Also, inclusion of concepts such as machine, equipment, and maintenance was related to the
TPM practice. These results support the literature [3] that 5S can be a platform for an
integrated management system (IMS). The concept of standard included expressions such as
5S is the foundation for constructing international standards into management systems and
continues this standard with actions. The evidence supports the proposition that 5S can fit
well with ISO or OHS (AS 4801 in Australia) standards [49].
The current intentions on 5S from the Japanese cases
Organisations which described 5S on their websites are shown in Table 3. Manufacturing
organisations included automotive-parts manufacturers, food producers, and chemical
producers. Service organisations included employment agencies, management consultancies
and training providers. We separated the third category since it included schools,
management associations, management communities, and city councils.
Table 3: The list of concepts regarding 5S appeared in the Japanese context
Education/Non-profit/City council
When looking into individual cases, the manufacturing sector seemed to be major 5S
practitioners whereas service organisations tended mainly to act as 5S trainers. The other
organisational sectors were a combination of both 5S trainers and practitioners. Technical
colleges provided both the concept and implementation methods of 5S. They implemented 5S
and informed their 5S experiences. Non-profit organisations (management associations and
communities) provided places where 5S practitioners conduct meetings to exchange their
information regarding their workplace management including discussions on current 5S
practices. Their main emphasis was 5S is primary for improvement. City councils were
aligned with training providers to offer 5S workshops mainly for small sized organisations at
affordable prices, and some were free.
On the trainers’ side, organisations explained the meaning and importance of 5S and provided
some examples of 5S implementation. On the practitioners side, organisations provided their
current practice with photos, pictures and diagrams. This study did not extract the details of
those additional materials. Some organisations used their websites as newsletters to
communicate with their customers. Others provided company audits to inform current levels
of their 5S implementation. Education/non-profit/city councils provided mixed information.
As an exceptional case, Numazu City Council (case 68) incorporated 5S into their policy and
informed the reader of their current 5S practice, then explained how the council can provide
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better services to their citizens using the 5S principle. It also provided a dialog-style checklist
which linked to workplace health and environmental management.
Research outcomes
Within the study a major emphasis of Japanese organisations appeared to be to create a
better workplace, implying that Japanese organisations take a more holistic view of 5S. In
the Japanese context 5S was not only a focus internally to the companies themselves, but also
was outwardly focused toward customers. This result is supported by Osada [35] that 5S
enhances transparency. Through the use of general and easy to understand terms on their
websites the Japanese’s organisations indicated that promoting 5S practice was aimed at
communication with their customers as well as employees.
Whilst manufacturers actively practiced 5S, service organisations did in limited ways,
implying that service firms appear to be at an earlier maturity level in practice; as seen in the
early stage of the manufacturing counterparts. Commonly used terms in the western
literature such as “housekeeping” [4][7-9][12] or lean tool [14][36] did not appear in this
study of Japanese’s organisation, supporting a different focus and understanding in Japan.
Also, abbreviations such as TQM, JIT and TPM were included and integrated into 5S by the
subject organisations.
This study could not find terms such as employee involvement” or employee
empowerment as suggested in the western literature. This can imply that total participation
emphasised by Japanese organisations could have a stand-alone meaning. The research
suggests that total participation in Japan is a more voluntary-based approach in terms of
autonomy, which has little mention in the lean literature but does occur in TPM. To this
end, Suzuki [43] claims that autonomy can be enhanced by 5S as well as the reverse that
successful 5S can be achieved by enhancing autonomy. Thus, within the Japanese context
autonomy and 5S can be both means and ends and are already integrated concepts. In order to
achieve the IMS, enhancing autonomy would appear to be the one of critical factors in the
successful implementation of 5S.
This study provides a platform through theoretical linkage for further and deeper
investigations that are currently being undertaken. As the study was aimed at identification of
key concepts it has been kept at a global level. Further analysis of subject organisations at an
individual level will be forth coming. Further studies will also include analysis of material
other than text, such as the many visual materials identified as important in the Japanese
presentation of 5Sphotos, diagrams, models, charts etc. This common approach in Japan
stems from the use of me-de-miru (visual) methods and is used to express 5S practices.
Practical outcomes
Gaining an understanding of the complexity and deeper requirements of 5S from a Japanese
perspective is a valuable source of information in terms of its application within other
managerial settings. By studying the context of 5S, within a Japanese management setting, it
appears that 5S is intended to provide a mechanism for improving the workplace with
minimal costs. The adoption of 5S also appeared to be well suited to applications within
production firms as it provides a platform that with little effort allows the organisation to
satisfying various international standards with minimum costs.
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There is evidence that 5S is also applicable for service industries, schools, and communities,
and situations where environmental management is a primary concern. Although this study
did not focus on the aspect of how to implement 5S, the use of me-de-miru (visual) methods
could be the success factor for the 5S application.
Japanese organisations see 5S as a means of an approach to management rather than a tool
within a management portfolio of tools. This is shown by the conceptual map with the four
key areas being management, activity, training and improvement. These four areas provide
action for managerial application of the 5S management approach. The concept map places
the concepts of machine and maintenance to the side of the linkage between the above four
key activities of management, activity, training and improvement, with these main activities
leading to the concept of standards. These includes plans which demonstrate that the
associated outcomes of the core factors associated with management intent are standards,
plans participation and machines (maintenance). This deeper understanding of 5S and its
associated intent builds a culture leading to a management strategy, which sees its application
presented in the form of an Integrated Management System. An important point for
consideration was the successful uptake of 5S, this seemed to occur only when the benefits of
5S are fully appreciated within this holistic management perceptive. As 5S stems from life
wisdom, and the deeper understanding of 5S at an abstract level, its application is difficult as
it requires the actual development of the wisdom rather than an abbreviated summary of some
of the concepts in the terms of management tools. It is this deeper wisdom that will allow the
Western businesses to develop 5S to the levels of managerial application seen within this
study, rather than simple tools for ordering the workplace.
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