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ISO 9001 Business Improvement Tools - 5S

02 March 2021
One of the findings that we have seen within the certification industry is that although there are two levels of certification; certified or not certified, there is a vast difference in the performance and implementation levels of management systems we see during assessments.

You can achieve ISO 9001, or any other standard, and put in place systems and controls that will meet the requirements and keep the business compliant. You can put in a level of effort to maintain the certification by implementing some basic management controls. Many organisations will implement the minimum requirements but rarely go above and beyond the intention of the standard.
I have been auditing now for almost 20 years. I see all kinds of systems, from the not even close to meeting it, through the getting over the liners, all the way up to the organisations that are revolutionising their respective industries.
In all honesty, many businesses achieve ISO certification because they must, to meet customer requirements, not because they want to. The organisations that just do the bare minimum tend to be the ones who are certified because they must. They do the bare minimum to get by and then state they have not benefited from its implementation. Well no you wouldn’t have, effort in equals effort out.
When I come up against an organisation implementing their management system because they are forced, I see this as a personal challenge. I look to convince them that embracing the requirements can benefit their organisation and the management system. It sometimes takes a few years, but I get a huge buzz when the lightbulbs suddenly go off. Once this happens, the organisation moves onto the next level; they start to seek out those improvements they can make beyond just having certification.
To take your management system from being an over the liner to a market leader, you can implement business improvements tools.

Business and Management System Improvement Tools

There are many more tools and models somebody can use to get the most out of the management system. Not all will be suited for every organisation; a lot will depend on the size, complexity and products or services supplied. Many of the tools and models below are used predominantly within the manufacturing sector. I would recommend you do some research to determine which one would suit your business the most.
Some of the more common business and management system tools are:


  • Value Stream Mapping

  • Lean Manufacturing

  • Six Sigma

  • 5S (Sometimes 6S)

  • ISO 9004

  • Hoshin Kanri


5S is probably one of the first ones I would recommend organisations to look at; this is sometimes called 6S as you can take this a step further. It’s an excellent model that gets various functions of the business working towards something and breaks down the barriers between “quality” and everyone else.
Thus, many organisations will then get more buy-in to the continual improvement ethos; there are speedy results to be seen and achieved, giving people the bug to do more.
The 5S model is used within six sigma programmes; if six sigma is something you have heard about and interested in, you can use 5S as a taster and gets everyone started on the journey.
The “5S” name comes from the 5 Japanese words that make up the process. The five words are seiri, sieton, seiso, seiketus, and shitsuke. Roughly translated these words stand for sort, set in order, shine, standardise, and sustain. If you wanted to apply the 6S format, you simply add Safety to the end for the last S.

The model aims to establish ways to get the maximum productivity out of your workplace as possible; you have to follow the steps one by one in the order with key milestones to achieve for each step. 

1. Seiri/Sort

Apparently, according to my wife, I am terrible at this, especially when I do DIY work. The first step is designed to remove all unnecessary items from around you within the workplace. 5S can be applied to all areas of the business, not just a machine shop. Offices are often in need of a sort which is why this methodology involves everyone within the organisation.

It has been proven that if you only have things around you that you require to fulfil your tasks, you become more focused and do not get easily distracted. 

To achieve sort, you need to clear out all items that are not required and keep it that way. The pieces of paper on your desk, the old tools or bits of metal around your machines should be removed. If things belong in another department, hand it over to them.

2. Seiton/ Set in Order

Set in order is sometimes called straighten. If you have been through a machine shop and you see Shadow boards where there are specific holders for each tool, this is where they have completed the second step of 5S.
So, once you have got everything you don’t need away from your area, you then set about giving everything a specific home or position. No more rummaging to look for tools, no more running around the shop floor looking for a wrench. Its all set in front of you with easy access. 

This process may cost you a little money, you may have to set up shadow boards, you may have to purchase a few more tools such as wrenches and spanners but the money you will save in lost time should outweigh the initial expenditure.

Having access to all of the necessary tools enables employees to get their work done quickly and with less frustration.

3. Seiso/Shine

A clean and tidy area results in a clean and tidy mind.  Being able to keep your work area clean is another crucial aspect of building productivity. This step should be used to generate a regular cleaning schedule. Many organisations will do a 30-minute cleanup at the end of each shift and maybe even a weekly deep clean; some have even gone to the length of having full-time cleaners working their way around the factory.

When people get into the routine of cleaning up regularly, it becomes second nature. It also makes for a more pleasant working environment, and people start to look after their equipment and machinery. They begin to take pride in their area. If you walk into a machine shop and it’s dark and dirty, you will instantly get the impression of the business and know what level you need to work at in terms of cleanliness.

A benefit of this step is that any regular worker will get sorted quickly; they want to ensure the area remains clean and tidy.

4. Seiketsu/Standardise

Standardising everything within the organisation will encourage everyone to take pride in their workplace, there is a set look and feel that everyone has to follow. A bit like a brand but think of it as a company image for the employees to follow. Every workstation should look the same, don’t just have a shadow board for one station, have it for them all, make sure the workstations look the same, paint them the same brand colour etc.

Every workstation should also be clear. Any new employees coming into the business will fit right away and be accustomed to the methods and standardisation.

I remember working in McDonald’s when I was younger, and they follow this standardisation method to the T. I had my training in one of the stores, and every now and then, another store would be short-staffed, I would get called to go and help out in the low staff store for the day to help them out. I walked straight in, not ever being there before and got directly to work without anyone telling me how it works. I often did this in various stores as they tended to pay extra, but everything was standardised. I could be anywhere in the country, and everything was the same.

5. Shitsuke/Sustain

The 5th step is all about discipline and can take some time, as the saying goes; you can’t teach old dogs’ new tricks.  If current employees are used to having things a certain way, it can take some time to become accustomed to the new way of working and cleanliness. It’s easy for new employees as they walk in and see how it is, for older employees, it will take some time as you are creating a new culture.

Set a standard of excellence and stick to it, do not be afraid to change things based on feedback. If employees come up with a new idea or a better way of doing something, listen, the more they take ownership, the more successful your 5S programme will be.

One thing you need to do to ensure the 5S programme is maintained is to perform audits or inspections.  Some organisations introduce GEMBA walks as part of the more comprehensive lean manufacturing implementation.
Genba (also romanised as gemba) is a Japanese term meaning "the actual place". In business, genba refers to the place where value is created; in manufacturing the genba is the factory floor.

In lean manufacturing, the idea of genba is that the problems are visible, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to the genba. The gemba walk, much like Management Walking Around (MBWA), is an activity that takes management to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities.

Although not directly intended to be focusing on the 5S process, it is good to add this onto the GEMBA walks.  GEMBA walks are performed by management, so if they are out there performing the sustain element of 5S, it sends a clear message to all employees. If Management is committed to sustaining the working environment, then everyone else will follow suit.

I won’t detail what is involved in GEMBA walks; there is plenty on the internet to review.

6. Safety

This is where the 6th S doesn’t quite follow the Japanese method; safety translated to Japanese is Anzen-sei.  Safety is now at the forefront of many working environments, not just manufacturing. This is one of the reasons the 6th S was brought into the methodology. 

Within the safety step, you are aware of safety risks and implement mitigations to reduce these risks.  Most of us are familiar with this, but it still lacks in many machine shops we visit. Removing short- and long-term hazards will reduce stress and improve employee focus. 

To introduce the safety element, you should ensure that all safety risks and documented throughout the 5S implementation process and consider the working conditions and safety at every stage of the process. Regular health and safety checks should be performed; again, this could be done as part of Gemba walks or routine health and safety inspections.