5S - Building A Lean Culture in the Field

How can 5S benefit the construction industry? It improves productivity, quality, safety and schedule. It is a core lean method to bring Lean thinking to frontline workers in the field or shop. It is simple. It costs almost nothing. And you can start doing it today. 5S is a method to keep our workplace organized, clean, safe and efficient. It is called 5S because each word starts with “S”:

SORT - Determine what is needed and remove everything else
STRAIGHTEN - Set in order. A place for everything and keep it there.
SHINE - Clean and keep it clean… all the time.
STANDARDIZE - Create standard ways to stay clean and organized.
SUSTAIN - The self-discipline to keep it going

Some construction organizations enact this on site using three basic rules: (1) Nothing hits the ground, (2) Everything on wheels, and (3) Just-in-time delivery. It keeps work areas clear. It keeps material close to the work. And it keeps excess materials and tools off-site and out of the way.

It is Lean because it helps eliminate waste and makes work flow efficiently. But more than that, it is a basis for continuous improvement. How so? It involves everyone in the effort to improve their work area. It gets workers thinking and involved in improvement. It generates collaborative thinking and action. So, it becomes a foundation for building a culture of Lean problem solvers.

The key is what you focus on. If you think of 5S as simply rules to keep clean, it won't do much. If you think of 5S as a collaborative method to improve our work, you have started the engine of continuous improvement.


Continuously improving organizations utilize the experience and insights of everyone. People see themselves as contributors to improvement. It is part of their job and they are recognized for their input. They learn to see waste and how to improve flow so that the ideas they offer are truly improvements in the delivery of value. Finally, there is a process in place to capture and implement the improvement.

5S becomes a foundation for all of this. How so? Because it involves everyone, is based in eliminating waste, and lays down an initial process for improvement. Gradually, the Lean culture develops. 5S is not complicated. And it doesn’t have to be perfect out of the gate. It will improve over time.

To get started and make the change “sustainable”, someone needs to be responsible. Sending out an email or memo is not sustainable. On a single jobsite this may be the superintendent. In an organization you need a champion with the knowledge, backing and time to build momentum.

Training should include everyone, including management. For those in the field, an hour of formal training is usually enough to get started. The best teacher is learning by doing. Put a simple assessment form in their hands and talk through it. For example, going to the first “S” of “Sort”, we might ask, “Is there anything out of place?”. Maybe there is a pile of left-over material. Why? Maybe it is good material, but we didn’t know what to do with it, so we put it in the bin/corner/yard/whatever. Did we order too much material? Do we need a process to not just deliver, but to also reuse excess? Now that the problem is uncovered, (which is clearly wasting time and resources and is a possible safety hazard) how will we address the problem?

Some improvements are simple, and teams handle it themselves. For much of our work, we are only a step in a process and for work to flow efficiently, we need to involve other departments, other trades, or managers. This where our improvement process comes in. How do we follow up when we see an opportunity to eliminate waste or improve flow? We need to do more than put it on a list. Foreman, supervisors and managers need to be involved. It is a basic function of their job. And when workers see their ideas implemented and their efforts recognized, you have opened the floodgates for improvement.


In summary, besides the initial benefits of applying 5S, such as a cleaner, safer and more productive jobsite or shop, it is a catalyst for building a culture of continuous improvement on your project or in your organization. The 5S assessment is not a scorecard. It is not an audit. It is a tool to help your team see waste, identify the root cause, and implement improvements. As individuals and the organization gain experience, see the benefits, and make improvement a part of daily work, they have achieved a major milestone in building a Lean organization.

Featured Post


Highlighting 12 Papers from the IGLC 2019 Conference

The International Group For Lean Construction (IGLC) is an international conference started in 1993. The IGLC brings together an international community of researchers and industry practitioners each summer to advance the research and practical applications of Lean Design and Construction. This year’s event in Dublin Ireland had around 300 attendees from 38 different countries who presented 130 papers.

In this blog post, I want to highlight 12 papers from the conference. These papers are intended to give the readers of the Lean Construction Blog a good understanding of the major topics discussed in this year’s IGLC. There are many impactful papers that did not make this list and the interested reader is encouraged to view the full archive of papers on the IGLC website. The 12 papers and their abstracts are included below.

International Group for Lean Construction Read more


Applying Choosing by Advantages Across the Design Process Spectrum

Decision-making in the design process is multi-dimensional, involving various stakeholders with diverse perspectives and interests. This results in the need to undertake multicriteria decision-analysis (MCDA). The process of MCDA fundamentally involves breaking the decision problem into elements, evaluating each element separately, and reintegrating the elements for a holistic perspective.

Choosing by advantages (CBA) is a form of MCDA in which decisions are characteristically based on comparing the advantages of alternatives [1]. CBA, as a lean decision system, creates a participative and transparent environment for collaborative and auditable decision-making. The CBA process involves seven systematic steps (Figure 1).

Choosing By Advantages Read more


Step By Step Guide to Applying Choosing By Advantages

Choosing by Advantages (CBA) is a collaborative and transparent decision making system developed by Jim Suhr, which comprises of multiple methods. CBA includes methods for virtually all types of decisions, from very simple to very complex (Suhr 1999).

Decision-making    Choosing By Advantages Read more


An Introduction to Target Value Delivery

Target Value Delivery (TVD) is “a management practice that drives the design [and construction] to deliver customer values within project constraints” (Ballard, 2009). It is an application of Taiichi Ohno’s practice of self-imposing necessity as a means for continuous improvement (Ballard, 2009). Using TVD, the design and construction is steered towards the target cost. A continuous and pro-active value engineering process is utilized during the design phase to quickly evaluate the cost implications of design options. Cost is a [one of many] constraint rather than an output of the design process.

Target Value Delivery     Read more

Copyright © 2015- Lean Construction Blog