5s in Lean Construction and Lean Design

5S Lean

An Introduction to Lean 5S

It’s no secret that maintaining an organized and tidy work environment is great for providing one with peace of mind. But disorganization isn’t usually manifested on purpose. The “I’ll just move that later” mindset can take hold of us all, especially when we’re in the midst of an important task. However, practicing constant vigilance in workplace organization will actually lead to fewer problems down the road.

The 5S methodology is a tool for keeping the workplace clean and organized, and thus safer. 5S improves workflow and cuts down on several types of waste, making it an effective Lean tool that can improve the outcomes of design and construction projects.

What is 5S?

A disciplined approach to maintaining order in the workplace and using visual controls to eliminate waste. The 5S words are Sort, Set in Order, Shine/Sweep, Standardize and Self-Discipline/Sustain.

The 5s System: A Mindset

The 5S mindset encourages workers to only have materials, information, and equipment where it is needed and when it is needed. While a worker may think it prudent to keep extra materials and equipment near them in case they need it later, doing so will only lead to decreased organization and increased injury risk for other workers on the job.

The goal of a 5S system is to keep work and organization simple. Simple is not always easy, so the 5S process helps to provide a lens through which to analyze the state of organization and workflow in the workplace.

The 5S Methodology

5S for workplace organization is a five-step structure for reducing waste and improving safety in the workplace. The 5S steps are…

1. Sort

Determine what is needed and move everything else to an assigned storage location. Anything that is not needed in that place and in that moment is waste. Clutter creates hazards in the workspace which can lead to worker injuries. In a cluttered space, workers need to spend time walking around unneeded materials which leads to wasted time in addition to the wasted space.

2. Set in Order/Straighten

Create a place for everything and keep it there until it is needed. An unorganized workspace leads to workers wasting time looking for materials and information they should be able to find easily. The earlier in the process you organize all of your materials, the easier it is to maintain and the more effective it will be in the workflow.

3. Shine

Keep your space consistently clean. Make an effort to clean as you go so as not to leave messes in the work space. Leave each space cleaner and more organized than you found it. Make sure all of the tools and equipment your team is using are operational and make a plan to fix broken equipment. Left unchecked, a small mess could snowball into an even bigger one down the line. Imagine how unhappy you’d be to walk into a messy workspace or to find a tool you need was left broken by its previous user.

4. Standardize

Create standards to stay organized and clean. Repeated and standardized processes are needed not only to allow for continuous improvement to occur, but also to keep work efficient. Workers know what to expect when work is standardized and less time can be spent overexplaining simple processes.

5. Self-Discipline/Sustain

Sustain processes that work and have the self-discipline to not allow processes to get bogged down by waste. Make the working conditions and processes consistent so it’s easy to see when something is out of place.

5S in Lean


5S supports many of the six tenets of the Lean Construction Institute including improving process and flow, eliminating waste, and continuous improvement. You could also argue that keeping a tidy workspace is demonstrating a respect for the people around you as well.

Dedicating time to focus on the organization and cleanliness of the work space may seem counterproductive to Lean culture given that Lean methodologies focus on removing any steps to the process that don’t directly add value to the outcome. However, practicing 5S is Lean because it helps to remove vast amounts of future waste. In the end, it supports Lean thinking and makes work much more efficient and safe.

How 5S Makes Us Better

5S provides numerous benefits for workers. Everyone likes a clean and organized work space, but few grasp the degree to which practicing 5S can improve projects and their outcomes. The impact of 5S can chiefly be seen in four different areas.


Increased focus on organization on the jobsite also leads to more safety. With fewer materials strewn about the workspace, workers are at less of a risk of tripping over something unexpected or having a material crash down on them. Making processes safer is a key component to the Lean mindset.


An uncluttered workspace allows people to have more mental and physical room to focus on the work itself, which leads to more quality outcomes for the customer or stakeholder.


Workers are able to accomplish more when they can easily find materials and information through a well-organized workspace. Less time spent looking for materials they should be able to find easily means more time spent creating value.


Pull planning in an organized workspace means materials show up only when and where they’re needed. Workers know what to expect when organization and processes are consistent.

Why 5S Matters

Whether you’re in the middle of a project or about to start a new one, your team will reap the benefits of applying 5S thinking to your work. The time spent on creating an organized workspace will be more than made up for in increased safety and productivity towards reaching your project’s outcome.

The Lean Construction Institute is committed to transforming the design and construction industry by providing educational resources, conducting research, and facilitating local and national Lean events. Explore supplementary resources below to further your understanding of 5S . 

Lean Assessments

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eLearning Courses
Introduction to Lean Project Delivery
Gain insight to Lean Project Delivery (LPD) by understanding how the Lean System connects People, Principles, and Practices to optimize results by shifting both mindset and behaviors. The key achievable goal of this course is to prepare and enable team members with a foundational understanding of Lean approaches for daily use within a project environment.
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Introduction to the Last Planner System®
This course will allow you to gain in-depth insight to the practical application of the Last Planner® System (LPS) through multimedia, hands-on interactions, diagrams, worksheets, and more. The key achievable goal of this course is to learn how to engage at all five levels of LPS effectively on a day-to-day basis with a team implementing the system.
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Effective Big Room
Gain a foundational understanding of the concept of a Big Room by learning the benefits, purpose, and implementation considerations. Understanding how to improve collaboration and drive transparency within your team. Identifying venue types, set up, and activities that work best for your projects. Learning how to effectively advance work and learning to support the success of future projects.
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Lean In The Design Phase
Gain insight to Lean approaches and tools relative to the design phase of project delivery to optimize team communication, collaboration and results. Understand how a Lean strategy can drive innovative solutions by connecting People, Principles and Practices. The key achievable goal of this course is to prepare and enable team members with a foundational understanding of Lean approaches for daily use within the design phase of a project.
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Last Planner System® In Design
Gain a foundational understanding of implementing Last Planner System® (LPS®) during the design (pre-construction) phases of a project. Identify the essential foundational principles of the five conversations of LPS, gain practical application insight for each, and access key action guidelines.
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Target Value Delivery
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LCI Publications
Transforming Design and Construction: A Framework for Change

William R. (Bill) Seed, Executive Editor

A diverse set of practitioners collaborated to create the Transforming Design and Construction: A Framework for Change book based on the transformative projects and experiences of their Lean practices. The papers, presented in short chapter format, are intended to encourage discussion, learning and experimentation individually or with a team. Read the first and most popular book in LCI’s Transforming Design and Construction series to gain a high-level understanding of various Lean principles, strategies and methods.
Target Value Delivery: Practitioner Guidebook to Implementation

Executive Editors: Kristin Hill, Katherine Copeland and Christian Pikel

Target Value Delivery: Practitioner Guidebook to Implementation was collaboratively written by a team of more than 20 Target Value Delivery (TVD) practitioners to provide current state practical guidance to implementing TVD with a project team. This guidebook portrays TVD as an umbrella over Target Value Production for construction and Target Value Design by taking a broader approach rather than focusing only on the design phase. Read LCI’s second book in the Transforming Design and Construction series to gain practical insight to current practices for implementing Target Value Delivery on any project.