5S Methodology and Software Development

The 5s methodology is used to keep the working environment clean, ordered and efficient. I came across this methodology when I was working in a production area for a semiconductor factory. This system was referenced from time to time when internal audits showed some weaknesses in regard to efficiency, order or cleanness. For a short reference on 5s methodology have a look to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5S_%28methodology%29.

The key topics Sorting, Straightening, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain are quite weak translations of the Japanese words Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke due to the wish to translate it into English words which also start with the S letter. Nevertheless, they express roughly the idea behind that and details are explained below. Again like for the post about the Seven Muda, I also translate these topics into the field of Software Engineering as I understand it.

Sorting (Seiri)

This principle has a strong relation to the Muda Inventory, Over-Processing and Over-Production.

Classic meaning:

The meaning here is: Remove everything unnecessary. Check all tools, materials, and machinery and remove everything which is not needed. This cleans out the workspace, makes spaces and removes distraction. The rate of defects decreases due to a lowered risk to use wrong tools or materials and more space means less incidents.

Software Engineering:

For software engineering it is the same, but it is twofold:

  1. For development process: Remove all tools and stuff in your workspace, IDE or PC which is not needed. These tools distract the developer, make the workspace cleaner as mentioned above and also sometimes more stable (everyone who uses Eclipse with a lot of plugins know, what I mean).
  2. For Architecture and Design: Remove all components, interfaces, libraries, and systems which are not needed. These are added as soon as they are needed. For example: To implement everything in patterns right from the beginning does not make much sense, when  not needed, yet. The requirements may change and what was though at the beginning is needed, will not be needed further on. Only use and implement, what is needed and postpone everything else into the future when needed.

Not hitting the correct meaning, but also part of it is duplicate code. Duplicate code is something which is redundant. Redundancy is also something which needs to be cleaned out. Duplicate code is a nightmare for maintainability and should be avoided in all means.

Straightening (Seiton)

This principle has a relationship to Muda Transport, Motion and Waiting.

Classic meaning:

This principle is about straightening the processes. Everything should be processed in an efficient way. Transport ways need to be shortened, motions to be avoided, unnecessary tasks to be eliminated and wait time to be reduced. This principle can only be applied in iterations with close observations.

Software Engineering:

In software engineering this principle can be used as a driving factor for lean architecture and design. The Muda Transport, Motion and Waiting in post about the Seven Muda give hints were to look out in software engineering.

Shine (Seiso)

Classic meaning:

This is about cleaning and ordering the workspace. As soon as everything is clean and ordered, the station is ready for usage. In each shift or on daily basis, cleaning and ordering should be scheduled. On such a workspace, process flaws and defects are better to find and the work is easier, cleaner and safer.

Software Engineering:

For software engineering, I would refer to Clean Code and Refactoring. Write clean code and clean the code as soon as bad smells are detected. This keeps the code clean and erosion is prevented. Bugs are easier to spot in clean code and also easier fixed.

With refactoring the architecture and design stays clean, too. This assures an understandable architecture which support bug fixing and improvements.

These actions should take place during normal work, but also scheduled at the end of sprints for instance. Code Reviews can also set in place in critical parts of the software to assure the right measure of quality. A time budget from 5% to 50% depending of the state of the code should be scheduled. In brown field projects with a lot of legacy code massive cleanup can help to improve the later development of new functionality dramatically. But, also in green field projects erosion takes place and should be fought with a 5% time budget at least. Have a look to the books Refactoring by Martin Fowler and Clean Code by Robert C. Martin for details, or Working Effectively with Legacy Code by Robert C. Martin.

Standardize (Seiketsu)

Classic meaning:

In fabrications all work stations should be standardized, what means that they should look, function and feel all the same. It is more easy to train people on a new station that way, the quality is higher due to a lower defect rate and it is also cheaper if it is possible to reuse procedures, tools and material.

Software Engineering:

For software engineering, there are two possible meanings:

  1. All developers should use the same tools for development. It is more easy then to maintain a development environment where only one IDE is present, one build system, on OS and so forth. Only for testing there may be some variation, but for pure development, it is easier to deal with one kind of tool for one purpose.
  2. Within the software everything should be handled in a standardized way. So the architecture should define standards and also design. For instance it could be a standard that all components of a larger system communicate to each other with a REST interface. There only one REST library is used. It would be worse if all components would talk with another protocol like SOAP, RMI, EJB and so forth. For design it is the same. Exception handling for instance should be defined how it should be done. How are files handled? Coding guide lines and so forth.

Standards help that people can identify parts in larger systems more easily. Understandability and Maintainability improve dramatically.

Sustain (Shitsuke)

The first four points are hard enough to accomplish, but this sustaining point is even harder. What you did and accomplish in the first four sections is a large step to an efficient production environment. This is something which is done in form of a project, but a project is time limited. The real art of 5S is now to keep the state what was accomplished and to even improve it. That’s a huge leap! The goal is to establish a control system which checks for instance from time to time the current situation in a kind of internal audit and to raise the issues found. The issues should be fixed as soon as possible. With a regular check of the other 4S and an improvement of the findings, the current state can be sustained and even improved. But, this needs a lot of attention and energy.

In Software Engineering the buzz words Code Smell (or just Smell), Refactoring and Architecture Refactoring come to mind. As soon as there are bad smells, an action needs to be taken to fix this issue. The longer the issues is present, the more it manifests itself and the harder is it to be fixed. As the Asian proverb says: It is easy to change the direction of a river at its source…

Further Enhancements

Sometimes some enhancements are added. These points express some enhancements which should be taken care of, too. I only explain them shortly, because they are quite self explanatory.

Enhancement to 6S: ‘Get Used to it’ (Shukan)

This point is often added to the original 5S. With the checks and fixes in the Sustaining part, people get trained to keep an open eye on 5S. Over time everybody should develop a habit of fixing everything which is not in order to have an easier and more efficient life. It is good to create a company culture for 5S.


Classic meaning:

This is very easy: Keep everything and order and additionally, watch out for sources of accidents and prepare everything that this accidents cannot happen.

Software Engineering:

Here it is about the quality of source code and architecture for accidents like crashes, wrong results, stability and so forth.


Classic meaning:

Keep people out which are not supposed to be in certain area. Keep secrets secret and confidential data confidential.

Software Engineering:

Build  your software in a way that only authenticated people are allowed to change settings which they are authorized to and keep data protected from people which are not allowed to see them.


About rickrainerludwig
Rick-Rainer Ludwig is software craftsman and coding enthusiast. He is the founder of PureSol Technologies. PureSol Technologies is a company for software development consulting with a strong focus on clean code and automated tool chains.

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