Hang Seng School of Commerce, Hong Kong & Coventry University, England

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2007 Oxford Business & Economics Conference ISBN : 978-0-9742114-7-3

Business Excellence through 5-S and 6-Sigma

Prof. Samuel K. M. Ho,

Hang Seng School of Commerce, Hong Kong & Coventry University, England.


5-S is the first step towards TQM and Business Excellence. Over the last century, the Japanese have formalised the technique and name it as 5-S Practice. The author has improved and defined its terms in English/Chinese and developed the world's first 5-S Audit Checklist which was used for training in Malaysia under an Asian Development Bank Quality Expert assignment in 1993-94. In 1998-2000, a grant has been given to the author to train up 2,500 5-S Lead Auditors in Hong Kong, the first of its kind in the world. In another assignment, he has trained a group of Motorola managers/engineers at their Penang plant in both 1978 when the 6- started rolling, and1994; then recently at their HK Plant. The findings on the impact of 5-S on 6- , ISO 9000, ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001 and TQM will be discussed in this article. Moreover, in the wake of the recent outbreak of the Bird-flu, the applicability of 5-S and 6- on its management and control will also be discussed.


The 5-S practice is a technique used to establish and maintain quality environment in an organisation. It is the foundation stone for TQM and Business Excellence (BE). The name stands for five Japanese words: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke [Osada, 1991]. The English equivalents, their meanings and typical examples (developed by the author) are shown in the following table (Table 1).


Seiri Structurise Organisation Throw away rubbish or return to store

Seiton Systematise Neatness 30-second retrieval of document

Seiso Sanitise Cleaning Individual cleaning responsibility

Seiketsu Standardise Standardisation Transparency of storage

Shitsuke Self-discipline Discipline Do 5-S daily

Table 1: 5-S in Summary

(* created by the author in 1993 under an Asian Development Bank TQM project in Malaysia)

The technique has been practised in Japan for a long time. Most Japanese 5-S practitioners consider the 5-S useful not just for improving their physical environment but for improving their thinking processes as well. Apparently the 5-S can help in all walks of life. Many of the everyday problems could be solved through adoption of this practice.

TQM in a Rapidly Changing PEST Environment

The recent international arena sees dramatic changes in Political, Economical, Social and Technological (PEST) dimensions after the 911 attack, the War against Iraq, and now the SARS outbreak. If change is part of our daily life, how can we drive it under our control rather than being driven off by it? Change in organisation would, in the long run, lead to change in the organisational culture. A typical example is the learning organisation, where people are excited in trying out new ideas and recognise that failure is an important part of success. Let us take a step back to look at the traditional strategic change process which can broadly be summarised by five key steps [Ho, 1999]:

Vision ==> Mission ==> Behaviour ==> Action ==> Culture

A new paradigm is:

Action ==> Behaviour ==> Mission ==> Vision ==> Culture

In fact, the first step is nothing new. Peters and Waterman [1982], have already found out from over 46 successful firms that most of them choose 'action' as step number one in their pursuit towards excellence. The new idea here is that action leads to behaviour change of the employees. This arises from the learning process, and as Reg Raven [1983] said: "There is no learning without action and no action without learning." If learning has been taken successfully, the organisational behaviour will be lifted to a dynamic and challenge-seeking level. This will influence the top management in defining their mission. By then they are confident that the mission, spin off from the better organisation behaviour, will take off once it is announced. The chief executive will then be in a position to develop the corporate vision which will take the organisation through to world class against competition. Built on firm foundations, the new vision will establish a new culture within the organisation. One best known example of this new culture is 'Kaizen', the Japanese word for continuous improvement. Being action oriented, 5-S is a powerful quality tool for everyone to get involved in the improvement process. Therefore, it is a very effective way to implement the new management paradigm.

Is 5-S Practice Applicable to the Western World?

Research by Ho [1995] has shown that the western world seldom recognises the significance of the 5-S practice although there are indications that some companies have included some aspects of the 5-S in their routines without being aware of its existence as a formalised technique. There are many examples of successful implementation of some principles of the 5-S, especially in the service sector organisations, such as fast-food restaurants, supermarkets, hotels, libraries, and leisure centres. The difference between the Japanese and western approach lies mostly in the degree of employee involvement. By formalising the technique, the Japanese established the framework which enabled them to successfully convey the message across the organisation, achieve total participation and systematically implement the practice. The 5-S has become the way of doing businesses, not only to impress the customers but to establish effective quality processes as prerequisites for good products and services.


In order to be able to comment whether 5-S practice is useful, the proprietary 5-S Audit Checklist developed by Ho [1995] is exhibited below. Following the rule of TQM (i.e., KISS – Keep It Short and Simple), the check-points are mostly self-explanatory (Table 2).


What © Prof. Sam Ho – samho@hk5sa.com



(/ X)



S-1: Structurise


Throw away/return things which are not needed.


3-R: Reduce, Re-use and Re-cycle, paperless, etc.


“Needed things” stored: low, medium & high usage


Personal belongings kept to the minimum


Treat defects, leakage, breakage and their causes


One-is-best #1:Daily “Things-to-do” List


One-is-best #2: one set of tools/stationery/1-page form


One-is-best #3:one hour meeting (be concise)


One-is-best #4: one stop service for customer


One-is-best #5: one location file (e.g. LAN server)

S-2: Systematise


Everything has a clearly designated name & place


Every place should have a ‘responsible person’ label


Security on doors/ cabinets & key mangt.


Functional placement for leaflets, tools and material


Filing standards and control master list


First in, first out arrangement


Zoning, placement marks, signage and badges


Neat notice boards (include zoning & labels)


Easy-to-read notices (include expiry date)


30-second retrieval of tools, document & parts

S-3: Sanitise


Individual cleaning responsibility assigned


Make cleaning and inspection easy (15cm)


Clean the places most people do not notice


Cleaning inspections and correct minor problems


Regular sparkling cleaning campaigns

S-4: Standardise


Transparency (minimize doors, covers & locks)


Straight line and right-angle arrangements


'Danger' warning, fire extinguisher & exit signs


Dangerous goods, mechanical safety measures


Work instructions and ‘passed’ labels


Electrical wiring neatness and switch labels


Energy Preservation – Aircon temp. mark/switch


Physical handling standards and instructions


Colour coding -- paper, files, containers, etc.


5-S responsibility labels on floor plan or at site


Prevent noise and vibration at source


Safety Policy and Risk Assessment


Fool-proofing (Poka-yoke) Practices


Park-like environment (garden office/factory)


5-S & OHS Museum (photos before/after)

S-5: Self-discipline


Execute individual 5-S responsibilities


Wear, if necessary, safety helmet/gloves/shoes/etc.


Good communication & phone call (magic-word)


Daily 5-minute 5-S Practice


One day processing of job/tasks (see 1.6)


Safety-box and practise dealing with emergencies


Organisation Chart and Performance Indicators


Design and follow the 5-S Manual


Quarterly 5-S Audit and Improvements


Seeing-is-believing and Keep It Short & Simple (KISS)

Table 2: The 5-S Checklist (ver. 10)

Underlined points are directly related to the prevention of SARS & Bird-flu

The Hong Kong 5-S Campaign

In order to promote the 5-S practice in Hong Kong, it is important that a massive promotional campaign be launched together with an easily accessible training programme. In 1998, the HKSAR Government approved a US$0.6 million training programme for the author for training up 2,500 people in two years’ time as 5-S Lead Auditors, the first of its kind in the world. Since launched in April 98, over 10,000 Lead Auditors had been trained, including a number of in-company training for the manufacturing, construction, service, health, education and public sectors. In 1999, the HK 5-S Association was established in order to continue promote the HK 5-S Campaign beyond the end of the funded project, with the world’s first 5-S Annual Convention held in May 99. Moreover, the training programme was franchised to the HK Civil Service Training and Development Institute, Hospital Authority, DHL, and some statutory organisations in China. Since 2000, the author has also pioneered a 5-S organization certification scheme, the first of its kind in the world. So far, over 60 organisations totalling over 35,000 employees in the HKSAR and China are working under the 5-S Registered Firms.


6-, in its strictest sense, is “six standard-deviations”, a well-known statistical fact for centuries that can be explained from the following statistical table (Table 3).

Sigma ()







Probability (P) %









(1-P) x 1,000,000







Table 3: The 6-  Statistics

A search of ‘6-sigma’ using the Yahoo.com on 6 Apr 03 has revealed a total of 1,310,000 websites. Amongst the top 20 websites, the site www.6sigma.us seems to be the most informative and active. It also gives a fairly comprehensive definition (unquoted) as:

6- is the relentless quest for perfection through the disciplined use of fact-based, data-driven decision making. 6- is the way we will take the collective intelligence and abilities of our employees, dealers and suppliers, and channel them to our highest priorities to satisfy all our stakeholders.”

6- is an integrated, disciplined, proven approach for improving measurable results for any organization. The 6- method and message is literally improving our lives. www.6Sigma.us has developed a number of unique processes to assist organizations including "Business Process Charting". (To obtain a copy simply send an email to present1@mtes.com  with the title of "Business Process Charting") 

6 Sigma uses a set of strategies, statistics and methods to improve the processes we use to do everything from designing to manufacturing a product; from marketing products and services to providing business information to our internal and external customers. By applying the rigorous practices of 6 Sigma we can achieve breakthroughs in financial and quality performance that would otherwise be unattainable.

6-  has it's origins in manufacturing and service from Motorola, Allied Signal and GE. 6- is going Global. In a MSc program, the author had trained a group of Motorola managers/engineers at their Malaysia plant in 1986 when the 6- started rolling, then recently at their HK Plant. At the beginning, the 6- initiative was designed to change the culture in Motorola through better quality control and improvement. Then, over the years, it has been developed as the breakthrough improvement in all aspects of the business. The successful implementation of 6- in Motorola led to a period of unprecedented growth and sales. The remarkable achievement was being recognized with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award [Breyfegle et al., 2001]. It was observed that both their Malaysian and HK plants had successful 5-S implementation based on the authors proprietary 5-S Checklist.

Seagate, the world’s largest hard-disk manufacturer, began its Six Sigma journey since 1998 [Huber & Launsby, 02]. Concentrating initially in operational functions, Seagate achieved substantial success a year later. Today, some 600 Black Belts have been trained and over 300 are currently on full time assignment. As a measure of accomplishment, Seagate’s Black Belts contributed over $800 million in cumulative savings. As a second phase, Seagate deployed Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) a year later. The application is not a set of tools, or a force for cost reduction, but rather a profound change in corporate culture, changing way of doing business.

IBM, Allied Signal and Sony successfully followed Motorola in implementing 6-. Allied Signal began its 6- activities in the early 1990s, and the obvious benefits of its implementation induced GE to a thorough implementation of the program in 1995 [Pande et al., 2000]. The GE-6 program and the Motorola Six Sigma program did have some differences. Whereas 6- activities in Motorola had focused on product quality and the manufacturing process, the GE-6 program extended the improvement activities to cover all key processes related to customers satisfaction.

There are excellent examples of Six Sigma success emerging from Hospitals, Doctor's Offices, City Government  and IT . Some examples of companies that have new Six Sigma initiatives are Home Depot, Sears, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Medtronic. Moreover, 6Sigma.us, supporting both organizations, has also implementing Six Sigma and Lean Sigma and organizations new to the 6 Sigma process.

Design for Six Sigma or DFSS is about developing a new product or service that is defect free. DFSS combines many of the tools that are used to improve existing products of services and integrates voice of the customer and simulation methods to predict new process and product performance.

Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) can be seen as a subset of Six Sigma focusing on preventing problems, instead of just fixing them. While it shares many of the principles of Six Sigma, DFSS goes further upstream to recognize that decisions made during the design phase profoundly affect the quality and cost of all subsequent activities to build and deliver the product. Early investments of time and effort pay off grandly in getting the product right the first time. DFSS adds a new, more predictive front end to Six Sigma, sometimes replacing DMAIC with DMADV, or Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Validate. [Mazur 2002].



The 5-S practice is a technique used to establish and maintain quality environment in an organisation. Rooted in Japan, the author has exemplified its application by creating the 50-point Checklist. It is the bases for all quality program, including Quality (ISO 9000), Environment (ISO 14001) and Safety (OHSAS 18001). On the other hand, 6- emphasize on measurement, analysis and improvement, and hence can be part of the process management model (see Figure 1).

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