5S is a five-step methodology for creating a more organized and productive workspace: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. 5S serves as a foundation for deploying more advanced lean production tools and processes.

What Is the 5S Methodology?

The 5S methodology is often summarized by the philosophy of “a place for everything and everything in its place.”

You may have heard of “KonMari,” a home organization system propagated by Marie Kondo. The KonMari method transforms cluttered homes into tidy and simplified living spaces. The 5S principles are similar to KonMari. However, saying that 5S is just about tidying is like saying yoga is just about stretching. In other words, there is much more depth. So, let’s explore the true intent and meaning of 5S.

5S Japanese Words

5S originated as 5 Japanese words:

  1. Seiri
  2. Seiton
  3. Seisou
  4. Seiketsu
  5. Shitsuke

In English, these 5S words have come to be known as:

  • Sort: Eliminate that which is not needed.
  • Straighten: Organize what remains after sorting.
  • Shine: Clean and inspect the work area.
  • Standardize: Write standards for 5S.
  • Sustain: Consistently apply the 5S standards.

At their core, 5S activities build the discipline needed for substantial and continuous improvement by creating (and sustaining) efficient and effective work areas.

Steps of the 5S Process: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain

Why Is 5S Important in Manufacturing?

While 5S was first developed in the context of the automotive industry, it is now widely considered an essential element of any lean manufacturing program, regardless of industry.

Embedding 5S as part of daily life within your company means much more than an improved organization, sustained cleaning routines, and efficient activity flows. By using the 5S methodology, operators are encouraged to improve their overall work environment and reduce muda or waste.

Adherence to 5S standards is considered the foundation of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) and an integral part of the Toyota Production System (TPS). 5S also creates a stable platform from which Kaizen activities can be launched.

The bottom line - 5S is a low-investment, high-impact lean manufacturing tool that is predicated on people. It engages operators in “owning” their workspace and helps to instill a culture of quality, productivity, and improvement.

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What Are the Benefits of a 5S program?

The key benefits of a 5S program include:

  • Creating space within your facility by removing unnecessary tools and equipment
  • Reducing waste from unnecessary motion by organizing the workspace
  • Reducing down time and improving quality by consistently maintaining equipment
  • Engaging operators by granting them more responsibility for their work environment
  • Creating a safer work environment by ensuring it is clean and well-maintained

Now that you have a better understanding of why 5S is important and how it can benefit your manufacturing operations, let’s learn more about each of the 5S steps.


What Is Sort?

The Sort step separates items in your workspace that you know you need from those that you do not need or may not need by moving the latter to a “red tag” holding area.

Sort: Separate and organize objects in your workplace between things you do and do not use

Why Do You Need Sort?

Sort enables you to have a more productive workspace by removing unneeded clutter (and eliminating distractions). It also is a first step towards opening up space that can be used for other things.

How Do You Implement Sort?

Separate necessary items (e.g., tools, parts, and materials) from unnecessary items. We recommend sorting items into four categories:

  1. Items needed in this work area. These are items you know that you regularly use in the context of this work area and thus will stay in this work area.
  2. Items needed in another work area. Essentially, these are misplaced items. If an item is used in another work area, “sort” it into that area by delivering it to whomever is responsible for that work area.
  3. Items you may need. For items you are unsure about, use the 5S “red tag” system. Mark such items with red tags, which at a minimum, should include the name of who tagged the item, why it is thought to no longer be needed, a proposed review date, and the name of the manager who must approve of disposal. Move the item to a red tag holding area, which should be organized by review month to make it easy to manage the area.
  4. Items you do not need. These are items that you are 100% confident are not needed. They should be immediately discarded.
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5S can also be applied to your “digital workspace.” Delete obsolete computer files (sort) and place needed files in well-organized folders (straighten).

What Are Some Examples of Sort?

  • Remove waste (or muda) from your workspace.
  • Discard broken or old parts using 5S red tags.
  • Responsibly recycle materials and papers.
  • Separate everyday tools from special-case tools.
  • Avoid overfilling your workspace with excess materials.
  • Create an overflow area outside of the workspace for duplicate materials, tools, and parts.


What Is Straighten?

The Straighten step thoroughly organizes the items that remain after sorting, such that frequently used items are easy to access and every item has a clear and easy-to-find home.

Straighten: After clearing out objects you don't need, you can organize or straighten out what remains

Why Do You Need to Straighten?

Straighten enables every item to have a specific home where it can be easily found and to which it can be easily returned. It reduces the waste from excess motion as items are placed in more ergonomic locations. It is also the second step towards opening up space that can be used for other things.

How Do You Implement Straighten?

After you’ve sorted items, it’s time to decide how you want to organize them. We recommend the following methodology:

  1. Provide easy access to frequently used items. The key to reducing waste from excess motion is to place frequently used items within easy reach.
  2. Group like items. Group the remaining items into logical categories and brainstorm the best way to organize and store each of these categories.
  3. Visualize item homes. For each group, decide on the best way to make it clear when an item is missing or misplaced. A classic example is creating a shadow board for tools.
  4. Use containers. If it is appropriate for the type of item, consider organizing it within a container.
  5. Unleash the labeler. If an item is too big to put into a container, consider giving it a frame and putting a label on the item in addition to the frame.
  6. Be agile. Your initial straighten pass will likely deliver a significant improvement - but you are also likely to overlook some potential improvements. Meet with your team after one week and again after two weeks to brainstorm further improvements as part of your initial implementation.
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Ask a coworker to find specific items in your work area. If they easily find the items, you’ve done a great job of straightening! If not, pay attention to where they looked first. Maybe that would be a better home for the item.

What Are Some Examples of Straighten?

  • Give every item a distinct “home.”
  • Use color as a way of organizing and creating meaning.
  • Separate everyday tools from special-case tools.
  • Dedicate a surface or area entirely to shadow boxes and tool storage.
  • Dedicate another surface or area entirely to working.


What Is Shine?

The Shine step elevates the work area by thoroughly cleaning and inspecting tools, equipment, and other items. It also can include routine maintenance on equipment, which is one of the ways it flows directly into TPM.

Shine: Clean your objects, workstation, and machinery - starting at the source

Why Do You Need to Shine?

Shine creates a work environment that engages and empowers operators by giving them more responsibility and agency over their work area. It also helps them to identify problems before they interfere with production. For example, in a clean work environment, it is much easier to spot emerging issues such as fluid leaks, material spills, metal shavings from unexpected wear, hairline cracks in mechanisms, etc.

How Do You Implement Shine?

After you’ve straightened items, it’s time to elevate the work area by cleaning, inspecting, and in some cases performing routine maintenance. We recommend the following:

  1. Grab the metaphorical spray bottle. Using appropriate cleaners and cleaning tools, make the work area sparkle. With every sweep, mop, brush, wipe, wash, and wax, strive to return your workspace to its former glory. Be Miyagi.
  2. Find the source. The guiding principle of this step is “clean to understand.” If there are any signs of leaks, spills, or unexpected debris, strive to understand the source. It is likely an early warning of a future problem.
  3. Inspect. After cleaning each item, take a moment to look it over and examine its condition. Does it need updating, maintenance, or repair?
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One of the most important benefits of Shine is catching problems early and preventing unexpected breakdowns.

What Are Some Examples of Shine?

  • Wipe down equipment.
  • Examine the wear of your tools.
  • Disassemble larger objects to inspect the state of their parts.
  • Investigate a recurring unclean spot or mess.
  • Make sure to follow proper cleaning procedures to prevent damage to equipment.


What Is Standardize?

The Standardize step is a bridge between the first three steps (Sort, Straighten, Shine) and the last step (Sustain). In this step, your goal is to capture best practices for 5S as standardized work for your team.

Standardize: Creating a set of standards and 5S systems to help create clean habits

Why Do You Need to Standardize?

Standardize makes 5S repeatable. It transforms 5S from a one-off project to a reproducible set of activities.

How Do You Implement Standardize?

It’s time to make sure all your hard work continues to pay dividends into the future. Set expectations for the future with a documented 5S process. To do so, we recommend that you:

  1. Document in pairs. Have one team member walk through each task as another documents it to ensure nothing important is missed.
  2. Capture the essence. We are huge proponents of simplicity (and agile). Capture the essence of each task and no more. Otherwise, your documentation will very likely not be maintained.
  3. Prefer checklists. Checklists feel easy. Short checklists feel even easier. A great format is to have a name for each task that serves as a quick reminder and a more detailed description for training.
  4. Organize to simplify. Organize your checklists by role, by shift, and by frequency (daily, weekly, monthly). This will make the 5S process much less intimidating to your team.
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Create checklists and for each task, ask yourself whether it truly adds value. Simplicity is a virtue!

What Are Some Examples of Standardize?

  • Write down your 5S practices.
  • Create “implementation” checklists and “audit” checklists.
  • Create “kits” that contain the materials needed to perform a specific task.
  • Use photos and other simple visuals as part of your training materials.
  • Build a schedule for tasks.


What Is Sustain?

The Sustain step assures that 5S is applied on an ongoing basis. It transforms your standardized 5S processes into regularly completed tasks.

Sustain: Understand these changes are meant to improve the workplace and can be adapted

Why Do You Need to Sustain?

Iterative 5S processes lock in your gains and ensure further and continued progress.

How Do You Implement Sustain?

Once you’ve standardized, it’s time to continually act upon those standards. We recommend you:

  1. Create a schedule. Embed 5S practices as scheduled tasks (by role, shift, and frequency).
  2. Teach through demonstration. Instruct employees on how to conduct 5S tasks through demonstration and training. Showing employees what is expected of them will prepare them to enact tasks on their own.
  3. Supervise to solo. After initial 5S training for employees, gently supervise while they continue to form habits. It is easy to make mistakes or fall off the wagon, so patiently and helpfully offer corrections when necessary.
  4. Adapt as necessary. When giving or receiving feedback on tasks, see where changes can be made to make the tasks easier and more efficient. Standardized work is intended to be living documentation.
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Continuous improvement is driven by continuous feedback. Solicit ideas and approach each suggestion with genuine curiosity and a desire to learn.

What Are Some Examples of Sustain?

  • Hold a demonstration meeting to explain complex or multi-step processes.
  • Perform periodic check-ins after initial training.
  • Teach employees to run 5S audits.
  • Respond to mistakes with additional training.
  • Encourage supervisors and operators to communicate openly and constructively to find ways to improve your 5S implementation.
  • Set quarterly audit reminders for reviewing the red tag holding area.