5S is a five-step methodology that, when followed, creates a more organized and productive workspace. In English, the 5S’s are: 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 best summarized by the philosophy, “a place for everything and everything in its place.”

You may have heard of “KonMari,” a home organization system invented 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 successful manufacturing is just about speed - 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

5S Meaning in English

In English, these 5S meanings are:

  1. Sort (Seiri): Eliminate that which is not needed.
  2. Straighten (Seiton): Organize what remains after sorting.
  3. Shine (Seisou): Clean and inspect the work area.
  4. Standardize (Seiketsu): Write standards for 5S.
  5. Sustain (Shitsuke): Consistently apply the 5S standards.

At their core, these 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 step for any lean manufacturing program, regardless of industry.

Embedding 5S as part of daily tasks within your company means much more than 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 5 Benefits of a 5S System?

The key benefits of a 5S system include:

  1. Creating space within your facility by removing unnecessary tools and equipment
  2. Reducing waste from unnecessary motion by organizing the workspace
  3. Reducing downtime and improving quality by consistently maintaining equipment
  4. Engaging operators by granting them more responsibility for their work environment
  5. 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.

Sort (Seiri)

What Is Sort?

The Sort step separates items in your workspace that you know you need from items that you do not or may not need. Move 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. These are typically misplaced items. If an item is used in another work area, “sort” it into that area by delivering it to the team member 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, recycled, or donated, or sold if in good condition.
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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.

Straighten (Seiton)

What Is Straighten?

The Straighten step thoroughly organizes the items that remain after sorting, making frequently used items easily accessible and providing every item 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 on the path to opening up space that can be used strategically toward the goal of improving production.

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. Utilize visual designs. 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. Plan a 5S team meeting with a focus on straightening at the one and two week points, and brainstorm further improvements as part of your initial implementation.
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Conduct a 5S straighten audit: 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.
  • Integrate shadow boards and other visual indicators into the plant floor.
  • Dedicate a surface or area entirely to shadow boxes and tool storage.
  • Dedicate another surface or area entirely to working.

Shine (Seisou)

What Is Shine?

The Shine step elevates the work area by ensuring thoroughly cleaned and inspected 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 5S 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.

Standardize (Seiketsu)

What Is Standardize?

The Standardize step is a bridge between the first three 5S 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 5S task as another team member 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 be difficult to maintain.
  3. Prefer checklists. Checklists feel easy. Short checklists feel even easier. A great format is providing 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.

Sustain (Shitsuke)

What Is Sustain?

The Sustain step ensures 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 conduct 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 course, so patiently and helpfully offer corrections when needed.
  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 to improve your 5S processes 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.

The Bonus S of 5S

Now that you know how to implement each step in the 5S methodology and foster a culture of continuous improvement in your factory, you are ready to learn the bonus S: Safety!

5S is meant to help you improve productivity in your factory, but it is also meant to help create a safe, positive work environment for your team. While preventing workplace injuries is very important - also important is that 5S will make your plant a great place to work. Everyone enjoys a safe, clean, and logically laid out work environment, and it will motivate your employees, leading to better results on the plant floor.

How Does Each of the 5S Steps Contribute to Safety?

  1. Sort removes items from the plant floor, creating more space. Of course, this space can be used to hold new tools and equipment, but it can also be used to create larger aisles and more open spaces in the factory, removing tripping hazards. Even something as simple as decluttering drawers can prevent injuries (e.g., accidental encounters with a sharp object when rummaging for the tool you need).
  2. Straighten gives every item a logical home near the location where operators will use it. This prevents operators from rushing around looking for what they need, avoiding chaos on the plant floor that could cause safety hazards. For example, operators could slip, trip, or bump into one another if they have to constantly hurry around looking for tools.
  3. Shine cleans the workspace and maintains equipment. This prevents leaks or spills from leaving slick spots on the floor and ensures operators have functioning tools so they don’t have to dangerously jerry-rig solutions.
  4. Standardize makes clear to everyone what needs to be done and to whom each task belongs so tasks are completed on a regular basis. Confusion regarding ownership of responsibilities can cause important jobs to be missed. For example, equipment that is not consistently maintained will likely create safety concerns.
  5. Sustain ensures your initial 5S efforts are not in vain, keeping your staff happy and on top of any new safety concerns as they arise. One of the most dangerous things you can have in your factory is unmotivated employees who do not care about maintaining the condition of their workplace. Ensuring their efforts to implement a 5S program are recognized and sustained will provide continued motivation.

Overall, the 5S process is worth the initial organizational work for the rewards in safety, production improvement, and employee motivation.


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