5S: Understanding the Lean Methodology

This post is designed to give you a quick, crisp understanding of 5S so you can then present it to your team. The ideas presented here are meant to build a foundation about 5S so that you can successfully implement this Lean method the 5s wheel diagraminto your facility.

What Is 5S?  

First developed at Toyota in the 1950s, 5S is a foundational method of Lean manufacturing that revolutionized the way industries organize facilities.

5S will:

  • Systematically remove unnecessary steps and equipment from production processes
  • Improve workflow
  • Establish better company standards
  • Maximize efficiency and profit

The Five Stages of 5S

5S is broken into five stages (often called pillars). Since this standard comes from Japan, these stages are known more commonly for their Japanese names: Seiri (Sort); Seiton (Set in Order); Seiso (Shine); Seiketsu (Standardize); and Shitsuke (Sustain). Together, these concepts transform facilities of all sizes and varieties into clean, efficient, productive outfits.


The first stage of 5S, Sort, calls for a full assessment of materials. Once you’ve completed assessing everything, get rid of everything that isn’t essential to completing tasks. The process is simple: first identify, then remove unnecessary items from work areas. At the end of the Sort stage, your work place will be free of unnecessary clutter.

We know what you’re thinking.

What about those gray-area things—the items that may not be needed every day but do come in handy every once in a while. What do we do with those items?

For those things you just can’t make a decision about, we’ve got a solution. Use 5S’s Red Tag System to document how often the tool in question is actually used. Here’s how it works: you place the tags on undecided items, then note use on the tag. Once you have a clear understanding of often a tool is used, you can make an informed decision about whether or not it should stay.

Pro tip: Red Tag Holding Areas are often used as a temporary location to store undecided items for a short period (usually 30 days or less).

Set in Order

This stage requires that the remaining items are organized in a way that makes tasks easier to complete. Organize tools in a clearly-defined way in an intuitive way, in the order in which you use them naturally while doing your daily tasks. Set in Order enables workers to perform more productively and without the frustration of not being able to find the tool they need.

Tools that help you succeed in Set in Order:

  • Industrial label printers. Label printers help build Set in Order systems to ensure that tools are returned to their intended storage spots.
  • Floor marking tape and arrows. These visual tools allow workers to build lanes for forklifts, floor storage areas, and heavy equipment parking areas throughout your facility.


Shine requires proactive efforts be taken to keep workplaces areas clean and orderly. Like many Lean concepts, 5S contends that cleanliness is crucial to efficiency. Teams are expected to keep their work areas clean, including mopping/sweeping floors, cleaning tools after use, keeping areas clear of clutter, etc.


  • Keep trash cans close to each work station
  • Post cleaning charts so that workers can hold each other accountable

When facilities are clean, employees work better, faster, and feel better about the work they’re doing.


In order to ensure that 5S practices stay consistent, the 4th stage of the process calls for teams to create standards for both organization and processes. Standardize asks that rules are made to ensure practices of the first 3 S’s continue on a regular basis.

Create and post rules for each work area. The standards you created in the previous step should be simple and visual.

Standardize makes it easy to train new hires on 5S and helps maintain 5S past implementation.


Take steps to maintain processes and standards set forth in the last stage of 5S.

Sustain is a crucial step. This is how managers ensure that all of these changes remain in practice rather than slowly fade away to be replaced with old, messy habits. The trickiest part of implementing a new change into your facility is that workers will go back to the old, more comfortable way of doing things. Sustain helps combat this tendency.

How to Sustain:

  • Periodically perform audits on work areas to ensure established 5S standards are maintained
  • Make sure all new workers go through 5S training
  • Let workers be a part of standard creation so that they feel ownership over their work

5S can revolutionize the way your business operates. Sustain ensures 5S is a long-term best practice rather than a brief experiment.

Additional Resources