5S Lean Methodology: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain

Lean 5S Methodology Overview

5S Lean Methodology: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain5S methodology is a set of five workplace organization practices that results in high levels of efficiency and abnormality detection. It is simple, low-cost, and requires relatively little special knowledge to use.

Even though 5S methodology has been around for well over 30 years, many companies continue to misunderstand what it is, how it is used, and how it fits into the bigger picture of lean manufacturing practices and principles.

Introduction to 5S Methodology Training

There are five practices in 5S methodology that all begin with the letter “S.”

Keep only the essential tools and items on-hand; remove everything else.
Set in order
Make sure all items are organized and have a designated home.
Regularly clean and tidy-up the workplace. Inspect for problems as you go.
Set standards throughout the organization for how to accomplish the first three S’s
Sustain the first four S’s and conduct audits to maintain discipline.

*The equivalent five Japanese words are seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.

The Purpose of 5S Methodology

The two purposes of 5S methodology are as follows:

  1. To improve workplace efficiency.
  2. To detect abnormalities.

That’s what it’s all about! When practiced correctly, 5S yields significant efficiency gains and is the first line of defense against abnormalities.


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The First Practice: Sort

5S methodology begins with the simple practice of sorting out all the unneeded items in a workplace.

5S Methodology Sort
The opportunity for sorting out needless tools and junk is endless! Source: 5S Training

Get rid of all the junk and clutter:

  • trash
  • extra inventory
  • broken equipment
  • extra tools
  • outdated signage
  • unfinished work
  • leftover materials
  • etc.

When finished, you should only have the tools, materials, and items that are essential to doing the work. Everything else should be returned to where it belongs, sold, recycled, or in the dump.

By eliminating excess clutter in the workplace, efficiency is enhanced. Less time is wasted searching for tools or walking around obstacles. Quality is also improved, since every unusable item is removed from the workplace.

Although the presence of all the junk used to hide problems and make abnormalities hard to detect, you should now be able to see clearly what’s going on in your workplace.

Everything that doesn’t belong is eliminated!

Pro Tip: Consider using a red tag system or question mark box to assist your sorting efforts!

Using a red tag is simple. It’s a red paper tag that is placed on any item of questionable use. The tag describes basic characteristics of the item.

5S Red Tag Example
Red tagging is a simple but helpful tool for sorting methodically. Source: 5S Training

It is then placed into a red tag holding area, where it is held until evaluated for final disposition. If something is tagged in error, there’s opportunity to catch it and return it to the workplace.

A simpler version of this concept is the use of a “question mark box” as illustrated by Felipe Marques at Torre.

The Second Practice: Set in Order

Now that all the junk is removed, it’s time to arrange the remaining items into the best configuration for performing work. That’s why the second practice in 5S methodology is “set in order,” although some people also call it “straighten.”

5S Methodology Set In Order
Set in order gives a home to every item so it is never lost and the workplce remains efficient. Source: 5S Training

Tool foam, hooks, labels, signs, floor tape, holsters, and more are all used to give every item a home. Whatever it takes to end tool homelessness!

A famous lean saying applies: “A place for everything, and everything in its place!”

If there is not a unique place designated to every item, the item will eventually become misplaced. This leads to reduced efficiency and the introduction of quality problems.


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The Third Practice: Shine

There is a common misconception that 5S methodology is simply about good housekeeping. This is all the more the case when it comes to the third practice shine.

Shine (or also known as “sweep”) has to do with cleaning all workspaces, equipment, tools, floors, etc. so that they are shiny clean.

But it goes further than that.

When performing shine, many discoveries are made:

5S Methodology Shine
The essence of shine is inspection! The point is to find problems. Source: 5S Training
  • electrical wiring is damaged
  • a machine is dripping lubricant
  • another machine generates chips, sawdust, or other debris
  • the nuts and bolts of a fixture are loose
  • etc.

Each of these discoveries are opportunities for improvement and abnormality prevention.

If 5S methodology is assumed to be no more than general housekeeping, these looming problems will go unresolved and business will continue as usual.

But if you are practicing 5S properly, you’ll recognize the opportunity to fix problems, prevent abnormalities, and avoid potential catastrophes!

Therefore, shine has more to do with inspection than merely cleaning. The purpose of the cleaning is to find and prevent problems!

The Fourth Practice: Standardize

Standardization is necessary so that you don’t backslide to the old status quo. Therefore, standardization is applied to the first three S’s of 5S methodology to ensure that sorting, setting in order, and shining is maintained indefinitely.

Originally, standardize applied to only shine activities, so that cleaning standards were defined for how to keep the workplace shiny clean. Over time, others expanded the concept to include sort and set in order.

Examples of standardization include:

5S Methodology Standardization
Standardization is essential to making 5S methodology stick. Source: 5S Training
  • Color codes and indicators
  • Labels
  • Tool and station layout
  • Material and machine models and brands
  • Cleaning solutions
  • You name it!

It’s important to appreciate the fact that standardization in general is central to lean manufacturing methodology. It is not limited to 5S; it applies to everything!

The Fifth Practice: Sustain

All of your achievements practicing the first four S’s of 5S are worthless if you do not sustain them moving forward. Therefore, the last practice of 5S is sustain.

Sustainment is everyone’s responsibility, but it is especially the responsibility of management.

5S Methodology Sustain
You must change how you think to be successful with 5S! Source: 5S Training

Each team member must believe in and adhere to 5S standards. And every manager must make sure they “walk the talk” and provide emphasis and attention to these basic practices.

At first glance, you might have thought 5S was a special or “extra” thing to add to your organization. But now I hope you realize it is simple, basic, and elementary.

Not only this, but what is the alternative if you don’t embrace these practices?

There isn’t one! Or at least not one that is compelling.

The practices of sort, set in order, shine, and standardize are unavoidable. We must do them if we are going to surpass mediocrity.

Tying It All Together

5S is a simple productivity tool. You need nothing to start except the motivation to change your way of thinking and working.

But engaging every person in performing 5S is a different matter. The role of proper leadership cannot be over-emphasized along with effective and engaging training.


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