What is 5s in Lean Manufacturing? Complete guide for 2024

What is 5s in Lean manufacturing

5s in Lean is one of the finest tools used for workplace organization. The term 5s derives from Japanese words for 5 practices leading to a clean and manageable work area. Simply 5s means the workplace is clean, there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.

5s in Lean will create a workplace that is suitable for and will stimulate high-quality and high-productivity work. It will make the workplace more comfortable and a place where you would like to work.

This method assumes that no effective and quality job can be done without a clean and safe environment. In this article, we are going to understand the 5s methodology in Lean in detail along with one practical example.

We will cover what happens during each stage of 5s in detail. In the end, you will get in-depth clarity on what this tool is and how to use it effectively during improvement projects. So let’s begin…


What is the 5s methodology in Lean?

5s is a method of creating a clean and orderly workplace that exposes waste and makes abnormalities immediately visible. One of the main purposes of 5s is to be able to identify abnormalities.

In other words, if the place you work in is an unorganized mess, then chances are you will rarely be able to spot when something is not right.

But if you have things neat, clean, and tidy, you are far more likely to identify when something is not right. It is a framework that focuses on visual management and emphasizes using a mindset and tools to create efficiency and value.

It involves observing and searching for the waste and then finally removing all the waste from the workplace. 5s generally refers to 5 Japanese word that starts with S but many people assume that the origin of 5s may not be Japanese after all.

5s ford's CANDO diagram

Actually, Henery Ford’s CANDO diagram which stands for cleaning up, arranging, neatness, discipline, and ongoing improvement seems to be the earlier version of what we call 5s today.

This is true up to a certain extent because the Japanese studied Ford’s industry methods after the world war ended.

Later it was modified by the Japanese as a 5s methodology which has now become the powerful tool used in lean manufacturing.

The Japanese version of 5s becomes the Seri (Sort), Seiton (Set in order), Seisou (Shine), Seiketsu (Standardize), Shitsuke (Sustain), etc. 5s is the starting point for implementing improvements to a process.


Why 5s is important?

5s is so important no matter if you work in a machine shop or hospital. When you adopt the 5s at your workplace you become committed to the safety of the organization and people. It is the 5 step system that creates an organized and productive workplace.

The 1st reason why 5s is important is its impact on safety. There can be no debating the fact that a cluttered and chaotic work area is often an unsafe work area. The focus of 5s is always on creating and maintaining an organized and safe workplace.

The 2nd reason is that 5s help us identify and eliminate waste or Muda. People are more productive and efficient when their workplace is clean and waste-free. So 5s ultimately increase productivity in the workplace.

The 3rd reason is that 5s implementation is low cost and very high impact. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to implement 5s, actually, it helps your company earn more money by optimizing the workplace effectively.

The 4th reason is that 5s get everyone in the company involved. It doesn’t matter whether you are a manager or a machine operator, 5s have no boundaries every one in the company is involved. This type of collaboration at all levels makes companies much stronger.

The 5th reason 5s in Lean Six Sigma is so important is that the simple fact adherence to the standard is key to kaizen. 5s is considered as a standard, if you can’t do 5s then you can’t do Lean.

5s implementation is an important foundation for many lean tools and concepts like TPM, Kaizen, Six Sigma, and SMED. So overall 5s implementation has many benefits and this 5-step system attacks two enemies of any organization i.e. efficiency and unproductivity.

Now let’s take a closer look at each stage of the 5s methodology in Lean Six Sigma. (Check out – What is Lean manufacturing? Complete guide for 2023)


5 pillars of 5s methodology in Lean Six Sigma – 

5s system is all about assessing your workplace, removing what is unnecessary at your workplace, organizing the entire workplace in an effective way, keeping it clean every day, creating standard operating procedures to maintain this, and making sure that this cycle of the 5s system keeps going.

Now let’s see all these 5 stages one by one – 


1. Sorting –

The 1st stage of 5s in Lean Six Sigma is to organize the work area, leaving only the tools and materials that are necessary to perform daily activities. It is the process of removing all the unnecessary items that are not needed for the current production from the workplace.

The ultimate goal of sorting is to eliminate all the unnecessary tools and materials and create a complete workplace free of clutter. This allows for a workflow free from distraction.

The rule is “If you do not use the particular tools, machinery, and materials on a daily basis then throw it out. Leave only things that you need on a daily basis.”

1st step of 5s in Lean Six Sigma is the foundation of workplace organization and ensures successful implementation of the 5s methodology. When the  sorting is well implemented, communication between workers is improved, and product quality and productivity are also improved,

During the sorting stage, the most effective tool is used to remove the unnecessary items from the workplace i.e. red tags which can help the organization get rid of problems such as tools and material impeding workflow, wasted time looking for parts, tools, and final products, and storing unnecessary and expensive inventory, safety issues resulting from clutter at the workplace, etc.

Red tags are the stickers that help the improvement project team identify the items that need to be removed from the workplace, When the project team sees something unnecessary at the workplace they put a red tag on it, then those items need to be evaluated.

5S Red tag


Red tags indicate what action needs to be taken on particular items like leaving the items where it is, relocating the items, disposing of the items, recycling them, or place in the storage area until you determine their value.

If you determined that the items are needed at the workplace then remove the red tags used during 1st stage of 5s in Lean Six Sigma and find an appropriate storage location for them.

Basically, red tags highlight the unnecessary items at the workplace and then each item at the workplace is classified into three categories i.e. useful, useless, and unknown.

For those items that are useless, dispose of them immediately because they just clutter the workplace and lead to loss of time, confusion, and poor quality.

For the items that are in the unknown category or whose frequency of use is unclear, keep them where they are for a predetermined period of time and if found that they are not used dispose of them.

For the items that are useful, there is also a method for determining how and where they should be stored to help you achieve a clean and orderly workplace. Check out the below table, depending on the item’s frequency of use stored them accordingly.

If the item’s frequency of use is monthly or quarterly keep them in a remote location. If the frequency of use is weekly then keep them in a local location.

If the frequency of use is daily then keep those items close to the operator’s/workers’ hands. Make sure your workplace should only contains those items needed on a weekly to daily basis to perform your job.


Things to remember during sorting – 

  • Items that cannot be removed immediately should be tagged for later removal.
  • Start sorting in one area then sort through everything.
  • Discuss the removal of items with all persons involved.
  • Use appropriate decontamination, and environmental and safety procedures.


2. Set in order –

Set in order is nothing but the orderly arrangement of necessary items so they are easy to use and accessible for anyone to find or you can say it is the process of putting everything in a place that is easily visible and accessible. This step is only applicable if unnecessary clutter is not there in the workplace

This 2nd stage of 5s in Lean eliminates waste of production and clerical activities. Its goal is to create a standardized and consistent way to store and retrieve tools and materials. A proper system must be developed based on how often the tools and materials are accessed and the process that uses them.

The set-in-order stage visually shows what is required or what is out of place. It saves time by not having to search for items and also make it more efficient to find items and documents easily. This stage of 5s in lean utilizes some powerful strategies to maintain orderliness in the workplace.

1st strategy is the use of labeling and signs in the workplace. Labeling is the easiest way to quickly and visually identify the proper placement of tools, materials, and equipment. For example drawers of tool chests can be labeled with their contents so employees can easily find what they need.

5s set in order

Along with labeling, larger signs, banners, and posters can be used to convey messages about the organization or safety and even a person who is unfamiliar with the workplace can easily identify items.

2nd strategy is the line marking which is associated with the safety of the workplace. This is also useful for marking work areas, as well as the location of pallets, raw materials, finished goods, shipping, and other static locations.

These line marks make it easier for employees and visitors to make sense of space. This improves workflow and productivity at the workplace. Then the next 3rd strategy comes i.e. tools foam.

For tool drawers, you can use customizable foam to create a tool organization system to prevent tools from going missing. This foam can also help protect your toolbox and tools from damage.

The last strategy i.e. tool outlining. Tool outlining means creating a visual outline of your tool so you can quickly return it to its proper home. With this outline, you can easily identify the exact location of the tools.

These are some of the powerful strategies for organizing tools that make the organization more visual and make it easier for people to follow your organization’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) without any obstacles. (Check out – What are the 5 principles of Lean manufacturing?)


Things to remember during the set in order – 

  • Those items that are used together make sure you should keep them together.
  • Arrange tools and materials in order of use.
  • The items that are used frequently keep them closest to the user.
  • Sharable items should be kept at the central location of the workplace.
  • Use labels, tape, floor markings, signs, and shadow outlines.


3. Shine –

Shine is the 3rd stage of 5s in lean which means removing all the dirt from the workplace and keeping the workplace clean on a daily basis. This maintains a safer work area and problem areas are easily identified. 

An important part of Shine is mess prevention means don’t allow litter, scrap, shaving, or cutting to land on the floor in the first place. It focuses on cleaning the workplace because at a clean workplace it is easy to identify abnormal conditions.

When you implement the Shine step after sorting and set in order stage, the two outcomes you will get. 1st is your employees start working in a clean environment. 2nd because of the cleanliness of the workplace and equipment, you will have very few injuries and equipment breakdowns at the workplace.

Overall this increases productivity at the workplace. In 5s implementation, the shining stage is all about cleaning so when this system forms at the workplace it becomes everyone’s responsibility to keep the workplace clean on a daily basis. A culture of cleaning must be formed from top-level employees to the apprentice.


When you start implementing 5s in lean, it becomes your responsibility to train your staff/employees to do things correctly. Make sure your staff should know their responsibility at the workplace and give them tools to do their job.

By doing this, people take ownership of the workspace which makes them completely involved and invested in their workplace/organization. Along with cleaning, the other most important part of the shining stage is daily inspection and routine maintenance.

Like a daily cleaning routine, workplace staff should also focus on inspecting tools/machinery and also plan routine maintenance ahead of time in order to identify the problems and prevent machine breakdowns.

Cleaning and maintenance, are the two important activities of the shining stage to increase safety in the workplace and reduce loss of profits related to machine breakdown. Ultimately it reduces human injuries and increases productivity at the workplace.


Things to remember during shine – 

  • Cleaning is everyone’s responsibility.
  • Along with cleaning focus on inspection and routine maintenance.
  • Use office/plant layout as a visual aid to identify an individual’s responsibility for cleaning.
  • Cleaning and maintaining the workplace is like bathing, it relieves stress and strain, removes sweat and dirt, and prepares the body for the next day.


4. Standardize –

After the 1st three stages of 5s in Lean, the next stage comes standardizing that keeps all the stages together. Standardize creates a system of tasks and procedures that will ensure all the steps of 5S are performed on a daily basis.

When the 1st three steps of 5s are completed, the workplace looks clean and more organized but if these things are not maintained properly with a system then there is a high chance your workplace again get back to the same position. That is where the role of standardize stage of 5s comes.

This stage focuses on creating a system that utilizes a set of schedules and checklists that can be easily followed so each step of 5s is performed exactly the same way every day. It involves creating a consistent approach to carrying out tasks and procedures.

This consistent approach makes it easy for each employee to know their roles and responsibilities at the workplace. This stage of 5s in lean focuses on 3 important aspects in order to maintain the first 3 stages of 5s implementation.

  • With the help of a checklist and standard operating procedures, standardize stage of 5s ensure that all the employee should know their roles and responsibilities. Employees should have a clear understanding of what tasks they need to perform to maintain 1st three stages of 5s.
  • Standardize stage also focuses on making the 5s a daily part of an employee’s routine at the workplace through proper training and guidance.
  • 3rd aspect of standardize stage is periodic evaluation. With the help of a committee of supervisors evaluate the performance of employees at regular intervals and ensure that the 1st three stages of 5s work properly.

So standardize stage is responsible for the successful implementation of 5s in Lean. If you have the system at the workplace and all the staff members follow the standard operating procedure to maintain sort, set in order and shine then there is a high chance you will get success in the 5s implementation.


Things to remember during standardizing – 

  • Maintain orderliness at the workplace by using visual controls like signboards, painted lines, color-coding strategies, etc.
  • Develop a system that enables everyone in the workplace to see problems when they occur.
  • Keep the workplace neat enough for visual identifiers to be effective in uncovering hidden problems.


5. Sustain –

The last stage of 5s in Lean is ‘sustain’, this stage is all about discipline and commitment of all stages. Without sustain, your workplace can easily revert back to being dirty and chaotic. That is why it is so crucial for your team to be empowered to improve and maintain their workplace.

Sustain actually gives your employees commitment and motivation to follow each stage of 5s on a daily basis. It focuses on running the 5s program smoothly along with keeping everyone in the organization involved.

Sustain is basically all about making 5s a long-term program as well as making it part of organizational culture. To do that there are some aspects that you need to focus on in order to bring positive changes to your workplace through 5s in Lean.

  • To run 5s in the long term, everyone in the organization must be involved in this initiative from top to shop floor level employees. Your whole organization must be on board and follow all the standard operating procedures and guidelines prepared at the workplace to maintain 1st 4 stage of 5s,
  • Sustain is more focused on maintaining discipline at the workplace to follow SOPs, in order to maintain that discipline you need to create a reward system. Appreciate your employee or staff for a job well done, and reward them when they maintained workplace actions in support of 5S implementation.

The overall focus of this stage is to maintain the 1st 4 stages of 5s in the long run by appreciating or rewarding staff members’ actions and the results they produced at the workplace.  Because when employees take pride in their work and workplace it can lead to greater job satisfaction and high productivity.


Things to remember during sustain – 

  • Develop schedules, SOPs, and checklists.
  • Good habits are hard to establish.
  • Commitment and discipline towards the 4 stages of 5s are the essential first steps toward being world-class.

Read more – What is 5s audit software? safety culture


6. Safety-

Safety is the 6th S in the 5s system. Now a days 5s system is also called as 6s system because companies have recognized that safety is also equally important in the workplace. That’s why Safety has been included as the 6th pillar of the 5s system in Lean.

Safety plays an important role in any company and goes hand in hand with proper organization. In order to implement the 5s system in the workplace the first step must be to create a safe environment for you and your employees in the workplace.

As a part of the safety stage, make sure your staff members have the right tools/equipment for their daily job at the workplace. Train your employees to use the equipment correctly, and make the workplace clean, and safe using visual tools.

Also, train them on what to do in an emergency situation to prevent any injury or problem at the workplace. (Check out – What is 5s audit software? safety culture)


Conclusion – 

Workplace organization is the foundation of all improvement initiatives because if the workplace is properly organized then it becomes easy to identify improvement opportunities at the workplace and identify problems at the workplace.

That’s why 5s in lean is considered one of the most powerful tools that support improvement projects and helps build an improvement culture in the organization. 5s has the potential to transform your company into a safe and productive workplace.

In this article, we discussed 5s in detail along with what happens during each stage of 5s implementation. I hope you got the clarity on the 5s system in Lean manufacturing. Now let’s implement this at YOUR workplace.

If you found this article useful then please share it with your network and subscribe to get more such articles.

1 thought on “What is 5s in Lean Manufacturing? Complete guide for 2024”

  1. Pingback: Kaizen Tools: 5 Tools You Must Know For Continuous Improvement

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!