Pawley Lean Institute
Pawley Hall, Room 460K
456 Pioneer Drive
Rochester, MI 48309-4482
(248) 370-4542



In everything Lean, stability begins with visual management and the 5S tool. According to Pascal Dennis, author of Lean Production Simplified, “The 5S system is designed to create a visual workplace – in other words, a work environment that is self-explaining, self-ordering and self-improving.”

When things are implemented in such a standardized way, as in the 5S tool, anything that stands out of the norm then becomes obvious to the onlooker. Once something is caught out of place, the situation can then be immediately addressed and, in most cases, easily corrected.

An organization that wants to establish a Lean culture need to first set up their environment using this 5S tool. The following illustrates what the 5S tool is comprised of:

Too often a workplace can be overrun with stuff because most organizations have the idea that they need to hold on to things “just in case.” Eventually, the accumulation of this “stuff,” which is either no longer needed or put to good use, allows for waste to set in.

The two main types of waste that surface are time (trying to look for something amidst the piles) and space (warehousing unused items). To eliminate such wastefulness, the first step in the 5S tool needs to be implemented. The key Lean tool used to “ sort” is red tagging.

In red tagging, everything that is no longer needed or being used is placed in a centralized location for which the tagging process begins. If the tagged item is not claimed within a certain period of time, then the item is recycled or thrown out. Materials, equipment and supplies that are not frequently used should be moved to a separate, common storage area.

Once the sorting out phase has been completed, then it is time to “ set things in order.” In this process, what is left needs to be organized in a fashion that would minimize, if not eliminate, wasted motion.

The objective in this step is to be transparent. The actual location of the items needs to be so clear that anyone can find anything at any time. The development of a visual system (group of visual devices designed to share information at a glance) also needs to be put into place. This will allow any out-of-standard situations to become obvious to the onlooker. An example of such a process would be labels or signage.

To ensure that the workplace is kept clean and free of debris, the third step, “ shine,” needs to be applied. Regular cleaning and inspection makes it easy to spot missing equipment or tools, misalignment, leaks, breakage and low levels of supplies.

At this step it is important for organizations to come up with a standard that will keep them on task and eliminate the urge of backsliding into old habits.

To establish such a standard, they need to ask:
What exactly needs to be kept clean?
How will it be cleaned?
Who will do the cleaning?
What level of clean is acceptable?

With the workplace now having floor and shelf space cleared up, the cleaning elements of this step will certainly be much easier to conduct.

After these first three steps are completed, it is time to focus on how the organization does their work. This step, best known as “ standardize,” focuses on developing the standard for all to follow.

It is important to note that the best standard is always one that is clear, simple and visual. Some examples of standardizing would include a checklist, production board and a tool shadow board.

The last step in 5S is the most crucial to uphold. In order for an organization to stay Lean, it is very important that they “ sustain” what they have already implemented with the first four steps mentioned above.

Ways to accomplish this may include the development and usage of metrics, which will show any deficiencies in the process, and training, which will ensure that each individual is conducting the standard effectively.

Read the  5S Learning Enrichment Activities to find out more about this tool.