What is 5S

Guide: 5S

Lean 5S is an organizational tool for efficiency and safety in workplaces, consisting of Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain, with a focus on continuous improvement and foundational lean manufacturing.
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Author: Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

Guide: 5S

Within Lean 5S is one of the key tools sued for organizing the workplace and is widely used in manufacturing and other industries to improve efficiency, safety, and productivity by following the 5 steps of 5S which are Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

The five Steps of 5S

Within this guide you will gain an understanding of the 5S process and support this with examples of how it can be implemented in a manufacturing business. 5S is one of the key foundations businesses should implement in a business to ensure lean production before focusing on the statistical analysis of Six Sigma.

Before we get into the guide, test your 5S knowledge with our 5S activity to see what you already know. 

Assign the 5s Activity


Press "Test your Knowledge" to Start the game. Drag each of the 5S activities to the 5S step they relate to then, click "Check Matches".


Set in Order




Remove unnecessary items.
Arrange items in logical locations.
Clean the work area regularly.
Develop consistent routines and procedures.
Maintain and review standards.

What are the Benefits of 5S?

Think of 5S as the foundation of lean manufacturing. Before you get into big extensive projects you should focus on the basics of ensuring the business has 5S implemented to ensure the work place is organized in a logical and efficient way that is safe for employees to work in. 5S provides that base for your workplace—whether it’s a factory, office, or even your home garage. By keeping things organized, clean, and efficient, you’re setting the stage for better productivity and quality.

Safety First

Implementing 5S in a business contributes to a safer work environment by removing safety hazards such as clutter, loose cables and trip hazards that can lead to accidents and incidents. 5S helps to reduce these risks by putting in place a structure to manage workplace organization that will keep the areas tidy and well organized, therefore, removing hazards and improving safety.


Within businesses time is money, and in a disorganized business a lot of time can be lost looking for tools and equipment needed to do the job due to a lack of organization. If a good standard of 5S is implemented this makes it easier to the workforce to find the tools and equipment they are looking for easier with logical locations for tools such as the most frequently used tools stored closer to where they are used and less frequently tools stored further away to keep them out of the way.

Quality Improvement

When a workplace is organized and tidy, it becomes easier to focus on maintaining high quality. This is because employees are not distracted by clutter to spending time searching for tools, resulting in needing to rush to keep meet production demands.

Team Morale

Implementing a good standard of 5S often boots morale. Employees do not enjoy working an a disorganized and dirty working environment, this can lead to loosing good quality employees and low morale of those who continue to work there. We have seen this first hand implementing 5S as employees start to take more pride in their work area as well as the work they do.

An extreme example is in the picture below, but which area would you rather work in?

5S Before and After

Cost Savings

Implementing a good standard of 5S often leads to cost savings. An organized workplace can lead to a reduction in waste or scrapped material, defect products and buying additional tools and equipment due to it being misplaced or badly stored which can lead to damage.

Visual Clarity

One of the key techniques used in 5S is visual management. As humans we can understand information much quicker if we can see it visually. 5S promotes the use of visual management with the implementation of clear labeling, floor markings and shadow boards for tool and equipment organization. 

Overall 5S offers many benefits to businesses and is a basic foundation of continuous improvement. Any business that cares about Safey, Quality, Delivery and Costs (SQDC) cant ignore the benefits of a well implemented 5S standard

Step 1: Sort

the 5S Cycle, Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardise, Sustain

In 5S there are 5 Key steps for workplace organization. The first step of 5S is to Sort (Seiri). This involves picking an area to implement 5S and identifying all of the tools, materials and equipment in the area then sorting them into three key categorize which are Keep, Store or Relocate.

We would recommend when starting this step pick an area that is manageable in size that a team that includes those that work in that area could implement a good standard of 5S in 1 to 5 days. Picking an area too large can often result in failure as the task is too big and looses focus. So pick an area that makes sense, such as a machine area or a room that may be around 5 square meters. Then as a team pull out all the items and sort them into the three categorize and decide what is and is not needed in the area. 

Items that are needed will be “Set in order” in step two of 5S. However items that are not needed or equipment that is outdated or broken should then be stored elsewhere or discarded.

Often it is not always clear if an items is needed in an area or not this can be common in cluttered areas. This is where 5S red tagging comes in useful. For items you are not sure are needed or you need to check with other operators on other shifts for example you can apply what is call a red tag on the item. 

5S Red Tag Template

In cases where you are not sure if the item is needed add a red tag onto the item, assign a time period for review such as 30 days. If the item is needed in the area in that time remove the tag and “set in order” (step 2) that item with a standard location.
If the items still has the tag after 30 days, it indicates the items is not needed and should be removed from the area into storage or disposed of.


There is not set standard on the number of days for a red tag as it is unique to the business or area so feel free to adjust the timing to suit your business.

By sorting through the items in the area you will have taken the first step in 5S workplace organization. At this point the only items left in the area should be equipment that is needed. You are then ready to move on to step 2 which is Set in Order.

Step 2: Set In order

After sorting through what is and is not needed in an area in step one its time to implement step 2 Set in order (Seiton) which involves arranging the remaining items in a way that makes sense for the work area.

This is not as simple as just giving every items a location, it requires a little more planning. Such as identifying what tools, items and equipment is use where in relation to the area and how often are the items used. Items should be set in order with the most used items stored closer to the areas they are used. Then less frequently used items are stored further away. 

A perfect example of good workplace organization and set in order benefiting business can be seen in this video of how systems or structure creates efficiency.

To ensure items are set in order effectively visual management principles should be used. This involves using elements such as shadow boards for tool placements, floor markings to designate material locations such as raw materials or non-conforming materials so that they do not get mixed up. 

shadow board
5S Floor marking examples

You can learn more about these Visual Management techniques in our guide.

Labeling storage areas is another important aspect of getting things in order. Each storage area should be clearly labeled so that it is easy to find what they need quickly and easily. Labels or signs that clearly indicate what is stored in each area. This is especially useful and important for items like nuts and bolts where there are many that looks similar but vary with a range of sizes. Labeling makes it easier to get the right size faster. 

Once the Set in order step of 5S is implemented effectively you should start to see a much better organized workplace and see the benefits of efficiency and safety. But the area still may not be clean, this is where the third step of 5S comes in which is Shine and focuses on cleaning the area and making it free from dirt.

Step 3: Shine

In 5S the third step of 5S after sorting and setting in order is Shine (Seiso) which is about cleaning the area to a good standard free from dirt, dust, oil and other kinds or contaminants. This step is important for achieving and maintaining a safe and health workplace as well as ensuring all equipment, tools and machinery is in good working order without, damage, defects, faults or leaks.

To implement the Shine step effectively the selected area initially needs a deep clean to remove all dirt, this can include stripping down equipment to clean it to the standard of new or near new, painting of floors, walls and equipment etc.

This then sets the standard for the area of how clean the area should be kept. This will be maintained with standards in Step 4 of 5S “Standardize”.

Overall, the Shine step focuses on creating a clean and safe working environment. The team can maintain a workspace that promotes efficiency, productivity, and safety. This should also promote team moral as working in a clean area often keeps teams happier and the risk of breakdowns can be reduced with clean equipment as defects, damage and leaks can be identified more easily on clean equipment.

Step 4: Standardize

By this point, steps one, two, and three are complete; you should have an area that is free from clutter; every item in the area is sorted into a set place; and the area has been cleaned to a new or near-new state. It has most likely taken a lot of effort to get to that state, and it will be important to maintain it. This is where Step 4 Standardize (Seiketsu) comes in which involves creating 5S standards that are used to maintain the 5S level and ensure consistency by everyone involved.


There are many tools and techniques that can be used to standardize 5S. One such method is to use visual aids, which can be used to document what good looks like in the area. These can be referred to when maintaining the area to ensure it is maintained to the 5S standard.

Another method would be to implement 5S standardization sheets, which can set out cleaning schedules and checks. Many production areas implement a once or twice a shift (once at the start and at the end of shift) to review the 5S and ensure all equipment is in good working condition in its locations and the area is being kept tidy. This check list should prompt a review of the standards and allow for actions to be taken against issues or problems that require attention.

Overall, 5S is maintained with good standards and procedures that manage the maintenance of 5S in the area. This ensures that good work is documented, which needs to be sustained, which is step Five of 5S.

Step 5: Sustain

The fifth and final step of 5S is to sustain (Shitsuke). After the first four steps, it is important that 5S is not a one-time implementation. This is where most 5S activities fail, as standards slip over time.

A key method used to sustain 5S is to conduct regular reviews or audits. This involves reviewing the area against the implemented 5S standards. These audits can be done by operators in the area but should also be done by team leaders or managers of the area to ensure the standard is being maintained. 

5S Audit Template

Below is an example of a 5S audit which asks specific questions relating to each step of 5S rating the area on a scale of 1 to 5 and commenting on any issues or actions to be taken.

Feel free to download our 5S Audit Template
These audits should then be scored and the results displayed in the area showing the trend of 5S over time to see if the standard is being maintained or slipping.
5S Audit trend and Action sheet

In the example above you can clearly see the trend of 5S audits hovering around 4 to 4.5 and on the right issues and actions can be listed. 

If you would like to download this 5S Audit and Action plan you can find it in our templates.

Another element to sustaining 5S is training. Over time new employees will work in the area and will need to be trained on the 5S needs of the area to ensure the employees know what to do and when, in order to maintain a good standard of 5S. This can help ensure that everyone follows the established procedures and is committed to the system’s upkeep. The training should cover the significance of 5S, the advantages of keeping a clean and organized workspace, and how to adhere to the established procedures.

Employee engagement is also critical to the long-term viability of the 5S system. The team should be encouraged to provide feedback and improvement suggestions. This can aid in keeping the system relevant and effective over time. Team members should also be recognized for their contributions to the system and commitment to keeping the environment clean and organized.


In conclusion, implementing 5S is a key first step toward lean manufacturing and Six Sigma implementation. The method includes sorting the area, setting it in order, cleaning (shine), setting standards, and sustaining 5S with audits and training.

As a result, the workplace is rewarded with benefits such as improved safety, time savings from not needing to look for equipment, and a boost to quality and morale, to name a few.

5S is not a one-time set-it-and-forget-it activity; it is an ongoing commitment to a way of working that must be maintained over time.



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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website www.learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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