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Implementing the 5S in Lean Manufacturing with Standard Work


In this article, we unpack the 5S and explore how standardized work instructions can help you implement them.

31 January 2022

5S in a nutshell    

The 5S (or five s’s) is often the first lean method organizations implement when they commit to ongoing process improvement. 5S stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. The method was first developed in Japan as a means to enable JIT. So, you’ll often see the five s’s in Japanese: seiri (整理), seiton (整頓), seisō (清掃), seiketsu (清潔), and shitsuke (躾). Let’s explore each S in more detail.

1. Sort

This first pillar focuses on removing clutter and keeping unnecessary items out of the production area. Typically, organizations use a system called “red-tagging” to identify these items and ensure quick sorting and removal. Documenting the criteria for “red-tagging” and providing clear instructions about what to do with these items is very important. For instance, what type of items should be scrapped and which ones should be stored? Where should they be placed to minimize workplace disruption? Standardized work instructions can be very valuable here. 

2. Set in Order

This pillar is all about organizing the items you need and putting them in the optimal place. It includes, for instance, placing them at the right height to facilitate picking or grabbing. But also ensuring that they are visible so you can easily identify them when they need to be used. Make sure you provide visual cues in your work instructions, so employees know exactly how to set things in the right way. 

Set in Order 5s Lean manufacturing standard work

3. Shine

Once the clutter is out of the way and items have been properly organized, you need to make sure your workplace is clean. The importance of cleanliness cannot be understated. It enables employees to notice equipment malfunctions or misalignments quickly. A clean environment also allows them to move more efficiently across the shop floor. Providing standardized and digitized work instructions can make a big difference here too, especially if you’re dealing with expensive equipment. For instance, your employees need to know exactly how to clean a machine if they want to prevent failures and downtime. 

4. Standardize

To make sure you carry out the first 3 pillars of 5S correctly, you need to provide a consistent approach that employees can follow. An important prerequisite here is giving employees standardized guides and checklists, as well as supporting documentation so that they can integrate these best practices into their work routine.

Process (3)

5. Sustain

Last but not least, you need to make the 5S a habit. This is the most difficult part, as changing innate behaviors can be difficult. Start by providing standardized operating procedures and training. This will make it easier for employees to embrace these best practices. It also helps to empower employees with the right tools. For example, rather than using long and dusty manuals that are difficult to go through, give them a tablet with digitized procedures, or provide the instructions using mobile-first tools. 



Gloria crafts content about how the world’s top companies are rethinking how to write digital work instructions. Check out the rest of her articles to learn how innovative work instruction software can improve manufacturing processes.

31 January 2022