The 5S methodology is mainly utilized in physical manufacturing. However, as Lean thinking and Kanban continue to transform the digital space, the 5S Lean concept is also assisting companies in succeeding in the data-driven world. Organization is a universal need in all industries, and with the path of 5S methodology, a more productive future can be achieved.

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The first “S” in the 5S lean methodology is Sort. This requires entering into the workspace and separating all tools and items into their appropriate areas. The Sorting period also contains five individual steps:

  • Cleaning
  • Classifying
  • Ownership
  • Red Tagging
  • Recycling / Reassigning

Cleaning and Classifying accomplish the goal of removing any grime or clutter from a workspace to take stock of the inventory. Once all dirt and trash are removed, you can begin to sort away items to their necessary home. It is also a goal to clear as much floor space as possible to maximize the available work area.

As Classifying is taking place, assign ownership of each item to a department or individual. For most tools, ownership will be quickly apparent. For items that go unclaimed, however, they must be red tagged.

The most important part of the Sorting period is to only retain necessary tools that are used frequently. All other items, once cleaned and classified, must be then be “Red Tagged” immediately. Once an item is marked, its importance can then be evaluated.

Finally, all red tagged items that have been determined unnecessary must be recycled or repurposed. After sorting is completed, the team can now move to Set in Order.

Set in Order

To Set in Order, the objective is now to create an item storage system with proper labeling, so anyone can locate the appropriate tool with ease. This requires the installation of shelves, cabinets, and other storage areas that are clearly marked and color coded. Once tools are used, they should be returned to their assigned home.

The most frequently used tools should be assigned to shadow boards. Shadow boards are storage areas and wall mounted boards with hanging hooks, with pre-cut shadows behind their assigned tools. This board will make it obvious which tools are available, and which ones are in-use or missing.

Once the office workspaces are organized from top to bottom, the next 5S lean step is the deep cleaning of the environment, or Shining.


To effectively Shine the office, the key is to decide what needs to stay and what needs to go. Once unnecessary items are removed, the habit of daily deep cleaning must now be ingrained into the company culture. All team members must personally take on the responsibility of cleanliness, not only custodial staff.

The more consistently deep Shining occurs, the smoother the office will run. Cleanliness will also allow for more frequent inspection of machinery, catching wear and avoiding meltdowns.

Once clean, the team can now proceed to the fourth S of 5S lean methodology: Standardize.


At the beginning Standardization step, good habits have now been established across the office. Unneeded tools are gone, shadow boards are installed and labeled, and daily cleaning should be regular.

The importance of Standardize is ensuring that these new habits stay in place. The team should now be expected to maintain high standards. This can be achieved with quick cleans, checklists and charts assigning responsibility to all team members.


Finally, to complete the process of 5S lean methodology implementation, the office must now Sustain the process so it may continue uninterrupted and that productivity can soar.

At the heart of Sustain is the idea that everyone “should do without being told.” If the 5S system hinges on one superior instructing every step of the process daily, the methodology will eventually fail.

The return of habits from the pre-5S days can slowly creep back into the office, as the newly created free space can attract new clutter to fill the void. To escape this and other pitfalls, frequent checks can be scheduled so any slipups can be quickly caught.

The 5S Lean Methodology as a Cultural Change

To achieve to fullest potential of the 5S, everyone must commit. The 5S methodology is a marathon, not a sprint. Without a high level of commitment and communication of expectations, the 5S experience will become nothing more than a temporary trend.

The 5S methodology must be viewed as a culture change, not a simple experiment, in order for high level rewards, including increased productivity, greater organization, and efficiency to appear. If adhered to, the company, as well as every individual team member, will be in the position to flourish.