Sort: The First Step in the 5S Methodology

5S sort

Sort is the first, and most important step in the 5S methodology. Sort relates to tidiness and the absence of clutter. Here is a deeper dive into the distinction:


Sort is derived from the Japanese word Seiri (整理). All materials, including equipment, tools and supplies, and work-related objects, should be examined in this process. 

Sort is the word used to define the step where unnecessary objects are removed. This step reduces clutter and makes the work environment tidy so that it is easy to find resources that are needed to do the work at hand.

When you enter this first phase of the 5S process, all there is to do is to step onto your shop floor or production environment and look at it with new eyes. Ask: What is obvious in the way of an efficient process? You can spot the most obvious clutter immediately. Look for empty boxes, bins of rejected parts, and even obsolete machinery or tools.

Run your eyes over every surface. Is there junk cluttering up the floor or raised workbenches or desks? Look at shelves. Look in closets and storage bins. Are there unorganized materials stacked around in various places that you don’t want to throw away?  Do they need to be there? How long have they been there? 

Get rid of all the junk. Beyond the obvious clutter, go through the whole shop and dispose of the materials that are never used. Put them in a dumpster, sell them, give them away and recycle where possible. 

Now examine what tools and materials are critical to performing production. Dispose of items that haven’t been touched in months or years.


There are three categories for every item in your work area: I need itI don’t need it, and I don’t know. For items that you need, you move them on to the next step, Set in Order. Recycle, sell or give to charity unneeded items. For things you are not sure about, you put an appropriate expiration date on each item and then check once the expiration date has passed to see if it is useful or not. In this way, you Sort your workspace, and then you follow up again on a later date for things you are unsure about.


Here are some benefits of the Sort process from the 5S methodology:

  • Free up production space.
  • Create new or reconfigured space for new or reimagined business processes.
  • Scrap or unused tools, in some cases, have residual value, so sell them or give them away where appropriate. 
  • Freeing up space will reduce the need to expand and optimize the use of existing space.
  • Time will be reduced when doing your next inventory or audit.
  • You will save time when seeking an item that is actually needed.
  • Time will also be saved when moving objects, goods, and products through the work environment because less clutter means easier and safer navigation because there are fewer objects on a path to an objective.


Too many workplaces are cluttered with tools, materials, and objects that are no longer needed. This does not just apply inside a factory. Apply the Sort process in the office, warehouse, distribution center, and all production environments. In these places, you may identify obsolete paperwork, books, manuals or binders. There may be filing cabinets with outdated records that should be archived offsite. You can even bring it to the staff kitchen, break room and fridge.

Even bulletin boards can be clogged with outdated notices. And don’t forget your computers. Apply the sorting process to digital spaces too. Systems will become cluttered with obsolete programs over time. Unneeded, excess or useless data accumulates. If possible, archive it. Call in your Information Technology department to tackle this.

Once complete, the Sort process can bring a new sense of space, process flow, and ease of movement, therefore, the process of Sorting is one of the most satisfying S words in the 5S methodology.

Engage in the 5S Process to Learn the Value of 5S

5S is not just for others to follow. As a leader, you must complete a 5S project first in a small area of your world to see the before and after. Following the first 2Ss (Sort and Set in Order) of the 5S process, you will be faced with difficult choices. Do I keep it or do I toss it? Does it have value? Will it have value in the future? Does it have value for others?

All of these choices are not easy to make, and therefore, going through the Sorting process, you learn to identify priorities. You must push yourself to be disciplined in your own workspace in order to become an example of efficiency for others.

Now that you have Sorted your workspace, you can stand back and ask: do I have what I need to work efficiently? Do I have ONLY what I need? Do I have anything that I might need in the future, and if yes, does it have an expiration date on it for me to reevaluate its future necessity?

Be proud of you work in Sorting your area. Show it off. Show off all the clutter you have taken out of your workspace. Say, “look at all the stuff I had getting in my way of the essential work that I perform!”


The next step in the 5S process is Set or Set in Order 


Here are some more helpful links to help you learn about the 5S Methodology:

What is 5S and How is it Used?

5s metholdology

Waste reduction methodology is a key strategy from lean management philosophy

5S is a workplace organization method originally developed by Toyota Corp. It is part of Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing methodology, which is designed to reduce waste within a facility.

The 5S method consists of a list of five Japanese words:

  1. Seiri (整理),
  2. Seiton (整頓),
  3. Seisō (清掃),
  4. Seiketsu (清潔), and
  5. Shitsuke (躾).

These can be translated as:

  1. Sort
  2. Set In Order
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain

5S can be used to eliminate waste, improve efficiency, and optimize workflow when applied to a work environment. The list of five key principles describes how to organize a workspace for efficiency and effectiveness. This is done by identifying and storing the items used, maintaining the area and items, and sustaining the new order. The decision-making process usually comes from a dialogue about standardization. This builds understanding among employees of how they should do the work.

5S Methodology Defined

The fives S’s in the system are derived from five Japanese words Seiri (tidiness), Seiton (orderliness), Seiso (cleanliness), Seiketsu (standardization), and Shitsuke (discipline). However, the translations have been substituted with five English words that start with the letter S. These are outlined as follows:

Seiri (整理), which means: Sort

This first S of the 5S methodology relates to tidiness. All materials, including equipment, tools and supplies, and work-related objects, should be neatly arranged and all unnecessary objects should be removed. This step reduces clutter and makes the work environment tidy so that it is easy to find resources that are needed to do the work at hand.

Seiton (整頓), which means: Set in order

The second S relates to orderliness. All materials, including equipment, tools and supplies, and work-related objects should be placed at optimal locations for ease of access. The objective is to be able to lay your hands on the item you need quickly and with ease. This also frees up space and eliminates clutter. It also aids in accident prevention by removing unnecessary materials that may be an obstacle in the work process.

Seiso (清掃), which means: Shine

The third S relates to cleanliness. All tools, equipment, and machinery must be cleaned regularly so that they are ready for use. The objective here is to make the work environment as safe as possible. There should be no dirt, spills, or detritus on surfaces. The work environment should be free of waste, and the spaces and places in which workers operate should promote and support productivity.

Seiketsu (清潔), which means: Standardize

The fourth S relates to standardization. The processes of sorting, order, and cleanliness should be standardized and implemented across all offices and branches of operation. The objective is for all aspects and branches of operation to consistently gain the benefits of practicing seiri, seiton, and seiso.

Shitsuke (躾) which means: Sustain or Self-discipline

The fifth S relates to discipline. The business or organization has the ability and training to continuously and consistently practice the 5S system. The adherence to the processes established will always bring new efficiencies and maintain previous gains. The objective here is to maximize potential by using the 5S system so that all obstacles to productivity are removed.

The 6th S – Safety

In some cases, an additional step is added to the method – Safety. This step focuses on ways to eliminate risks in the workplace and should be combined with the previous steps. An integral part of the 5S system is visual communication. It allows workers to independently and easily follow the system. Some examples of safety precautions include floor markings and labeling. For instance, a floor sign can indicate forklift traffic, so a worker knows to avoid the area or proceed with caution when approaching it. Some believe that safety is implied in 5S and an additional step is not necessary, but adding this step ensures that safety is a focus for every process and action taken. 

Evolution of the 5S Methodology

The implementation of 5S proved to be successful for Japanese industries. It increased output, as well as quality, and efficiency. It also reduced costs. American industries took note of this success and started applying the methods, producing similar results to the Japanese.  

5S is one of the underpinnings of the Just In Time (JIT) manufacturing process. JIT is used in many modern factories today and allows for a production line to produce only the quantity of a product that is needed at the moment. This process is throttled up or down based on real-time demand.

The 5S System is highly flexible and has been integrated with many other workplace efficiency systems and methodologies. One of the most widely used methods that have been derived from the 5S system is a process called Lean, or Lean Manufacturing. It, too, came from Japan’s JIT method.

Today, Lean is employed around the globe to bring efficiency to industrial workflows. 

5G, Lean and JIT share similar philosophical DNA. JIT and similar models are rooted in early- to mid-20th century American industry. For example, the Ford Motor Company’s assembly line and business-applied statistics had a major influence over Japan’s post-WWII industrial revolution.


Since its origins, 5S has helped companies successfully employ more complex forms of Lean Manufacturing. 5S is easy to remember and follow. It increases safety and morale, product quality, and equipment life. It also allows for valuable data collection. Additionally, it reduces injuries and production costs. It also reduces defects and downtime as well as supplier mistakes. Beyond that, the advantages are a reduction of tools and inventory searches, storage and, often, warehousing costs. 

The 5S system is a solid foundation for many industrial systems and methods, but the success of the system is ultimately reliant on the company and its employees. Managers and workers need to be properly educated and trained in the system. They need to understand how the methodology will be implemented in the workplace. This can be done by creating a committee to manage and support the system and adjust it as the need arises. 

Although responsibility may fall on a committee, it is important to encourage all employees to participate in the process. When the 5S system is properly understood and implemented by everyone, it can significantly improve efficiency in both the workplace and among workers.  


Here are some more helpful links to help you learn about the 5S Methodology: