The House of Lean Production relies heavily on stability as its core foundation. Without it, achieving higher performance at Toyota is not possible.

The first step to ensure stability is to implement visual management. Several other elements reinforce it, including standardized work, 5S, Jidoka, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), heijunka, and kanban. These various components collaborate to foster stability throughout the production process.

The house of lean production

Source: Dennis, P. (2017); Lean Production Simplified; Basic Image of Lean Production

This article focuses on 5S and visual management in lean manufacturing, which helps create stability. Let’s dive in and learn more about them.

Lean manufacturing system standards

The production base is the standard expectation. It’s what should occur in the production process. However, Toyota sets itself apart with its distinct approach. They define standards as precise descriptions of the desired conditions.

Standards at Toyota hold great significance. They bring problems to light and motivate the company to address them promptly. Furthermore, Toyota communicates the ideal standard in a straightforward, clear, and visually apparent manner.

Toyota follows a lean manufacturing improvement process, which includes:

  • Stabilize 4M (Man/women, Machine, Material, Method): Ensure that labor, method, machine, and material are stable for smooth operations.
  • Flow: Gradually reduce batch size and queue length. Aim for a one-move-one system to cut costs.
  • Pull: Produce goods only when there is a customer order to have better control over work-in-process.
  • Improve the system: Continuously work on making the system better every day.

In a lean manufacturing system, standards directly link to actions. Let’s explore the three types and their strengths:

  • Written information on the supervisor’s desk drawer: Low power.
  • Picture posted at work: Higher power.
  • Actual examples of good and bad conditions installed at the place of use: Highest power.

Read more: Lean Manufacturing: Definition & its 3 Benefits

Visual management on lean manufacturing

Visual management is a strategy that aims to handle exceptions and achieve excellence. It involves creating a workplace where non-standard conditions can promptly be spotted and fixed.

According to Michel Greif’s book, “The Visual Factory,” the visual management triangle is defined as follows:

Visual Management Triangle

The picture reveals that individuals within a group perceive actions, knowledge, and perspectives in varying ways. With their bright displays and visual representations of production and inventory, computers will become more important on the production floor.

There are four levels of visual management in application:

  • Level 1: Notify only (lowest power)

Many organizations limit visual management to Level 1, which involves signs that convey instructions or restrictions.

  • Level 2: Attention-grabbing changes

Level 2 holds more power as it can effectively capture people’s attention and awaken them to something new. A traffic light serves as an excellent example of Level 2 visual management. It signals, “The light is turning green. You may proceed with your journey.”

  • Level 3: Regulating behavior

Having the right tools in the correct position is crucial in manufacturing. It ensures two key things: (a) availability when needed and (b) awareness when they’re not.

  • Level 4: Manufacturing defects are impossible

In manufacturing, we use poka-yokes to minimize defects in the product. We implement alarms on torque wrenches, electronic lights, and safety devices that disable engines if a team member enters the line of fire. This way, we receive timely notifications when errors occur.

5S on lean manufacturing

The 5S system is straightforward, comprising five key components: sort (seiri), set in order (seiton), shine (seiso), standardize (seiketsu), and sustain (shitsuke). Its purpose is to facilitate visual management, creating a work environment that is self-explanatory, self-regulating, and continuously improving.

Toyota values a clean and organized workplace as the bedrock of improvement. Let’s delve into each component of the 5S system, which defines the ideal conditions at Toyota.

1. Sort (Seiri)

Sorting involves eliminating unnecessary items from the workspace to enhance production efficiency. Accumulated piles of unneeded items impede smooth workflow, increasing complexity and longer waiting times.

To sort effectively, categorize items into four distinct groups:

  1. Work area essentials.
  2. Items required in other work areas.
  3. Potentially necessary items.
  4. Unnecessary items.

There are two methods you can use to simplify the elimination of unnecessary items. They are just in case management and red tagging. We will further explain them below.

Just in case management

This mindset is harmful because it ends up increasing production costs. Unnecessary items take up valuable space on shelves and floors. Even though they might have been helpful in the past, they are now outdated and never thrown away. These items make it hard for workers to find what they need.

As a result, companies need more space, racks, pallets, forklifts, and more extensive warehouses. They also need to hire more people to handle operations and management.

Red tagging

Identify your essential requirements and eliminate everything else to meet your production goals. The required method for organizing is through red tagging. Red tag labels provide crucial information about an item’s classification, ID, quantity, reason for red tagging, work component, and date.

Items not needed during sorting need to be red-tagged. Here’s the key to implementing red tagging:

  • ​​Set up a designated red tags removal location, such as a shelving unit or a roped-off area on the shop floor.
  • Schedule specific red tag breaks, allowing for several days or weeks of downtime. Downtime provides time to arrange recycling or disposal and enables managers and supervisors to review items before removal.
  • Explore various recycling options for unwanted items that may not initially appear as trash. Consider direct recycling, reselling, or bartering.
  • Establish clear procedures for the disposal of capital assets. Utilize a red tag disposal form to maintain an audit trail, especially for significant capital assets.
  • Measure the volume of red-tagged items by counting the number of filled bins, weighing the removed items, tracking the number of freed racks and shelves, and calculating the amount of freed floor space.
  • Commit regular red-tagging. Consider implementing an annual red tag week or conducting red tagging once per quarter using a dedicated red tag basket.

2. Set in order (Seiton)

Set in order is the crucial step of arranging everything in a convenient and accessible manner. The process begins only after completing the sorting phase. The main aim is to create a simple and consistent way of organizing tools, making finding and using them easier without unnecessary movement.

To streamline set-in orders, workers should initiate the process based on the tool and material usage frequency in production. Consider the following factors:

  • If you use items together, group them.
  • Position frequently used items as close to the user as possible.
  • If needed, connect the cable to the tool for automatic pulling out and putting it back in place.
  • Place items in accessible locations to minimize the need for users to bend or twist too much.
  • Arrange tools and materials in the order of their usage.

To simplify the set-in-order process, you can apply the following methods:

Rationalize location

Select a pilot area and create two maps on large sheets of paper. Depict the area’s description and potential outcomes. Outline the boundaries of the chosen location and use small sticky notes to represent the items within it (maintaining scale).

Attach the sticky notes to the map to reflect the current situation. Utilize red strings or arrows to illustrate the current movement of the matter.

Place a sizable chart beside the map and encourage team members to jot down their concerns, potential countermeasures, and comments. Allow the chart to remain for at least one week to gather feedback.

Then, create a what-could-be map using the same approach. Focus on addressing the identified hassles mentioned by the team members. Acknowledge and respond to each suggestion on the posted chart, minimizing unnecessary steps.

Finally, pick a vacant area in the plant or a parking lot. Grab some masking tape or chalk and draw out your desired layout. Use cardboard to mimic large equipment and colored chalk to indicate material movement. Once you’ve double-checked your design, it’s time to start moving the equipment.

Organize & apply color

For improved organization, align the remaining items following the three dimensions and incorporate color into the workspace. Keep in mind the fundamental principles of organizing: Where? What? How many?

Enhance workflow by rearranging equipment and parts racks. Implement a visual system, such as colored tape, to indicate the number of units, clearly displaying maximum and minimum levels or the required space. Establish consistent color standards and actively apply them in your workplace.

Ensure that everything is easily located and readily accessible. It should be effortless for anyone to find any item at any given time, and non-standard situations should be immediately apparent to everyone.

3. Shine and inspect (Seiso)

The company must effectively remove all dirt and maintain workplace cleanliness daily. Our 5S team needs to determine the following: what needs cleaning, how to clean it, who will perform the cleaning, and the level of cleanliness required.

In the 5S system, everyone is responsible for cleanliness. While the cleaning staff can still handle more extensive tasks, employees themselves should take care of the cleaning details. To cultivate this mindset, we must provide staff training and foster a corporate culture emphasizing responsibility.

Cleaning targets encompass storage areas, equipment, machineries, and their surroundings, such as hallways, windows, meeting rooms, offices, and regions under stairs. Create a comprehensive checklist detailing the specific items that require cleaning.

Determine the cleaning methods and ensure suitable equipment is available in a central area. Pack the following supplies at a minimum: broom, dustpan, hand brush, mop and bucket, duster bag, and a large trash can.

Post clear cleaning responsibilities and schedules. Incorporate a “5-minute cleanup” into every job to foster ownership and mutual respect among team members.

In addition, S3 entails equipment inspection, requiring production team members to assess their machinery’s condition regularly. They should receive training to identify minor changes in sound, smell, vibration, temperature, or any other indicators.

Develop inspection check sheets specifically for machines to facilitate these tasks. Lastly, train team members to address underlying causes of hygiene issues.

4. Standardize (Seiketsu)

Standardization is essential for ensuring the consistent and daily implementation of the 5S concept. Clear, simple, and visual standards are critical in this process. Implementing practical solutions to recognize and resolve any uncommon situations is essential.

To establish regular habits, companies can utilize schedules and checklists. The production board, where the kanban is displayed, serves as a standard, providing information on what to create, how many to make, and the deadline.

Standardization involves three steps to ensure consistent and correct implementation of the 5S pillars:

  • Ensure that every employee is fully aware of their responsibilities.

Employees need a clear understanding of their expectations to perform their duties effectively. Therefore, explaining the steps for concisely implementing 5S is crucial. To facilitate their knowledge, we should write their responsibilities on a checklist they can easily access throughout the day.

  • Ensure standardization becomes routine

Properly training employees is crucial to ensure the success of the 5S process. Employees who understand the process are more likely to execute it effectively.

  • Evaluate periodically.

Once you’ve taken these steps, regularly assess performance. You can form a team with employees from different departments or have department supervisors conduct evaluations. Ensure a system is in place to ensure tasks are consistently completed.

To have a successful S1 to S3 process, you must meet the following standards:

Standards for S1 to S3

The S1 standard (sort) must include the following:

  • Required items and items that are not needed
  • Targets, frequencies, and responsibilities for red-tags
  • Disposal procedure

The S2 standard (set in order) should include the following information:

  • Description and placement of signage
  • Meaning of different colors
  • Walking areas
  • Hazardous zones
  • Required protective clothing
  • Description of equipment signage and footprints

The S3 standard (shine and inspect) should include the following:

  • Items to clean and check.
  • Procedures for cleaning and checking.
  • Designated individuals responsible for cleaning and checking.
  • Clearly defined schedule for cleaning and checking.
  • Accountability for ensuring specific areas are cleaned and inspected.

Adopting a standardized method for assessing S5 status is essential to ensure consistency. We typically customize the 5S scorecard to align with our workplace and regular inspection schedule. Ultimately, integrating 5S into our standard work procedures is crucial.

5. Sustain (Shitsuke)

Engagement holds the key to ensuring the sustainability of 5S as our habitual way of conducting business. Keeping our employees motivated and aligned on the right track is crucial.

To support the long-term implementation of 5S, we can adopt several approaches, such as:

Promotion & communication

Here are some ideas to promote 5S effectively:

  • 5S report board: Establish a centralized report board that showcases 5S objectives, current progress, noteworthy 5S achievements, and visual representations of before and after transformations.
  • 5S catch of the month: Recognize and reward employees who excel in implementing 5S. Display their accomplishments on the 5S report boards and the company intranet.
  • 5S slogan or logo contest: Engage team members in creating a distinctive identity for their 5S activities. Encourage members to develop fun and memorable phrases or symbols representing the initiative. For instance, one company created the term “WOW” (War on Waste) and made cool pictures to go with it.
  • 5S core group: Create a special team that follows the 5S rules. Ask for volunteers from different parts of the plant. Ensure they have everything they need, like access to copying machines, computers, and money for promotions.


Incorporate 5S into the lean manufacturing training plan. Determine the appropriate level of training for each individual and promptly provide it. Here’s a simplified training plan:

  • Team members: Attend a two-hour introduction to 5S.
  • 5S core group members: Engage in a one-day implementation of 5S.
  • Supervisors and managers: Participate in a one-day implementation of 5S.

Investing in 5S training results in quick returns. It introduces team members to the language of lean manufacturing and serves as the foundation for all future activities.

Preparing 5S implementation

Before implementing the 5S concept in the company, it’s essential to take specific preparatory steps. These include:

  1. Choose the departments and people involved: Decide which departments and individuals will participate in the implementation process.
  2. Figure out the training needed: Identify the specific training required for the selected departments and individuals.
  3. Decide on the tools and resources: Determine the tools and resources that will help make the 5S implementation process more manageable.

Defining these concrete factors will kickstart the 5S implementation process.

Moreover, active employee involvement plays a crucial role in the success of 5S. Employees should actively demonstrate openness, willingness, and commitment to contribute to the success of 5S projects. Their active support is vital for achieving positive outcomes.

To boost employee engagement, try the following methods:

  • Teach and train employees.
  • Give them examples and guidelines.
  • Allow open discussions about any obstacles to implementing 5S.
  • Help them understand how the 5S process works to overcome potential difficulties.

Benefits of implementing 5S

  • Organize the workspace to minimize unnecessary movement.
  • Maintain equipment consistently to reduce waiting times and enhance quality.
  • Empower operators with greater responsibility for their work environment, fostering a sense of value.
  • Ensure a clean and well-maintained environment to promote safety.
  • Boost company productivity to drive profit growth.

Disadvantages of implementing 5S

  • Program vs. Ongoing Process: It’s often seen as just a program and not an ongoing process, meaning its implementation doesn’t last long.
  • Employee Resistance: Employees may resist changes to the work system.
  • Emphasis on Scores: There’s too much focus on employee scores instead of actual performance improvements, so the results often don’t change much.
  • Blind Adoption of 5S Concept: Many organizations mindlessly adopt the 5S concept without considering their specific problems, making problem-solving ineffective.


Visual management and 5S are essential foundations of lean production. Visual management has four implementation levels, from the lowest to the highest.

5S is a system that supports visual management and consists of five components: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. Each of them has a method to make implementation easier.

To successfully implement 5S and visual management, companies should involve team members in inspecting and improving equipment. The following chapter will discuss another essential foundation of lean production called Total Productive Management (TPM).


Dennis, P. (2017). Lean production simplified: a plain-language guide to the world’s most powerful production system. Crc press.

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