5S consists of five key steps for maintaining an efficient workspace in order to improve the quality of products: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. The methodology is one of the cornerstone practices of lean manufacturing. It is a systematic framework for workspace organization based on the idea that a better work environment results in better operations, which in turn leads to better products.

5S helps reduce waste by maintaining a systematically organized workspace in which problems immediately become apparent and are thus easy to detect and fix.

What is Visual Management?

Visual management is key to a successful 5S implementation. The goal of visual management is to make the situation clear simply by looking at it with as little observation or time as possible. Visual management is also closely related to the lean concept of “going to gemba,” or “the real place.”

John Shook, Senior Advisor and Executive Chairman of the Lean Enterprise Institute, writes of the importance of visual management: “To quote Dr. Thoralf Sundt of Mayo Clinic, “If I can see it, I can fix it.” The reverse must also be true – it’s hard to fix what you can’t see.”

Types of visual management include visual displays, which share information, and visual controls, which prevent abnormalities from occurring.

Here are some common tools used on the shop floor for visual management in a 5S implementation.

Data Displays

This stack light is an example of an Andon system used to visually communicate the status of a process.

This stack light is an example of an Andon system used to visually communicate the status of a process. (Source)

Andon is a system that notifies management of a quality or process problem. This is often accomplished using a light stack or other video or audio signal that alerts management of a defect, shortage, or other issue.

Dashboards make information about production processes and fundamental daily activities visually available in a coherent, timely, and regular manner. This makes it easier to determine production status and makes abnormalities, waste, and scrap obvious.

Markings, Labels, & Signs

An example of floor markings being used to mark off a potentially hazardous area

An example of floor markings being used to mark off a potentially hazardous area (source)

Floor markings such as tape can be used to outline work areas, mark the positions where equipment should be located, and denote hazardous areas. They can also be used to denote specific locations for raw materials, finished goods, shipping, and more.

Labels indicate the contents of containers. They can also be used to highlight potential hazards.

Wall signs & banners can be hung up to call attention to storage areas and cleanup areas.

Tool Organization

Shadow boards highlight where a tool should be replaced after being used and make it obvious when a tool is missing. To create a shadow board, trace the outline of each tool onto a pegboard where it hangs.

5S shadow board

An example of a shadow board, which helps keep tools in their place and makes it obvious when a tool is missing.

Kaizen foam is a similar tool used to organize tool drawers. Typically, lean manufacturers line tool drawers with kaizen foam and cut outlines of the tools out of the foam. Like a shadow board, this method denotes a specific place for each tool and makes it clear when a tool is missing.

Kaizen Foam

Kaizen foam helps organize tool drawers by making it obvious when a tool is missing or out of place. (Source)


If done well, you can communicate a lot about a process through the layout of the shop floor. In a flow shop, machines are arranged to reflect the product flow. This makes it easy to visualize details about your process such as where material is and where bottlenecks are occurring.

In contrast, a job shop is arranged such that the flow of materials is determined by the location of the machines. The machines are often arranged in functional groups. While job shops require less planning to set up, they tend to become chaotic if not maintained consistently.

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