Guide to Implementing 5S; The fourth ‘S’, Standardize


How to run a Lean 5S Visual Management Event. This blog will explain the Fourth “S” in the 5 S’s, Standardize. The following blog is number four in a five part series. This blog is based on a 5S Visual Management Event at one of our client partners

In the First “S”, Sort, we have eliminated the clutter (those items that do not belong). This has helped us gain space.

In the 2nd “S”, Set in Order, we organized those items that belong (“everything has a place and everything in its place”).

In the 3rd “S”, Shine, we have built the culture of cleanliness and organization. This is where most 5S implementations stop.

The 5-day 5S event ends with a lot of “lip service” that 5S will be maintained. Six months later when you visit the area that was the focus of the 5S event, it has reverted back to the “old” unorganized state.

Why doesn’t 5S sustain?


The first answer is the lack of infrastructure to support Lean and therefore 5S.

Without education and buy-in of Lean and 5S, the 5S efforts will be less important than production.

If the Business Unit Leader/ Chief Nursing Officer / Plant Manager places less importance on 5S, then so will their team. 5S will not sustain in an environment where it is not completely supported.

The 2nd answer to the question “Why doesn’t 5S sustain?” Is that we do not perform the 4th and 5th “S” effectively.

Most companies have a 5S event but in reality only complete 3 of the S’s (Sort, Set in Order and Shine). In this blog, we are going to explain what we believe to be an effective yet simple approach to implementing the 4th “S”, Standardize.

In order to make a “process” a standard, we must have accountability for the standard.

We find that the word “accountability” is often interpreted incorrectly. Most think of “accountability” in the negative sense. For example, if an operator does something wrong, he/she must be held accountable.

Good Lean and Six Sigma practitioners interpret “accountability” in the positive sense.

For example, when an operator excels at a process, he/she should be held accountable through reward and recognition. When an operator does something wrong, that is a sign that there was an error in the process. The error should be mitigated and the process owner retrained.

In order to have “accountability”, we must have a control and feedback that comes from the control.

In the 4th “S”, Standardize, the control comes in form of a formal 5S Audit.


The audit is customized to each functional area and specifically defines what that area should look like. The audit is performed by a group of people that are un-biased to that area.

The maturity of your 5S implementation will delegate the frequency of the audits. You may audit weekly in the first three months of the implementation. As cleanliness and organization become habit, the frequency may lessen.

At SSDSI, we integrate the audit into Standard Operating Procedures and/or ISO documentation. We also urge the organization to add 5S criteria to employee and team evaluations.


Feedback is an important part of the 4th ‘S”.


When the audit is performed and an area falls short of a “passing” score, we then initiate “accountability”.

If the area did not pass, there was something wrong with the process. Were the people in the area trained properly? Were they given enough time to complete their 5S duties each day?

These questions can come from a Reaction Plan in a Six Sigma Control Plan.

True training doesn’t come from a short seminar or meeting to inform every one of the “new way”. Training (or Feedback) is a continual process. I may make an error multiple times, but with constant feedback I will eventually make “doing it right” a habit. If that habit comes from a “standard” then my habit will have little variation from others who perform the same process.

What solutions can you think of to Control a 5S Implementation in order to Sustain for the Long Term? Have you been part of a 3S Implementation (a 5S Implementation with the last 2 S’s left out)? Tell us your experience in order to educate others.