Lean and 5S strategies can help improve organization and streamline processes, but what does all of the terminology mean? When you’re trying to understand the basics of the 5S Methodology and Lean Manufacturing, it may help to begin with the definitions of the parts of each process. Explore this guide to 5S and lean manufacturing terms to learn more about the processes used to improve safety and efficiency in industrial facilities and beyond.

What Does 5S Methodology Mean

The 5S Methodology is a guide in removing unnecessary items (sort) and cleaning and organizing the workspace for better efficiency as well as creating a visual workspace including 5S color coding and signage that’s standardized across the facility to promote habits that remain in the long term.

The 5S steps include:

  • Seiri (Sort): Remove unnecessary items to create a clutter-free workspace.
  • Seiton (Straighten, Set in Order): Organize the workspace with visual cues—including clear signage and floor marking tape—so it’s easy to find necessary items, quickly.
  • Seiso (Shine): Clean and inspect workstations, equipment, and machinery regularly, daily preferred, to ensure continued cleanliness.
  • Seiketsu (​Standardize): Expand the 5S policies and implementation throughout the facility for consistency and put an audit process in place for continued evaluation.
  • Shitsuke (Sustain): Encourage all employees to abide by the 5S policies through self-audits, regular training, review, and updates to processes as determined necessary.

The 5S Methodology is similar to the process created by Henry Ford, which targeted efficiency using the acronym CANDO: Cleaning up, Arranging, Neatness, Discipline, Ongoing improvement.

How Does 6S, or Six Sigma, Relate to 5S?

The 6S method builds on the 5S Methodology by adding a sixth item: Safety. This is sometimes referred to as 5S + Safety. The Safety step focuses on ensuring all safety standards are met by identifying and fixing hazards.

What Is Lean Manufacturing?

The Lean Methodology focuses on reducing waste in manufacturing and other industries. This includes physical waste—such as packaging, inventory, manufacturing byproducts, and production materials—as well as wasted time, employee skill, or effort. A cornerstone of Lean is visual communication, which can provide insight into processes to reduce the average time spent on tasks, create easier-to-understand workflows, and pair with orientation and training methods to ensure all employees have the resources necessary for their best performance.

Glossary of Common 5S and Lean Terminology

Explore our basic overview of the most-used 5S and Lean terms, with definitions and implementation tips for each. While this list is by no means exhaustive, understanding the language is important in the application of Lean and 5S techniques.


When a production or manufacturing system is congested or backed up, this is referred to as a bottleneck. Bottlenecks can be due to too many requests, an inefficient process, low productivity, or supply chain issues, among other obstacles that slow the manufacturing process or output.

Continuous Improvement

The final step in both Lean and 5S methodologies prescribes “continuous improvement.” Because no process is ever perfect, the goal is to always seek new ways to improve. Lean and 5S are ongoing; when one improvement cycle ends, you begin from step one to identify new areas that require updates. This may include adding, adjusting, or repairing floor marking tape and signage, swapping to projected signage for better visibility, improving or updating training methods, replacing outdated workflows, or identifying workplace hazards through audits and inspections.

Five Whys

The Five Whys is an analysis tool used to assess an issue and identify the best fix. This process can provide insight into the root cause of a problem, such as why a process has failed, and help to distinguish logical steps to improve the process and prevent errors in the future.

For a basic example of putting the Five Whys method to use, let’s consider this problem: The floor marking tape is not adhering properly.

  • Why: The tape is wrinkled
  • Why: Because it’s not unrolling properly
  • Why: Because the tape roll is off-center
  • Why: It isn’t installed correctly in the floor marking equipment
  • Why: Because the rod that holds the roll of tape is not properly screwed into place, which is causing the tape roll to slide out of alignment

The Problem - The floor marking tape is not adhering properlyThis question-and-answer technique has provided the root cause for the floor marking issues: Because the tape is not secured within the equipment, the tape is not applied correctly. When the rod has been secured, the tape should adhere as required. If it does not, the employee can use the Five Whys method again to see what other issues may be at play.

Gemba (or Gemba Walk)

Gemba Walk, from a Japanese term that means “the actual place,” is used to evaluate processes on the production floor, in the warehouse, or in other areas within the manufacturing facility. Gemba is a tool meant for observation—not action—to examine the process, understand how it works, and use that knowledge to later identify possible improvements. A Gemba Walk should be used to listen to employees and document the processes and observations, which can be used to inform updates at a later date.


Kaizen is an improvement strategy used in industrial and manufacturing locations, from Japanese meaning “change for the better.” The focus is on continuous improvement, rather than a “set it and forget it” mindset.

Kaizen Event

A Kaizen Event uses the Kaizen improvement strategy to tackle a specific goal in a short timeframe, usually in a span of three to five days. The goals for a Kaizen Event target one specific area of improvement and anything outside the scope of the single event is addressed either through another targeted Kaizen Event, or through a separate, long-term initiative.


Kanban is an inventory control system, or “Pull System” used in Lean Manufacturing. Also referred to as Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing, this process reduces overproduction by producing to customer need, rather than based on forecasting. This method bases production on demand and relies on communication to indicate needs. Color-coded floor tape and custom signage are useful tools when establishing a Kanban system.

Key Performance Indicators (K.P.I.)

Key Performance Indicators are metrics that evaluate and determine success, which may include production performance, availability (based on total uptime versus downtime), process cycle time, maintenance cost, accidents, yield, waste, and customer loyalty or return rate.

PDCA Cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act)

The PDCA cycle is a process used to support the continuous improvement method. This project management tool is useful while developing a new process, implementing facility or process changes, or beginning a new project (such as a Kaizen Event). The steps include:

  • Plan: Establish your objectives or goals
  • Do: Implement the processes required to reach the goal described in the Plan step
  • Check: Evaluate the data and compare to any information from before implementing the new processes
  • Act: Also called “Adjust,” this step is similar to Continuous Improvement in that processes are updated or modified as the outcome is evaluated. Additionally, this step may identify unintended risks that were introduced with the changes.

Pull/Pull System

A Pull System begins work or creates products when there is demand, rather than carrying an inventory based on forecasting. This system can be less wasteful than a Push System but requires high levels of communication and flexibility.

Push System

A Push System is a production method that produces materials or products based on predictions—whereas the pull-based system is demand-driven. This may include acquiring materials or producing products based on a schedule rather than on-demand or may involve an inventory process that relies on forecasting based on previous years, quarters, or seasons.

Red Tagging

The Red Tag process reduces clutter and improves organization. To start, employees identify items that are broken, or out of place, or no longer necessary in a workspace. The employee labels each removed item with an identification tag that includes a brief description of the item, the date it was removed, its original location and who removed the item, and what should be done with the item when the hold period is up—usually one month later.

If the employee finds that they need the item before the hold period is up, they retrieve it. If not, the item is either repurposed, disposed of, or moved to an area where the item is found necessary. The Red Tag system may be used as part of a 5S or Lean methodology, or alone.

SMARTspecific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-specific

SMART is a goalsetting guide that’s meant to zero in on needs to create goals with the most benefit. SMART goals are:

  • Specific: You know what your objective is, and what needs to be done in order to achieve it. A non-specific goal may be to provide more training for employees, while a specific goal is to implement an annual two-day refresher training for employees who drive forklifts with the intention to reduce unsafe practices and damage.
  • Measurable: The goal should be trackable—for example, the training listed above may set out to reduce forklift damage to pallets by 50%. This provides a goal that can be measured, whereas “reduce forklift damage to pallets” is too broad, with no specific benchmarks.
  • Attainable/Achievable: The goal should be realistic. Is your goal something you can accomplish as a whole, and on the timeline you’ve set? Hosting annual refresher courses is an attainable goal, but can your location reduce forklift damage by 50%, or is a smaller number more likely?
  • Relevant: What benefit is provided by the goal you’ve proposed? A refresher training gives employees the opportunity to learn, but also helps prevent waste from damage and improves overall safety. However, requiring all employees to attend refresher training on forklift safety—regardless of whether or not they work with or near forklifts—would be less beneficial.
  • Time-Specific: What is the deadline for your goal? Stating that mandatory forklift training will be implemented in order to reach a 50% reduction in pallet damage doesn’t involve any deadlines. However, implementing an annual refresher training every January with a goal to reduce forklift damage by 50% within two years includes information about the goal’s timeframe.

Value Stream Mapping

This method evaluates processes from start to finish to analyze every step in order to identify value and waste—including both physical values such as materials and product as well as non-physical value including employee time and skill. The results can be mapped as a flow chart, which assists in process improvements dedicated to reducing waste.

Visual Management or Visual Workplace

A visual communication method uses floor tape, wall and floor signs, and other visual cues to improve communication within a facility. These cues may be intended for employees, visitors, or both. These visuals may improve:

  • Navigation
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Organization
  • Safety
  • Customer service
  • Time management
  • Traffic flow


Waste is created by non-value-added activities, as well as through manufacturing error or defects. Lost sales opportunities due to lack of product is another example of waste. Updating processes can reduce time spent waiting, while following the Lean methodology provides employees with more autonomy so there is less time wasted while waiting for management to delegate tasks. Not all waste is created on-site: Supply chain logistics such as long lead times, packaging waste, and transportation issues can contribute to waste as well.

Waste within a facility can include physical and non-physical waste such as:

  • Inventory
  • Materials
  • Damaged product
  • Over-production
  • Time
  • Employee skills
  • Budget

When implementing Lean or 5S Methodology within your facility, consider these terms and processes. Or, use this glossary of terminology to improve the pieces of Lean and 5S methods that you’ve already implemented. Refer to our Resource Center for more information on implementing these processes in your industrial facility, production floor, or warehouse.