The Lean Management Identification of Waste in the Production Process
Identifying waste is fundamental to successful lean thinking, and taking shortcuts at this step results in significant loss of the benefits of going lean. The 2 lean management tools used to identify waste in both service and manufacturing firms are;

1.    The 5S – A 5-step approach designed to aid attainment and maintenance of sound workplace organization.

2.    VSM – A visual tool that aids identification and reporting of waste and rooms for improvements. VSM technique is easy to understand, and applying it results in huge productivity gains and reduction of waste.

A quick note: The tools are sufficiently easy for nearly any business manager to understand and apply, even without prior knowledge of lean manufacturing. In this article, we will discuss the 5S technique and VSM in the following chapter.

5S Workplace Productivity

The 5s consist of 5 main steps that can be used in any workplace in a business – from sourcing of raw materials and production, to order fulfillment and delivery – to identify waste and improve efficiency. The 5 steps are;

  • Sort and get rid of items that are not required.

  • Straighten and organize the remaining items (after sorting).

  • Sweep and ensure the workplace is well-organized.

  • Standardize to ensure that waste and inefficiencies are quickly and consistently noted.

  • Sustain the above steps; make and maintain 5S as a way of life in all your business operations.

NB: 5S delivers more than workplace tidiness and good housekeeping; it offers managers a means to encourage a workplace centered on identification of waste, optimal efficiency, and to some degree, workplace pride. Properly executed, 5S steps deliver tangible business benefits such as improved workflow, process efficiency, staff productivity, and a safe working environment.

Step 1: Sort (Seiri-Japanese):

Sort, the first step in the 5s technique, simply means removing all items that are not needed and/or used to complete the on-going task in a given work area. This is because the unrequired items, even if they are not causing any harm by their mere presence, create clutter resulting in a crowded and disorganized work area. A crowded work space makes it hard for the employees to find the tools or items they need to complete the work-area designated task. The unneeded tools can be as basic as misplaced files, documents or tools that belong somewhere else, random distribution cases left on the production floor rather than in the warehouse, decommissioned machinery or equipment, and more.

Sorting challenges managers to train their workers to remove from their work area, items they do not intend to use, and by so doing, create and maintain a clutter-free work space environment that results in enhanced safety (reduced risk of workers tripping over tolls or other items) and productivity. Other benefits derived from sorting include;

  • Optimized floor space usage.

  • Systematic and smoother workflow and decreased non-value added actions and processes.

  • Saved time – not time wasted searching for materials, documents and/or tools.

  • Machine and/or system breakdown is reduced, since well-maintained, clean equipment breakdown less often.

  • Errors are reduced, resulting in defects free products.

  •  Improvement in satisfaction and motivation of workers.

The Key Steps to 5S – Sorting

1. Identify, and where practically possible, take photos of the work area.

2. Identify and flag items that are not needed in the work area. You must be cautious with how far you want to take the red-tagging. Ideally, limit the scope of red-tagging to a specific work space, and don't move to another work space until red-tagging in the current area is complete. The following table gives a sort inspection checklist;

Table: Sort Inspection checklist

Search the Following Spaces;

  • Work surfaces.
  • Floors.
  •  Corners near entrance, stairs, and exits.
  • Under and behind work equipment and benches.
  • Along walls.


Check Boards and Walls For:

  • Unneeded posted or hanging items.
  • Out of date memos.
  •  Useless messages and signboards.
  • Unused statistics and messages.

Unneeded furniture

  • Desks
  • Chairs
  • Benches
  • Carts
  • Filing cabinets

Investigate Presences Of Unneeded Supplies

  •  In-process inventory
  • Small parts
  • Raw materials
  • Spare parts
  • Spare inventory


Search Storage Spaces

  • Carts.
  • Floors.
  • Shelves
  • Lockers
  • Workbenches


Search For Any Other Unneeded Item

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  • Trash Cans
  • Clothe
  • Tools
  • Personal Items


3.  Design a criterion for red-tagging items. Ideally, ask the following questions;

  • Does the item belong to the particular work station?

  • Is the item used regularly; daily, weekly or monthly?

  • Will the item be needed intensively in the following months?

  •  Is the item still needed in the particular work area?

Clearly show your chosen criteria on the red-tagging document.

4.  Design a method of dealing with the red-tagged items. The table below will show you how to categorize the red-tagged items and how to deal with items in the various categories.

Table: Red-tagged Items Disposal Guide


Likely Options


  • Discard
  • Sell
  • Hold for depreciation
  •  Give away


  • Discard
  • Return to supplier


  • Discard
  • Recycle

Not needed in the particular work area

  • ·Move to the appropriate location

Used on a minimum, once per day

  • Store at point of use
  • Carry on person

Used once/week

  •  Keep close to the particular point of use

Less than once/month

  • Store in an easily to access area

Seldom used, but must keep

  • Store out of way, with planned retrieval and easy accessibility.
  •  If a less costly option exists, discard the item.

Usage unknown.

  • Transfer to central storage if unable to figure out its use.
  • Discard.

 2. Straighten (Seiton)

There is a slight difference in the Japanese and English meaning of the 2nd step of the 5S. In Japanese, Seiton literally means arranging items neatly and/or making things tidy. In English, the term refers to the concept of consistently maintain a neat and orderly workspace, and making sure there is no ambiguity that usually cause diminished quality and accidents. However, seiton is not merely about maintaining an orderly workplace. Seiton is about figuring the "right place for each item or equipment, and making sure that each item can be found, at any time, in the exact place where it is supposed to be kept. Done properly, straighten makes tools and items easier to access and return, which in turn boost operational efficiency, staff and workplace morale, and staff productivity.

Straighten, before and After Images.

Quick Seiton Guide

  • Review and confirm that the organization has properly performed and completed the sorting step.

  • Review the work stations and figure out the equipment, supplies, tools, and information needed to complete the work area designated task successfully, and the location they should be kept to facilitate the most efficient and streamlined workflow. This entails holding discussion with the tactical staff who use the tools.

  • Make sure the tools are located as close as possible to the task for which they are required.

Also, make sure;

  • Machines, products, and items are properly labeled.

  • Your processes are properly documented using visual management systems.

  • Safety warning, emergency direction, and each item limit are placed in easy to read, and obvious locations.

  • Everything necessary is where it should be, in the correct place, and any extraneous item is immediately put away.

3. Sweep

The final step, sweep, is typically a combination of inspection, workplace tidiness, and continuous improvement. Sweep primary objective is to make sure that all work spaces are clutter free, and areas of inefficiencies and possible waste are highlighted. Sweep enhance workplace safety for employees, and save on maintenance expenses by facilitating quick detection of malfunctioning tools and equipment.

How to Implement Sweep – The 4 Key Steps

1.    Start by performing a comprehensive inspection and then clean all the work spaces (every space including the floors, windows, wipe equipment down, remove garbage, etc.). The primary goal of this stage is to bring the work area to the desired state the business wants to maintain.

2.    Assign a specific person (sweeper) the responsibility to Sweep a defined work area.

3.    Give each sweeper a standard checklist for inspecting and cleaning his/her workspace, including the timeframe for sweeping the workplace each day. For example, 15 minutes.

4.    Perform a daily inspection – let the sweeper conduct a visual inspection daily to identify all possible causes of waste, suggest action to remedy the problem, and assign a specific person the responsibility of restoring the workplace to the desired condition. The daily inspection aims to minimize the need to conduct the daily sweep.

4. Standardize;

Also called the 5S Seiketsu, standardize, refer to the process of making sure the first 3 steps of the 5S are standardized; i.e., there is a standard quality level and method of performing each step. Standardizing work is one of the most essential principles of lean production.

Standardizing the workplace ensure workspaces are well-organized such that all forms of inefficiencies, waste and clutter are identified as early as possible. It improves order and efficiency of the production process, takes guess work out of the production process, and empowers tactical level staff to confidently execute assigned duties and make decisions without relying too much on the senior level managers. The most common way of standardizing work is establishment of formalized checklists and procedures for all tasks associated with delivering value to the client. Collectively, these checklists and procedure manuals are called standard work documents.

Examples of methods of standardizing work (let's assume a winery).

A common method of standardizing (under 5S) is to give employees visual cues and instructions of what the tasks they are responsible of accomplishing, and where certain tools should be placed. For instance, in a winery, visual instructions could include;

  • Location markers showing where equipment and tools (for example, shadow boards) should be stored/placed on the shelves or walls of the manufacturing area.

  • Painting floors to show where materials should be kept prior to their application in key processes, or areas where people should not or should walk on.

  • Painting guidance marks for tankers drivers in desptach to offsite bottling, or trucks in grapes offloading. 

  • Standardized diagonal/filling tape

  • Color coding standards.

5. Sustain

This is the last step in the 5S technique. It focusses on developing and putting in place measures to maintain the desired performance attained through the previous 4 steps of the 5-S. Normally, this step is the most challenging to attain since it is as much about implementing formal workplace procedure as it is about changing the organizational culture. For Sustain to be attained, everyone in the organization – right from senior management to the lowest level employee – must understand and commit to the principle of gradual, but continuous improvement. The following tips normally help manager to successfully implement Sustain.

  • Make sure your employees understand the importance of 5S in attaining the set objectives – Help the employees understand the direct relationship between the 5S and key performance indicators in your business (for example, those related to safety, environmental performance, quality, cost, etc.).

  • Make sure that the other 5S steps such as Sweep are not too demanding or burdensome on employees. For example, have the employees maintain the daily Sweep inspection at between 6-10 minutes. Ideally, have them perform the operation at the same time of the day, each day.

  •  Encourage knowledge exchange (idea-swapping and peer-to peer learning) between your employees.

  • Make it a responsibility for top level managers to visit the production floor a minimum of 1 time a day to give low level employee a chance to ask questions, share ideas or give feedback.

  • As much as possible, make your business tour ready at all times or at a super short moment. For instance, if an important client or a VIP such as government minster or the president arrives at your premises for an impromptu visit, the business profile and reputation would benefit immensely from having the premises tidy, well-organized and tour ready without preparation to facilitate the visit.

  • Communicate employees' success in achieving the 5S via visual aids such as posters, noticeboards, performance reviews or newsletter.

What's the True Cost of 5s Implementation?

Successful implementation of 5S can be achieved at almost any budget. Nevertheless, successful adoption of 5S does require some resources but the exact amount differs from one firm to another. On a minimum, your business will require money to train the workers on how to clean and re-organize their workspaces, use key 5S tools such as labelling tools, and more. However, do not be put off by the huge budget that might pop-up once the workplace analysis is completed; the secret is to commit to gradual, but continuous improvements.


The best method towards adopting 5S differs from business to business, mainly depending on the needs, processes, facility and the culture in the given workplace. However, regardless of how it's done, all business, large or small, enjoy multiple benefits from adopting the 5S technique. The key benefits that can arise from adoption of the 5S include:

  •  Increased profitability: Your business can save money, labour hours, and other key resources.

  • More productive workforce: With checklists and standard procedures in place, employees can focus on what is beneficial.

  • Better Service: With a cleaner, more organized, streamlines workplace, workers can dedicate more time towards customer satisfaction and quality product – together called "Value" in lean management.