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Sort: The First Step in the 5S Methodology

Sort 5S


Sort is the first, and most important step in the 5S methodology. Sort relates to tidiness and the absence of clutter. Here is a deeper dive into the distinction:

What does Sort mean in the 5S methodology?

Sort is derived from the Japanese word Seiri (整理). All materials, including equipment, tools and supplies, and work-related objects, should be examined in this process. 

Sort is the word used to define the step where unnecessary objects are removed. This step reduces clutter and makes the work environment tidy so that it is easy to find resources that are needed to do the work at hand.

When you enter this first phase of the 5S process, all there is to do is to step onto your shop floor or production environment and look at it with new eyes. Ask: What is obvious in the way of an efficient process? You can spot the most obvious clutter immediately. Look for empty boxes, bins of rejected parts, and even obsolete machinery or tools.

Run your eyes over every surface. Is there junk cluttering up the floor or raised workbenches or desks? Look at shelves. Look in closets and storage bins. Are there unorganized materials stacked around in various places that you don’t want to throw away?  Do they need to be there? How long have they been there? 

Get rid of all the junk. Beyond the obvious clutter, go through the whole shop and dispose of the materials that are never used. Put them in a dumpster, sell them, give them away and recycle where possible. 

Now examine what tools and materials are critical to performing production. Dispose of items that haven’t been touched in months or years.

How to Sort: Put Everything into 3 Categories

There are three categories for every item in your work area: I need it, I don’t need it, and I don’t know. For items that you need, you move them on to the next step, Set in Order. Recycle, sell or give to charity unneeded items. For things you are not sure about, you put an appropriate expiration date on each item and then check once the expiration date has passed to see if it is useful or not. In this way, you Sort your workspace, and then you follow up again on a later date for things you are unsure about.

Benefits of the Sort step 

Here are some benefits of the Sort process from the 5S methodology:

  • Free up production space.
  • Create new or reconfigured space for new or reimagined business processes.
  • Scrap or unused tools, in some cases, have residual value, so sell them or give them away where appropriate. 
  • Freeing up space will reduce the need to expand and optimize the use of existing space.
  • Time will be reduced when doing your next inventory or audit.
  • You will save time when seeking an item that is actually needed.
  • Time will also be saved when moving objects, goods, and products through the work environment because less clutter means easier and safer navigation because there are fewer objects on a path to an objective.

The Sort Step is Not Just For Manufacturing

Too many workplaces are cluttered with tools, materials, and objects that are no longer needed. This does not just apply inside a factory. Apply the Sort process in the office, warehouse, distribution center, and all production environments. In these places, you may identify obsolete paperwork, books, manuals or binders. There may be filing cabinets with outdated records that should be archived offsite. You can even bring it to the staff kitchen, break room and fridge.

Even bulletin boards can be clogged with outdated notices. And don’t forget your computers. Apply the sorting process to digital spaces too. Systems will become cluttered with obsolete programs over time. Unneeded, excess or useless data accumulates. If possible, archive it. Call in your Information Technology department to tackle this.

Once complete, the Sort process can bring a new sense of space, process flow, and ease of movement, therefore, the process of Sorting is one of the most satisfying S words in the 5S methodology.

Engage in the 5S Process to Learn the Value of 5S

5S is not just for others to follow. As a leader, you must complete a 5S project first in a small area of your world to see the before and after. Following the first 2Ss (Sort and Set in Order) of the 5S process, you will be faced with difficult choices. Do I keep it or do I toss it? Does it have value? Will it have value in the future? Does it have value for others?

All of these choices are not easy to make, and therefore, going through the Sorting process, you learn to identify priorities. You must push yourself to be disciplined in your own workspace in order to become an example of efficiency for others.

Now that you have Sorted your workspace, you can stand back and ask: do I have what I need to work efficiently? Do I have ONLY what I need? Do I have anything that I might need in the future, and if yes, does it have an expiration date on it for me to reevaluate its future necessity?

Be proud of you work in Sorting your area. Show it off. Show off all the clutter you have taken out of your workspace. Say, “look at all the stuff I had getting in my way of the essential work that I perform!”

After Sort, Set is the Next Step in the 5S Methodology

The next step in the 5S process is Set or Set in Order 

More Lean 5S Methodology Links

Here are some more helpful links to help you learn about the 5S Methodology: