What is Standardize?
The fourth step in the lean 5S (6S) process is seiketsu, or standardize. Standardize should really be nearly effortless if you have properly executed the first three steps in the 5S process – seiri (sort), seiton (straighten), and seiso (sweep). In fact, the first 3 steps of 5S are so vital and central to 5S that many companies actually refer to 5S as 3S rather than 5S.

On that note, others call it 4S and still others call it 6S and add safety. While none of these approaches is necessarily wrong, it’s key to understand that at a minimum the first three steps must be mastered to excel at lean.

That said, standardize is fundamentally about establishing clear, unambiguous norms for people to perform to. Standards are a prerequisite for continuous improvement. As Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System (TPS) put it, “Where there is no standard, there can be no improvement.”


Taiichi Ohno

If every employee carries out activities in their own unique way, each time they do something, how can you know for certain when the company has truly improved the way it does any given thing? In other words, consistency is a must. Without consistency, improvement cannot be measured, or expected. Standards eliminate the guess work.

Visual management is a powerful approach to establishing standards. By making standards visible you make conformance far more likely and efficient. It helps everyone know what to do and how to carry it out, with minimal opportunity for mistakes and debate. Visual standards help us to quickly recognize when something is not right , prompting us to develop with countermeasures, fueling continuous improvement.

Why Standardize?
The ultimate reason for standards is entropy. Entropy is a measure of the disorder in any system. The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy in all isolated systems has a natural tendency to increase. That is, without intervention, systems become more disorderly on their own.

Thus, no matter how well we sort, straighten and sweep our hearts out, sooner or later disorder will result, unless we intervene. One way to think of standardization is as an entropy prevention method.

Examples and Techniques
Let’s take a look at some good examples of visual management standards.

  • 5S Radar Chart: A good and proven way to maintain your progress is by using a 5S Radar Chart to track your workplace success. The goal is to reach a score of 5 in each area and strive to keep it up throughout the improvement process.

    Radar Chart

  • Safety Cross: Because safety is always a priority, some use a safety cross. A safety cross is a visual tool that tracks when and how often accidents happen. Days that are accident-free are shaded green, while days shaded in red are days when an accident occurred. The cross shape is not mandatory but is used frequently as a cross symbolizes safety.

    Safety Cross

  • Color Coding: Another good idea for visual management is color coding the workplace. This avoids confusion and should be based on the existing standards that your company already has in place. Make sure to check with your safety officer before implementing this.
  • Standardize Cleaning: This technique is used to standardize cleaning routines throughout the workplace. This can just be printed out and posted throughout the workplace. This helps to track what needs to be cleaned, who’s responsible to carry out the task and when it should be done. Furthermore, it also includes the cleaning equipment needed, the root cause of the filth and any countermeasures to get rid of it.
  • Standard Work Documents: A powerful standardize tool, standard work documents, clearly communicate how to properly perform each of the key activities in a process in order to ensure successful execution. While workers don’t typically need to reference standard work documents on a daily basis, by clearly posting these simple and clear documents at the point of work, you can ensure they when guidance is needed, it can quickly be found.
  • Direction Markers: In a warehouse setup it’s often a good idea to implement one direction picking. This not only makes it easier to pick items but is also orderly and prevents people from bumping into each other while getting something from the shelves. You can have arrows placed on the floor to indicate the proper direction for the flow.
  • Location Control Marks: Physically marking where items and materials go, helps us to easily recognize when things are missing or in the appropriate place. For example, shadow boards are frequently to store tools so that ever tool can be quickly and easily accounted for.

    Control Marks/Position Marks

  • Location Control Marks: Physically marking where items and materials go, helps us to easily recognize when things are missing or in the appropriate place. For example, shadow boards are frequently to store tools so that ever tool can be quickly and easily accounted for.

    Shadow Boards

  • Standard Filing: For office environments, one common challenge is searching for information or knowing who has the information. A technique that some organizations use is to use diagonal colored tape outlining items on the shelf. So even from afar, you can tell when something is missing. This coupled with a checkout list will help you track who borrowed the file and make it simpler to find the information you need.
  • Visual Controls: We may not know or notice it but a lot of the things around our workplace do have visual controls. For example when the fire alarm goes off, the visual control “Break glass in case of fire” tells us what to do in an event of a fire.
  • Standard Labels: Standard Labels can likewise alert us of danger in other ways. You will notice labels on bottles of chemicals where it has a sticker warning us that it is hazardous. Even when you over speed while driving, you tachometer has a red line indicator letting you know that you have gone over the advisable speed limit.
  • Zone Labels: Labels can also be used on equipment gauges. You can mark both the normal operating ranges as well as the red line range to inform the user whether they are within normal ranges or are in the red “caution” zone.

These are just some good examples of visual control and standards in place. There are a lot more out there but the point is if you focus on the first three steps of the 5S process, Sort, Straighten and Sweep, then this step should take care of itself.