Sorting out
Sort is one of the 5S steps. Sorting refers to the elimination of things in a workplace that are not needed and don’t add value. Examples of commonly sorted out items, include piles of old paperwork, non-functional equipment, and even outdated phonebooks or calendars from years ago.

Proper sorting effectively qualifies the value of items by honestly and accurately answering the question “Do I really need this?”. One good way to determine true need is by identifying whether you use the item on a daily basis. However, a key to successful sorting is to remember the saying, “When in doubt, sort it out.”

Why is Sorting important?
Sorting is often misunderstood to refer to neatness or organization. However, first and foremost, sorting provides a safer workplace. Decluttering workspaces prevent things from falling off shelves and people from tripping over things.

Additionally, by removing excess clutter, workplaces become more easier to physically and mentally navigate, contributing to faster, smoother workflows. Carried out correctly, sorting improves productivity in both production and office environments.

Don’t underestimate the power of sorting. Simply clearing unwanted and unnecessary items from a workspace, alone can be responsible for production increases of 50% or more. For example, machine changeover times alone can often be increased as much as 40% by reducing the amount of time spent searching for needed items such as tooling in cluttered drawers or cabinets.

5-Step Sorting Process
  • Step 1: Evaluate and Document the Current State
    A powerful practice to follow when sorting is taking before and after pictures of an area before proceeding further. This will give you a good reference to help others see improvements. Remember, 5S is a lean tool and lean’s purpose is to achieve continuous improvement.
  • Step 2: Define Elimination Criteria

    Before we can remove items, it’s necessary to determine the rules for removing items. This helps everyone to easily identify whether an item should be “red tagged” for removal or left alone. Red tagging is the process of marking items for removal or further evaluation. As the term implies, red colored tags are the typical way that items are marked. However, items are marked, marking an item for elimination should be explicit and not open for interpretation.

    A common deciding factor is thinking if the item will be needed in the coming month. If items are needed for the coming month, they can generally be kept. If not, it’s better to move them to another location or get rid of them.

    To determine how disposable an item is, consider the following 3 key areas:

  • The usefulness of the item
  • How often an item is used
  • The quantity of the item.

  • Step 3: Red Tag Items

    Once your team has agreed on elimination criteria, it’s time to red tag items. The best way to red tag items is to start at one end of the defined area and work your way through to the end, reviewing everything that is covered in the set criteria.

    It is advisable for people who are familiar with this process to carry out red tagging in the area. After which, others can give their opinions on whether they not they agree on the items that are red tagged. Remember that teamwork is better for red tagging than tagging solo, since it facilitates consensus. Agreement on what should and shouldn’t be red tagged is strongly linked to sorting success.

    That said, some degree of disagreement is almost certain. In fact, it is often at this phase that the most heated disagreements occur. A good rule for overcoming this challenge is rather than debating what should and should not be tagged, simply tagging all items anyone suspects should be tagged. Remember, tags aren’t permeant. They can be removed at a later time just as easily as they were applied.

    Another good rule to adopt is to not waste your efforts tagging blatant trash. All items agreed to be trash should be thrown away, not tagged.

    Lastly, it’s good to put someone in charge of a red tag log sheet. The log sheet simply provides a summary of the items that have been tagged, where the item came from and the disposition status for later review.

  • Step 4: Dispose of Obviously Unnecessary Items

    After all items in the entire work area have been evaluated and appropriately tagged, it’s time to review all tagged items, using the criteria agreed upon in step 2, and remove items accordingly.

    Keep in mind that there are many ways to eliminate items. Selling tagged items can generate revenue. Consider holding a company garage sale. You could offer the items to your employees at discounted prices. Another option is using auction sites like eBay or Craig’s List to sell the items. eBay has been around for a long time and is a powerful sales channel. Just remember to conform to your organization’s marketing and sales guidelines when doing this.

    Another option is to donate the items to others who would have use for them. Keep in mind that this can be a tax deductible and eco-friendly option.

    Recycling items can also be an option depending on the items you plan to recycle. You’ll be surprised that even items that seem like junk to you may actually be of value to someone else.

    Lastly, if no other options are viable for your red tagged items, then throwing them away may be your only solution. Keep in mind that disposing of them in an Earth-friendly manner is preferred.

    Of course, before you eliminate anything, always remember to coordinate with your accounting department when sorting since there may be items that still have book value and will still need to be accounted for.

  • Step 5: Move Remaining Red Tagged Items into Holding Area

    Finally, all remaining items should be moved to a designated red-tag holding area where the items will be temporarily consolidated until a final decision can be agreed to. The holding area should contain red tag items from multiple work areas and should be separate from all work areas.It’s important to recognize that if this area really should be temporary. A detailed log of the items should be maintained. You should also have guidelines as to how long items can stay in the holding area. For example, if an item is still in the holding area after 30 days, then it should be something that you can eliminate permanently.

Sorting is enjoyable for a lot of people because of the satisfaction they get after clearing out an area. It is important to plan and execute red tagging with care and empathy. While it’s important to be ruthless during this step, it is also important to be courteous and respectful when sorting in someone else’s area. Consider how you would feel if someone carelessly ransacked your work area, flagging important items as worthless garbage. That’s indeed how sorting can be perceived when not approached with care.