5S Tips & tricks
Use ABC method for Sorting

Last update: April 16th, 2010
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5S usually begins with a great initial cleaning, where sorting out the items is a highlight. For each item, it must be stated if it is useful, useless or undetermined. For some items, the statement may be touchy, as nobody seems to know if they are really useful or not, and what is their frequency of use.

Start with easiest!

Difficulty should be no excuse, go for it, starting with easiest:
sort item by item according to 3 categories:

  1. Useful

  2. Useless

  3. In balance, unknown

The two first categories never make problem as their status is clear. Dispose immediately useless items, because they just jamming the workspace, lead to loss of time, confusion and poor quality. For items in balance, for those their "utility grade" and/or frequency of use is unclear, they can be kept with monitoring during a probation time..

After probation period, reconsider each item's grade of use (or uselessness) with the collected data.

Tag method

To measure the usage and frequency of use rate, there is a convenient method called "tag method". Each item on probation is set with a tag (flashy color preferred), on which users will write:

  • date of utilization,

  • operation, job or task this item is used for

  • duration (or return to storage date)

  • identification of users (name, initials...)

After probation time (month, quarter, semester, year) take data from tags. Items having no data on their tag are declared useless and will be disposed. If probation period was not long enough to be significant, a new probation can be decided.

Beware bartering!

ABC Sorting


ABC sorting method is based on the storage distance versus frequency of use.



Therefore, set 3 classes A = to be kept at hand, B = to be stored closely (work zone, within workshop, office, in the same room...) and C = remote place (Archives, shack, long storage...) and store the items according to following logic:

frequency of utilization Class At hand NEAR Remote location
several times a day, daily A YES YES, if not on workplace NO
weekly B eventually YES NO
once every...



Watch out!

1) Do not excuse keeping useless or few used items with "probation"!

2) Monitoring or probation period must be chosen in a significant period of time.

Monitoring in high season period (red zone on figure) could lead to misjudge grade of use and frequency for some items.

measure of frequency of use in time



Use the tag method to understand grade of use and frequency,

Use ABC method to sort and store.






Show no merci disposing useless items




The author, Chris HOHMANN, is managing partner.

He deals with industrial and logistics performance.

Contact author


"Mess is like gas, it takes all available space".




Beware Bartering!

During sorting and useless item disposal, it happens some colleagues will find a use in the second hand leftovers. Bartering is not what 5S intent to do; we're not supposed to push the mess around!











Orange zones must be considered as acceptable but it is preferable to avoid those combinations.

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