What is the Difference Between 5S and Visual Management

Visual Management is often lumped together with 5S, and visual standardization is certainly and important part of an effective 5S system. Does this mean the terms should be used interchangeably? Certainly there is a difference; otherwise we would not have different names for these systems. Let's go over each of these Lean concepts to see where they overlap and where they don't. This should give you a bigger perspective of Lean management, the principle of Kaizen, and the value of visualization.


This is such a well-known system, that many non-Lean organizations use this method on its own (or at least they think they are using it). 5S stands for: Sort, Set-in-Order (Straighten), Shine (Sweep), Standardize, and Sustain. Far from a list of steps or a list of mottos, these S's form a cohesive system of action, improvement and problem solving. As you can see, none of the S's stand for visualization, and yet all of them require it to some extent. So, what is 5S Visual Management? 5S Red Tags are one of the most well-know visual management tools. These tags are used during the sort phase to identify and categorize unnecessary items. Beyond this first phase, Visual Management is used to define proper storage positions, create a baseline for cleanliness, communicate standards, and encourage continuous improvement and problem solving. Visual Management ties it all together.

Visual Management

We've just seen how Visual Management impacts every part of the 5S process, but its' scope is much larger. Visual cues like color coding, sequencing, and spacing have a huge impact on any process. Equally important is the use of visual displays to communicate key metrics that are used to identify areas for improvement, measure results, and manage daily workflow. Although 5S Visual Management is a great way to get started, you must also consider Lean Visual Management, and Kaizen Visual Management if you want your efforts to affect all parts of the organization.

Remember that, while these techniques originated on manufacturing floors, their application can benefit any kind of work and any kind of workplace. Offices, schools, and healthcare providers are now discovering these techniques like never before; so are software developers and online startups. Soon it will all be common sense. You can't be left behind and you also don't want progress to stagnate, so get onboard and start continuously improving your system.

A Lean organization can be recognized at a glance through 5S Visual Management , but this is not just a matter of appearances. All those colors, lines, and u-shaped cells serve a very practical purpose.